I continue my love-hate relationship with “Life on a Ferris Wheel”. I wrote the first draft back in 2008 and 2009, left it for a few years, revisited and revised, left it again, revisited and revised … and so on.
It was my second attempt at a novel, but the first time I’d exposed my skills to readers in a draft version. The feedback, incredibly helpful by the way, told me of all the unlearning and learning I must do before I could ever think of publishing. Three novels outlined on this website achieved that status, the first published in 2013. So, after the third, in 2016, I figured perhaps it was time revisit (again) but this time stick at, what I’m now calling simply, “Ferris Wheel”.
And a major reason is because the theme is dear to my heart. On this website is a short story called “Assimilation”. It outlines the some of the intended, as well as many of the unintended consequences of the imposition, both informally and formally, of a process designed to imbue Aboriginal people with skills and values so innate to non-Aboriginal (whitefella) life. As I’ve often stated, I’m not opposed to assimilation if people from any culture choose have it occur, and are given a chance to choose – yes or no. For a country which purports to operate according to democratic principles, Australia has rarely allowed Aboriginal people the principle of choice with regard to their cultures and ways of knowing and doing.
Here is a sample of writing from the story to suggest the lack, or limited sense, of choice.
In closing the board meeting, Sam thanked the Aboriginal women. They nodded, but Dan felt their reservation. Because they’d disappeared straight awayg, he had to wait to ask them the next time he visited the town.
After thoughtful silence, Alice spoke. “It make me sleepy. I don’t know big mobs what they talk about and all that money talk make me yawn. I been think they want to know from us how to do it right way. Maybe I been think wrong way, ay Danny boy?”
So he looked at Agnes who told him, “Danny boy, when I meet wayijbala (whitefellas), why he always arks me to put shoe on and sit inside, ay? Maybe, one day, he take shoe off and sit out there with me.”
The main character, Dan Hammond, is a former educator turned consultant. During time in the north of the State in the 1990s as a director of education, he undertook a Ph.D which led him into consultancy. He was asked to develop a project to improve educational outcomes for Aboriginal students in a mining region and, therefore, improve their employment prospects with a mining company. Dan’s outlook on life changes dramatically with his exposure Aboriginal language groups in the region and from meeting Cathy, a woman who works on the project he designs and monitors.
He continually struggles with aspects of his character: the clash between his professional integrity and personal behaviour, how the values he holds in different roles affect the people he cares for, particularly his children, and how the Aboriginal people he comes to know, and Cathy, are instrumental in his recognition of new ways of knowing and doing.
It’s a story with several unanticipated conclusions, or should I say unintended consequences, illuminating the whirl of a Ferris Wheel – turning without ever moving forward.
The novel is, in effect creative non-fiction. What bears resemblance to reality is the original process of creating the project and how it evolved and developed over the first five years of its existence. I have drawn that information from work I did as a consultant nearly two decades ago in the north of Australia. all characters, including Dan Hammond, are fictional and all events are either fictional or extensions of reality.