“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.
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