Aussie Yarns - Dave Goddard

Stories about Australia

Month: February 2016

Trying to Simplify the Complex

I received the message below on another website and have transferred it here. Thanks, Dinah, for your honesty and the clear way you’ve explained the issue. That has stimulated us to have a think about what we’ve been saying and why. Here is what Dinah had to say.

You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

It’s an irrefutable truth in my thinking (and I am trying to get rid of it) that we always assume other people understand what we’re talking about. That is, until they tell us they don’t. The website Dinah was referring to has some information like Aussie Yarns, but it is limited . Anyway, as I began to tell Dinah that the website she was on ( will shut down in a few weeks, and that a new one has been established, I realised her comment went far deeper. Below is a summary of my response on the other website about what I am attempting to explain through my fictional writing.

Hi, Dinah, and thanks for taking to the time to let us know about the presentation and the fact that things are hard to understand. This website (meaning shuts down in a few weeks, but we have a new one already operating at which we think is much better. If you go to that site, there are items under Home, Novels, Short Stories and Blogs that will demonstrate a range of ideas.

Now we trust what follows helps your understanding of our basic theme in all our output. And it’s all not complex. It just says that different cultures aren’t right or wrong, better or worse, or superior or inferior. They are just are. Our definition of culture is as follows: It’s the way we do things around here. So cultures will always differ from each other. And each has a set of values that keep it operating and alive. If those values are weakened or fade , the culture will die. This has been happening in Australia with Aboriginal cultures for over 200 years and if we (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people) value different cultures and what can be learned from the difference, then we need to find ways for cultures to survive, and do it by walking and working together. Some people say, “Let Aboriginal cultures die, they are of no value in the modern age. So here are two questions. The first is, “What if someone said to you, let non-Aboriginal cultures die?” How would you feel about letting go of all the values that make you what you are? Different values aren’t and never have been a major problem. The problem has been, and remains, the inability of people to find ways to come together and work together without expecting differences in culture to be eradicated, overridden, suppressed, or expunged. The other question we would ask is, “What is the predicted life-cycle of non-Aboriginal cultures and what will happen when that cycle concludes?” Can you survive without the creature comforts of house, water supply, electricity, supermarket, and the mod-cons of this day and age? In summary, look at and try to learn from different cultures. Don’t try to join them, but watch, listen and learn, and as you do, you may become a teacher of the virtues of your culture, in ways that don’t expect other cultures to change.

We hope that helps as you try to understand the stories and content in the new website, and if you’re from a country outside Australia, think of your Indigenous people and ask the same questions about cultural difference. Have a great time thinking about all this and as we said, let us know what you think of the updated, new website.

Bits and Pieces

I will present five different sections here.

  1. Another reading of one of my Short Stories will be on Saturday 27th February at approximately 11.00 am on 101.7 Capital Radio. This one is entitled Dependency and Dysfunction and is probably, along with one entitled Assimilation, stories that I feel have challenge as well as substance . They outline not just why things are as they are in the Aboriginal world, but ways to think about and do something about them. In simple terms, the something is to listen to the ideas of Aboriginal people and support in them in executing those, rather than infiltrating their values and culture with ours and undermining their spirit. When I’m in this mood, I often think of the well-intentioned, and in parts, incisive work of Andrew Forrest in a review named Creating Parity. It was done for the Prime Minister’s Department a couple of years ago, when Tony was the CEO. My problem with the review is that it doesn’t give a definition for “parity”. Like, who will have parity with whom? On what basis and why is that better than the other way? What I get from the review is that parity means Aboriginal people will have equal outcomes with non-Aboriginal people because of linked opportunities through schooling, training, employment, housing, business creation and other strategies. Now while there’s sense in that from one perspective, from another it’s a wipeout. By that, I mean I have the sense that Aboriginal people will have to become like us to achieve parity. So, what of parity in other ways: in terms of culture, language and the soul and spirit of people. What will the cost be to Aboriginal culture and values if the answer is to be more like us? Imagine if white Australians had to give up certain values to ensure we had roofs over our heads and food in our mouths. Will Aboriginal values survive or isn’t the survival of those values deemed important in achieving parity? Is Creating Parity a new assimilation policy, however unintended? I don’t know. I am asking questions, and I’ll leave whatever thoughts you have with you. But if you get a chance to hear or read the two Short Stories mentioned above , they may help your thinking.
  2. I have put the first of the audio Short Stories, Me and Magic, up on this website. It can be accessed by going to the short story of that name. The audio version is at the top of the page.
  3. My recently published novel, The WILUNA Solution, is now being recorded as an Audio book through VisAbility here in Western Australia. While the organisation is focussed on providing for those with impaired sight, the production of the novel in this format means those who drive road-trains or long distances around paddocks or around mine sites in Haul Paks, or spend long hours on planes or trains or are unable to read for reasons other than impaired vision, can also be reached. So I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to be involved with VisAbility, to Dinesh and particularly Susie Punch for all patient assistance, and to VisAbility for its faith in my product.
  4. Turn on a Light is nearing the end of it’s editing and I’m looking forward to taking the next steps in production. It’s been a labour of intensity over the past year to edit it back from about 480 pages to just over 300 pages. The difficulty I have in editing is to convince myself that some things I have written can be deleted. I believe that because I wrote it, it must gold. But with gentle criticism and assistance from a few people, I’ve come to realise more about repetition, where and how it happens, and, therefore, where and how to delete.
  5. Life Sentence is the tentative title of the new novel taking shape. Each day I seem to get a clue or an idea to help me to map out stages or characters in the story. I am at the point where a lot of the basic research has been done. But I will continue to browse Far From Home, which is Neville Green’s and Susan Moon’s recount of Rottnest Island as an Aboriginal prison. The synopsis on the back cover is particularly moving . The authors write: “Accompanying the biographical listing of prisoners is a (sic) historical account of the Rottnest establishment and prison life, describing the experiences of men who were separated from their families and sent to a cold and dreary island off the west coast of Western Australia. For more than 370 it was a one-way journey, and today, denied the recognition they deserve, they lie in unmarked graves, far from home.”

