Genesis: Hiding Place
Since writing the genesis of “Turn on a Light”, I’ve had people ask me about how the genesis of the other novels : “Hiding Place” and “The WILUNA Solution”. This is how I recall the starting point for “Hiding Place”.
Our company undertook a lot of work in the Northern Territory and South Australia from 2000 through to 2015. It included, though was not isolated to, research and facilitation work in education and community engagement, school partnership development, health in a number of areas, the Northern Territory National Emergency Response (or The Intervention as it was called) and Australian Rules football.
Each piece of work helped paint the background for “Hiding Place” but the precise point of germination was from Australian Rules football. research. I was asked to report on a program instituted by the Australian Football League (AFL) and the Commonwealth Government agency FaCSHIA as it was then known. Briefly summarised, it involved six AFL clubs (four from Melbourne and two from Adelaide)each connecting with a region in the Territory aoruth Australia. I worked in four regions to assess reactions to the program, I made five visits to selected sites in each region and as some photos below show, AFL permeates the fabric of many communities.
The first seed was planted on a trip from Katherine to the communities of Barunga and Beswick. These two communities, and nearby Manyallaluk, are green, scenic places. And AFL is the big sport. I travelled with the NT AFL officer based in Katherine and he was the first that the sport appealed to Aboriginal people because it had similar values to traditional Aboriginal values.
Then, in places like Alice Springs and outlying communities like Yuendumu and Ntaria (once known as Hermannsburg) several older Aboriginal men spoke in the same way: about boys and girls learning values like teamwork, discipline and obligation from AFL which therefore helped to reconnect them with traditional values. And I am in no doubt that Aboriginal language groups survived for tens of thousands years in incredibly harsh environments BECAUSE of such values.
The same story arose in Yalata, the site to which Aboriginal people from Maralinga were moved because of atomic bomb tests in the 1950s. As two older men said, ‘them boys got to know the rules.” I asked if they meant AFL rules. One man said, “no, our rules” and the other simply nodded.
Over time, my work in the NT on alcohol management in communities and issues for Aboriginal people created by grog, began to permeate my thinking as a central theme. That led to the idea of a former SANFL footballer named Mick Wilson, deserted by his wife who also takes their children. deciding to head for Alice Springs to search for them. He finds work on a cattle station where an Aboriginal community is based. The community has a struggling AFL team participating in the Alice Spring competition. Casey, the traditional owner of the country, decides to use Mick to bring about changes in the behaviours and attitudes of younger Aboriginal people through their only positive interest: Australian Rules football.
Behind that idea is a theme of mine developed from my research in Aboriginal communities, whether urban, rural or remote: that until Aboriginal people reassert authority and responsibility for their futures, they will stay disadvantaged and dysfunctional. (A Short Story in this website, On Working with Bureaucrats, gives one Aboriginal man’s perspective on that issue.)
Hence , Casey is the key driver of change, and not Mick. But Mick is the one who learns a great deal about himself and different cultures. He isn’t the brightest spark in the engine. His virtues, however, are his skills in Australian Rules and his preparedness to listen and learn about another culture. He is an unintended change agent in whom the Aboriginal community people grow to have unlimited trust, as he does in them.
In effect, the story is about ways of engaging in a “between world”, where people of different cultural and gender backgrounds find ways to work together to determine a future, without the power and control of one group over the other dominating, as it has for almost all of non-Aboriginal history in this country.