Thanks Ian for these words. I am, as I said on the night, somewhat overwhelmed. But for those who didn’t make it, this is what Ian Wansbrough had to say on the night of the launch of The WILUNA Solution.
At the Launch of The WILUNA Solution by Dave Goddard, 2015.
We’re all part of a celebration here tonight. We come to launch a work of art, to celebrate the fact of its creation and to send it into the world with our best wishes, in the hope that it finds an appreciative audience. We come also to honour the person whose labour and imagination has brought this work into being: Dave Goddard.
The Wiluna Solution is Dave’s second published novel. It comes close on the heels of Hiding Place, a novel set in Alice Springs at a time of rising tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. The main character in that first novel is a white man from the city who learns how to walk in a space between cultures and gender – a space that an Aboriginal woman from a remote community tells him is a “between world”. We learn that this is a place where things can look very different and be very challenging, where people need to listen and learn and make a lot of adjustments. But this is also a place that offers the hope of better lives and relationships for everyone concerned. I believe that a major motivation for Dave in writing Hiding Place was to give us all a glimpse of that ‘between world’. It’s a world that Dave knows well from his many years as an educator and consultant in remote communities around Australia.
The Wiluna Solution invites us into another space between worlds. Again, the setting is outback Australia at a time of rising tension between cultures, and the main character’s role is to bridge a cultural divide and bring about a form of reconciliation. Again the character has to learn quickly and make a lot of adjustments to perform that role. But the divide this time is not only between cultures and gender, it is also between past and present.
Detective Inspector Greg Johnson of the WA Police is investigating the mysterious disappearance of a woman in 2007 from the remote town of Wiluna. His enquiries lead him into a much more complex mystery: the death by poisoning of two stockmen on the Canning Stock Route near Wiluna in 1934, and the disappearance of a police officer and five Aboriginal elders. It was widely accepted at the time, and still accepted in historical accounts, that local Martu people poisoned the stockmen in an act of resistance, and that the Martu men were then killed by white men in an act of retaliation. Greg’s role is to arrive at an understanding of events without prejudice, and to set the record straight. To do this he needs first-hand, boots-on-the-ground knowledge of Wiluna in 1934. I’m not going to tell you the plot mechanics that make the investigation possible, but I will say that the re-imagining of Wiluna at the height of its prosperity is a major achievement. So, too, is the examination of policing methods and community attitudes from the time.
There is another major achievement in this novel that we can measure in the title itself. Early in the book “the Wiluna Solution” is an utterly racist expression. It is a coded reference to vigilante acts against Aboriginal people, a sniggering invitation to violence and murder. It belongs to an earlier time but is still being used in the novel’s present. By the end of the book ‘the Wiluna Solution’ can just as easily refer to the results that Greg and his allies achieve. We learn that a measure of truth and reconciliation is possible when principles of justice, equality and respect are applied to a difficult problem. The solution that Greg achieves in Wiluna is very different from the original ‘Wiluna Solution’.
Respect and reconciliation are major themes in both of Dave’s novels to date, and we can be sure they will feature again in future work. Dave has a lot to say that is worth hearing on these themes, but I don’t want to give the impression that his fiction is just a vehicle for worthy messages. It’s not like that at all. Dave has a rare ability to spin a good yarn. He creates characters that readers will care about, and he puts them in situations that are inherently interesting and dramatic. He knows instinctively how to organize structure and plot so that multiple story-lines, complications and themes can all unfold. Like other raconteurs, he has a store of anecdotes, and he is a close observer of the way people speak and relate to each other. More importantly, he can make the leap of imagination that gets a story up and running. Dave tells us in the preface to this book that he was fascinated by Wiluna from the first time that he visited. Here was an almost abandoned town on the edge of the Western Desert, with dirt streets and ramshackle buildings. But there were traces all around that spoke of a deeper, richer history. The Wiluna Solution is Dave’s imaginative reconstruction of that history. The story is fictional but it has strong parallels with real events in the region and in other frontier towns. And like all good fiction, it engages our imagination as readers, and promotes deeper understanding.
This week is NAIDOC week in Australia and the theme for 2015 is that we all stand on sacred ground. We are encouraged by the NAIDOC committee to respect and celebrate local and national sites of significance, to learn their traditional names, histories and stories. Wiluna is a traditional name and Dave’s novel is a lively engagement with a site and a history of national significance. It seems entirely appropriate that we are launching Dave’s book during NAIDOC week. Telling important stories is a sacred tradition in all cultures, and telling them well should always be celebrated.
Ian Wansbrough, screenwriter.