In May I travelled up to the Riverina for the Kapooka Tragedy memorial service on 21 May. This is the subject of the current project which has overlapped The Bracelet by some years. It is called a tragedy because of the loss of life – 26 men – and because, in the opinion of some, it was an accident – avoidable but waiting to happen. It had a profound effect on the population of Wagga; shops closed for the funeral and half of its population turned out to line the streets as the Army trucks carrying the coffins drove slowly through on their way out to the military cemetery.
I lived in Wagga for nearly thirty years and knew nothing of this until the months before we left for Tasmania. As much as the tragedy itself, this caught my attention. How did this happen? Ask Mr Google about Australian disasters and this one will appear high up on the list. Also there will be a bus crash, also during WWII, down near Albury in which 24 uniformed personnel were killed on their tripin to Albury for a night out from the camp at Bonegilla, killed in the blackout.
So I have been returning to Kapooka for the last three years for the ceremony. The book is almost complete; the publishing fun is about to begin.
Following the common sense and Permaculture principle of attending to as many jobs as possible in any trip – whether from Penguin to Wagga or the kitchen to the chookyard – I lined up a series of library talks to promote The Bracelet.
1. meeting an ex-pupil from the early 80s in Coolamon … and we recognised each other!
2. the morning teas/supper arranged by the librarians in the four places: Coolamon, Cootamundra, Junee and Wagga
3. conversations with people who are also writers
4. this story from a chap in Junee:
To start with, he was the first person I have encountered in these visits who had finished the book. He told me it was ‘spooky’, a real lefty-field comment. But here’s his story:
As a boy, he and his mates used to spend Christmas holidays on Yallowin Station, working, hunting, fishing. Yallowin is now underwater in the Talbingo Dam. (I gave this name to the mountain town in the novel because in the Wagga Historical Museum there is a hut, rescued from the impending flooding and rebuilt. I’d forgotten all about the station.) Years later he moved up to Walgett (setting of Part 2) and, among other things, looked after the picnic races (main event of Part 2). South again, he used to regularly travel into Wagga through Illabo. On the way, he often gave a lift to an Illabo girl, Molly, who worked in the Wagga Base Hospital. (see Part 5 for Molly the nurse from Illabo at the Wagga Base!)
I understood his ‘spooky’ comment. He wondered whether I had been channeling his life while I was writing the book. We had a lot of laughs at Junee.
5. What I appreciated most, apart from some folk taking the time to come and be a part of each event, was the opportunity for conversation about the book, yes, but usually more about the writing of it. People are perceptive. I continue to learn about my novel and about myself as a writer and person from the questions people ask and what they share of themselves.
I’d like to thank the media people who helped me publicize the novel and the visits. Olivia of Wagga’s Daily Advertiser did her prep and asked interesting questions, then wrote an article I was pleased to read (although I taught in Wagga high schools but not at Wagga High). Peter Casey of ABC radio made me feel much at home in the studio one morning. The DA’s photographer gently maneuvered folk into positions for shots.
This was a busy busy fortnight, with lots of positive feedback and bristling with stimuli. I aim to return in November.