Speaking of turquoise – an interview with Claire Lloyd

As I look out my window this Sunday afternoon, the sky is grey, the roadside strewn with autumn leaves of every shade. We’ve had a shower of rain. The house smells of apple brownies. A snuggly day. A cups of tea and slippers kind of day.

I approached Claire Lloyd to do an interview early in 2014 and for various reasons it’s taken us this long to get it together. While I’m slowing down, giving in to the quiet rhythm of autumn, Claire is drenched in turquoise on the island of Lesvos, just off the western coast of Turkey. She’s an Aussie who has spent much of her life working in London but now calls Lesvos home for much of the year.

She has written a book called My Greek Island Home which really struck a chord with me. I found myself returning to it, reading it from cover to cover and drinking in the photos and the spirit of her little Greek village. It has heart, the sort of heart that can only come from living in a place and finding yourself slowly being woven into the fabric of the local community.

Wherever you are in the world, pull up a chair and take a few moments to drink in a little turquoise. Enjoy.

Walking Lesvos. Pull up a chair.

Margaret: I think there’s a part of us all – particularly those with wanderlust coursing through our veins – who would love to pick up stumps, and make the kind of move that you’ve made. I am intrigued how a city girl has made such a dramatic lifestyle change. When did you first visit Lesvos? How much of your time are you spending on the island these days and in truth, are there things you struggle with? i.e.: being away from family?  What blessings has it brought you? Could you live there full-time? Would you do it over again? Are you a different person in each location?

Claire: I travelled to Lesvos in June 2005 and it was on that very first trip I found the small village house that we now call home.

My partner, artist, Matthew Usmar Lauder and I spend the majority of our year on the island. Christmas is always spent in Sydney and there are the odd trips to other places.

Sometimes the winters can be a bit isolating but generally I couldn’t say I struggled. I do struggle with the language as it’s not one of my strong points. But communication is not a problem and I am lucky to have some very good Greek friends. There are a few things I miss: the cinema, Japanese food and not having my friends from the UK and Australia around me. I miss my family too but manage to see them regularly.

I am the same person in each location but my day to day life differs enormously. I feel fortunate to be able to move between different places it has never suited me to be permanently in one place.

Living in a Greek community has been a huge blessing. I love the way we have been accepted and welcomed into the community and love the slow pace of life and the very obvious seasonal changes. I especially love all our new diverse and interesting friends.

turquoise shutters

Margaret: I was interested that initially you thought that you might like to have a house outside a village, in the countryside. I know myself, having lived on a rural property, how isolating that can be. How important do you think your decision – to buy inside the village – has been to you feeling like you’re part of the local community?  Do you ever question that decision?

Claire: It was the perfect decision for Matthew and I and not a decision I have ever questioned, in fact quite the opposite. I have said to Matthew many times how I’m glad we chose the village life. It has enriched our lives in so many ways and our daily presence in the village has added to us being so well accepted. We really do feel like we are part of the village as we are treated as locals and invited to, weddings, christenings and have also attended funerals. The idea of being by the sea somewhere completely isolated still attracts me but being in a village community has been such a unique and wonderful experience. Matthew now has a studio overlooking the main square, it was once a butcher shop so that makes him a true villager.

claire lloyd my greek island home
matthew usmar lauder painting

Margaret: Can you describe the seasons for me? And how that impacts on the village community?

Claire: There is a rhythm that goes with each season, something I had not realised living in a city. The autumn is the start of a slower pace of life for the villagers. It is still usually relatively warm and there is also a lot of sunshine. The locals prepare for the long winter months ahead. Nuts are collected, olives are picked and either pressed for oil or preserved to be eaten the following summer. People gather what they need for this quiet time. Winter is a time for hibernation. The shutters are closed and the locals stay warm inside usually with log burning fires. I love the smell wafting through the village. The farmers still tend their sheep and goats, which is hard work as the weather can be quite harsh. There is generally a lot of rain at this time of year and snow is not out of the question. Spring and the shutters begin to open and wonderful new buds appear on the trees. Blossom lay heavy on the branches of the fruit trees. There is a feeling of optimism. Wild asparagus shoot up through the newly green landscape and there is an abundance of wild flowers that carpet the fields and the sides of the roads – the island looks extremely pretty.