Twenty years after the publication of Far From Home, some things are gradually changing in terms of recognition, But what will never change is the truth of the last eight words in the quote above.

Turn on a Light and Life Sentence

“Turn on a Light”, the third novel, is getting closer to being published. The cover is all but complete and the text is being edited, hopefully to be done by mid-March. Then it’s into production mode.

This new novel, “Life Sentence”, focuses on Rottnest as an Indigenous prison and it’s final closure in 1902. It’s a story told through whitefella eyes: a warder from the Pilbara, a kid from York who is a clerk in the Prisons’ Department, and a war-weary warder named Joey who has a story to tell and defend. The idea came from being on the Island many times with Karen, Paul and Drew and how it affected my imagination. Then came  working with Rosie from the Rottnest Foundation about it’s recognition of Indigenous sites, and finally, reading Neville Green’s “Far from Home” summary of Rottnest as a Prison.

My story is fiction and doesn’t try to focus on the Island or explain events that caused, and have continued to cause, so much pain to Aboriginal people in that moment. Instead, it will try to tell the story of how an Aboriginal man got lost in the system, served well beyond his allotted penalty and how it was resolved through compassion and some understanding by non-Aboriginal culture. Yes, the ‘between world’ strikes again,

The characters, however, are starting to come to life for me. I can feel each one starting to talk to me, or alternatively, how I am becoming part of each one. There’s Duncan Ross, whose family own a cattle station near the Fortescue River and for various, usually sad reasons, he’s a warder at Rottnest Prison in 1901. Then, there’s Charles Atherton, who’s about twenty, and is sent to the Island in July 2001 as part of an Inquiry to assess the value of the Island as an Aboriginal prison. And of course, there’s Joey Walker, also a warder, and I don’t know him yet. So far, hes a long-serving warder, taciturn, but likes Duncan for some reason. And then we have Cecil, who, to date, in his language is called, “Manguny birirr,” which means ‘dreaming man’ in Yindjibarndi language [according to Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre].

Now I have ideas about where to go with this story and there is historical research I have to undertake: simple things like the Midland Railway line and when it was completed, when the Pilot structure for ships was taken from Rottnest to Fremantle, and history around (and it will be a large ‘around’) our first Premier, John Forrest.

If I were asked the theme of this story, and I haven’t been so far, I’d say at a superficial level, it’s “the consequences of misunderstanding.” But it goes deeper: to the oppression of a culture and the consequence and the challenge of listening to and understanding responses rather than defining and determining answers.

But then, I am at step two of this story, and who knows where it will take me. But I’m looking forward to it.

What the New Year is Bringing

This year feels exciting.

Paul is reading my short stories on 101.7 Capital Radio every third Saturday around 11.00 am.

I have negotiated a deal with Visability for the production of Audio Books for the two published novels which spreads the message and has a number of other benefits, including financial.

The final editing of “Turn on a Light” is taking place and I trust will be done in time for a release in April. It’s a story that is very dear to me: conflict with bureaucracy, ignorance of Aboriginal culture, the trials and rewards of being a teacher, and, of course, falling in love. I will try to show you the cover, designed by Ross McLennan as soon as I can.

And just as exciting is are the ideas flooding about the next novel which is tentatively named “Life Sentence”. The story arose as I read Neville Green’s and Susan’s Moon’s work, “Far From Home” nearly two years ago. As a frequent visitor to Rottnest, many aspects touched me, and the concept of story, like the framework, began to emerge..

I started to write about a year ago, and hit a block in March 2015. So I left it writing and did a lot of thinking as Karen and I have worked our way through the production of “The WILUNA Solution” and the editing of “Turn on a Light”.

But about four weeks ago, I dug out what I’d written for “Life Sentence”. It was only thirty pages, but on re-reading it, it started to challenge me. As I’ve said before, my characters tend to tell me how they will behave and what they will do. The four I’d created with any substance were already telling me how they wanted to be part of the story. What does that mean?

I’ll try to explain. My first pass was to have three narrators around 1901 when Rottnest Island was being considered for closure as an Aboriginal prison: a young man in his early twenties, working for the Prisons’ Department, a warder of 28 who’s family run a cattle station just south Millstream (stay with it and I will explain, but it’s a magnificent place in the Pilbara south of Roebourne towards the Hamersely Ranges) and an aged warder who was the acting officer-in-charge of charge of the prison 1901. My revisiting to the story convinced me to only have two narrators and they are both of the young men, who have vividly different backgrounds but a common cause. An older warder and a long-term Aboriginal prisoner from Pilbara, like the younger warder, will have important roles in the story, but it’s the two younger men who will tell it.

I’ve been spent the last two weeks researching and have so much to go. Neville Green’s various documents give extensive background, particularly how Aboriginal prisoners were arrested, tried, sentenced and transported, the limited cultural understandings of Aboriginal ways by those who served as Justices of the Peace in the 1870s and beyond, and the limited and at times non-existent literacy of those appointed as warders.

But I am have many questions about shipping to the north-west around the 1890s and early 1900s, about ports like Cossack, Hedland,, Geraldton and Carnarvon around 1900, where and how railways operated at the time, and mapping life on Rottnest in the first years of the Twentieth Century.

But I think I know the story I want to tell and I think it’s one that will appeal. I just have a lot of work to do.

Stay with me and I’ll let you know what eventuates as it grows. And I am looking forward to writing it.