Hi and just returned from a couple of exciting events. One was a presentation we undertook at Balingup on the novel Hiding Place. The other was being able to spend a week on Rottnest, which allowed research into aspects to do with the novel Life Sentence that’s getting closer to fruition.
“Hiding Place” and Balingup
As well as a delightful location, Balingup has lovely people. We enjoyed the journey, the evening at Greenbushes Hotel where the presentation took place, and the hospitality of Janine, the convenor of one book club and Steve, her husband. Thanks to members of two book clubs and a writer’s group, as well as several husbands of participants, for the welcome, the fun and the learning.
The reason for presenting on the evening came from a question I was asked about the novel. A reason for the selection of the novel as one to read and to present was the view that it has a gentle way of challenging people to think about and consider cultural difference. My definition of culture is as “the way we do things around here”, so cultural difference simply means things can be and are done differently. From that perspective, many things are neither right nor wrong: they just “are”.
The question I was asked was why, with a research background and the understandings I had about how to connect with Aboriginal people and build relationships, I hadn’t written a sort of text book on strategies rather than a fictional novel. I thought it was an excellent question and said so. It really made me think.
In summary, the reasons I gave were as follows:
- to try to reach a wider group of people using fiction rather than non-fiction. Academic works can, in some ways, put people off rather than attract them, and the content must be accurate (see next point)
- the fact that what I wrote of Aboriginal culture were the views of a white person, and perhaps not accurate for any, some or all Aboriginal people
- to provide a challenge to non-Aboriginal people to begin to search for their answers by building relationships with Aboriginal people and asking them questions, rather than asking another white person. There is so much to be heard, ingested, thought about and ultimately reasoned out. There is, in my view, no formula for all occasions or groups.
Perhaps the main theme that came through being on the island was one of affirmation about Life Sentence in 1899. While some aspects of the novel are fictionalised, connecting the dots around the year in question has required some careful research. For example, my first draft focused on 1900 and the months of June and July. In the Rottnest aspect of the story, I introduced a machine called a heliograph, a machine that could send messages in morse code using sunlight and mirrors. While its presence and operations were fact, it was replaced early in 1900 by a telephone cable which allowed telegraphic communication with the mainland. The solution was to go back a year and redo the dates.
I’ve tried to do the same with this novel as with the other three: researching to be as accurate as possible with historical facts, geographic locations and people and their names and roles. While each of the four novels has brought its own issues, Life Sentence, like The WILUNA Solution, has brought more rather than less. Even so, it has been an enjoyable exercise with great assistance from Patsy Vizents, Heritage Officer with the Rottnest Island Authority and Bob Chapman, Head of Archives for the Rottnest Volunteer Guides.
I was asked why I felt the need to do the amount of research that I undertake, and I think it goes back to Elaine Fry in The Western Australian describing Turn on a Light as an extension of reality. As I’ve mentioned above, I take that as a compliment and a motivational force to try to make aspects of Australian history more accessible to many people, particularly Aboriginal matters.