People are excited and looking forward to the summer when friends and relatives arrive from not only other parts of Greece but Australia, Canada and America to enjoy the beautiful island life, swimming in the Aegean sea, eating delicious seasonal fruit and vegetables and joining in the many summer celebrations. People make the most of the summer and are really in need of a rest when the autumn comes around again to slow them down.

almond tree

Margaret: One of the things I enjoyed most in My Greek Island Home, is when you talk about the village co-op and how women come together there. Can you flesh that out a little for me? For instance, what is the co-op and how does it work? People wandering down and having dinner quite regularly at the cafes? Why do you think that whole kafenia scene and the co-op arrangement continues to be such an important part of village life? Am I overstating it? Is it because it’s baked into their society – this sense of coming together? I’m intrigued because I think a lot of us would love to have that sense of community here. If you moved back to Australia, to a similarly small town or village, do you think you could make it work? Somehow it always feels a bit tacked on, a bit unnatural here. Any thoughts?

Claire: The co-op is a great example of women working together side by side not just making delicious sweet treats and selling them but enjoying each others’ time and company. It is as much a social gathering as a working one. There are a number of woman that form the women’s co-operative and they take it in turns to work together six days a week, making biscuits, cakes and preserves. They also make other delicacies for weddings and christenings.

Places like this and the kafeneas are very important to the community they bind it together. They are places where locals gather not just for company but to exchange information and local gossip. Kafeneas are a great place for the men to meet and play cards or discuss current affairs over a coffee or an ouzo. Unfortunately with the current economic climate the people have less money to spend so it is affecting the kafeneas. Most men used to meet everyday at least once if not twice but now they may only go a few times a week, which I feel is impacting on community life.

I think this way of community living is unique in smaller communities where it has always been a part of their culture. It would be difficult to recreate this outside of these places.

greek photos

Margaret: Where do young people fit into island life? Greece has obviously been hit hard by the GFC. Is the island losing its young people to the mainland and are these traditions at risk of being lost? Is it having an impact on Lesvos?

Claire: Mytilene is a university town so there are a lot of students in the capital. In the villages it’s hard for young people especially if they want a career. Unless you go into your family business or work on family land there really is nothing much else. Because of the crisis the infrastructure is suffering so jobs are fewer and pay even less. Unfortunately the villages are shrinking as the young people have to go further afield to find jobs. Sadly traditions are being lost and Lesvos despite its self-sufficiency has felt the effect of the crisis.


Margaret: In the book, I also love the way you’ve given a really honest picture of people’s lives and what little we see of their homes. You don’t appear to have styled too many shots with the locals. Was that a clear intention when you set out to do the book, that you wanted to paint an honest picture, that is, not give a glossy magazine version? Having said that they’re all still gorgeous images, just not tricked up. They feel very honest.

I didn’t feel the need to style anything, to me that would not have been in keeping with the book I was writing. I felt the subjects I chose to photograph were perfect the way the were. This is a very honest and heartfelt account of people’s lives. To me it was important to show a real Greece Island village not a Greek Island holiday destination. Even the paper the book is printed on was deliberately chosen for its rough texture reinforcing the reality and grittiness of the place. This book is reality; it’s people’s lives.

dog and lace curtains

Margaret: That question kind of segways into my curiosity about you as a creative person and your own art practices. How much time would you spend each day/each week online? Does the internet play a role in your creativity? Do you find that you lead a more creative life on the island than you do elsewhere? If so, why is that?

Claire: I really don’t like spending a lot of time online as I find it confusing. There is a wealth of talent out there, some extremely inspiring.

But my creativity is simple and always has been. I find it wherever I am, just by observing. The island has certainly given me a new perspective and a different pace of life and with that has come a renewed personal creativity and a chance to concentrate on my own projects. That said there are still many daily distractions and being a person who is easily distracted I don’t always find it easy to focus. There are so many things I would like to explore. I feel I have not even scratched the surface of my creativity.


Margaret: You’ve taken all the photographs in this book and written the words and I think really succeeded in giving readers a very gentle taste of some of the joys and challenges you’ve faced in relocating. Not to mention the people who have touched your lives. Do you have a desire to do any more projects like this?

Claire: I have a huge desire to keep documenting and producing beautiful books and articles that capture in photographs and words my experiences. I can think of nothing nicer.

