Genesis: The WILUNA Solution
This novel was motivated during work in different years in the town of Wiluna, 534 kms north of Kalgoorlie in the Northern Goldfields region of Western Australia. The town is at the southern end of traditional Martu country. It was created by gold discoveries, and has been sustained for over a century by gold-mining and the cattle industry. Martu people, however, have lived and roamed the area for probably sixty thousand years, and perhaps longer.
I first worked in Wiluna in 2000 and my memories then are of a dusty, unattractive town of ramshackle buildings, gravel streets and a lot of mosquitoes. I even have a memory of a utility whizzing through parts of the town squirting spray everywhere. It didn’t impress me as a town, particularly when the only school was almost directly opposite the remaining pub in town.
But while I was there, I started to find out about the history of the site from two sources. One was at the Club Hotel that had photos of the town in the 1930s: a photo from 1934 (below) that made the main street look like Hay St of that era with black cars and trucks, shops banks and pubs as well as power lines adorning the scenery. The other photo is the same street in 2008.
The second source was the lovely Martu and Yamatji people and learning of their cultures histories. It included stories of the Canning Stock Route and about Warri and Yatungka and their family. The last two were Mandildjara people who are reported as the last known Aboriginal people to meet white people. The event occurred in 1977. The Last of the Nomads is W. J. Peasley’s account of that story and the photo to the right is a statue commemorating the adults at Wiluna. Several of their children are still in the area.
I returned to the town in 2011, working with Wiluna Remote Community School until June 2015. I became increasingly interested in the history of the town, reading Wiluna: The Edge of the Desert by Pat Heydon and newspaper articles around the Canning Stock Route and the coming of the railway. As I read, I learned that by 1934, around 6 000 people lived in the town, increasing to around 9 000 by the commencement of World War Two.
And finally for me, directly opposite the new school in the community, (a long way from the Club Hotel following the intervention of the then Governor-General of Australia), were old rock fences, concrete slabs. a rusty corrugated iron tank, the remains of vehicles and poles and timber struts from old buildings, all attracting my attention. This was an area I walked many times, wondering about life in the 1930, which set my imagination into overdrive. I knew one way was to set my story in that era, but for a reason that still isn’t clear, I placed the protagonist in 2007. He’s a Police Detective- Inspector of Police based in Kalgoorlie, about to retire, who has been given the task of investigating the disappearance of a female teacher from Wiluna Remote Community School. Early in the story, he meets an old Aboriginal man with strange eyes, once in Kalgoorlie and once in a cellar in the old housing area in Wiluna, and when he emerges from the cellar, he finds it is 1934. The story evolved from there and came to include sites like the original hospital, now the Shire Offices (right), the Club Hotel, (left) and the Canning Stock Route (below and below left) which are integral to the story. I dedicate this yarn to the Aboriginal people of the regions, the non-Aboriginal pioneers of the area and the non-Aboriginal people who have made it their home.