Margaret: What is your preferred camera and lens and do you do much retouching or do you try to capture your shots within the camera? What do you shoot your videos with and do you edit them yourself? Are you self-taught?

Claire: Yes I’m self-taught. I worked on magazines, in advertising agencies, design companies and had my own creative business so I have picked up all my experience along the way. I like using my Canon 100mm macro lens on my Canon 5D. I am a long way from being technical in fact I am probably the least technical person I know. I don’t do any retouching. Matthew is my re-toucher if I need it for beauty or fashion work. I grade my images to the look I feel suits each set of pictures I take. I shoot my little films on my cannon 5D or an old super 8 and I do most of my own editing.

guesthouse details

Margaret: You’ve lived in the fast lane of the west; you’ve lived on the island. Many people are looking for balance in their lives. From your experiences where do you believe contentment lies?

Claire: Contentment comes from within. It’s important to have a balanced life and important to understand what your personal needs are. Then you must try to fit these needs into your life. No one else knows what you need physically, emotionally and spiritually, only you. Living in London I had forgotten just how important nature was to me. It was not until I came to Lesvos that I realised I had deprived myself of this. Now I am surrounded by it. I know I also need the city for stimulation  and am fortunate to be able to move between both worlds.


Margaret: Do you ever get sick of turquoise?

Claire: Never!

As I look out my window, darkness has set in and I can hear the rain on the roof above. I’m reading Hugh Mackay’s latest book The Art of Belonging with a byline “It doesn’t matter where you live, it’s how you live.” And as I approach the final pages I’m reminded how important it is to remain connected with your local community, something that’s easy to forget when you’ve been working from home for over a decade. I’d go so far to say it’s an occupational hazard.

We wandered down town earlier this morning to the official launch of the B200 celebrations, a big week of events marking 200 years of European settlement in Bathurst. There was a huge turnout. Local Wiradyuri elders, Karen and Katchin refugees from Myanmar in full traditional dress dancing centre stage, oldies, littlies, families, singles, people from all over the world who have found their way here. To Bathurst. People like Claire and Matthew, who have hopefully been made welcome into our community.

That’s my takeaway from Claire’s beautiful book and this little interview. It doesn’t matter where you live, it’s how you live. And it’s important to play your part. In whatever shape or form that might be.

Thankyou Claire for taking the time to share a little of your story here.

Sending you autumnal hugs.

Have a beautiful summer.


Claire Lloyd by Carla Coulson

Photo by Carla Coulson

All images are Claire’s.
The one of her looking out the window was taken by Matthew Usmar Lauder
If you’d like to see more of Claire and Matthew’s work here are their links
Claire Lloyd


Matthew Usmar Lauder



    Someone’s son

    dawn service

    In the early morning darkness, on the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, my friend leaned across and whispered with teary eyes “It just hit me that all these boys, were about your boy’s age.”

    And I stood there feeling a whole new wave of cold.

    somebody's sons

    They were someone’s son.

    Every one.

    Someone’s son.

    My beautiful boy’s age.


    flowers and boer war memorial

    “…They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
    Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow…”

    fallen leaves

    fallen leaves

    Steady and aglow.

    poppies and courthouse

    In 1934 Atatürk wrote a tribute to the Anzacs killed at Gallipoli:

    Those heroes that shed their blood
    and lost their lives …
    You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
    Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies
    and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
    here in this country of ours …
    You, the mothers
    who sent their sons from faraway countries,
    wipe away your tears;
    your sons are now lying in our bosom
    and are in peace.
    After having lost their lives on this land they have
    become our sons as well.

    We remember Gallipoli. The Turks remember Çannakale.

    The mothers just remember their boys.

    Then. As now.

    Their beautiful boys.

    Steady and aglow.



      As you walk …

      As you walk, what do you see?

      kerb and courthouse

      Are you so busy thinking ahead …

      courthouse and carillon

      That you overlook the details …

      machattie park from the drinking fountain

      They’re there. They’re always there.

      drinking fountain and ochres in machattie park

      Especially on a quiet autumn morning.

      When the rain has eased.

      And the light is soft.

      drinking fountain detail and leaf

      Patterns. Textures. Colours in every crack.

      machattie park details

      machattie park gazebo and fallen leaves

      These are the colours of my town.


      This morning.

      begonia house in autumn

      Do you see what I see?

      margaret hogan sketch machattie park

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