I have spent two weeks trying to find the photograph I wanted to accompany this post. If it turns up now, I will post it later. C’est le vie.
Following along the theme of Remembrance …
Hi. Next in the series of posts about the book is a short one, following on from the reflections on personal grief.
Have a good day.
Hi. A belated welcome to the New Year to you. Today feels like I have come back to work after a holiday – a bit rusty and reluctant, but already starting to fire up. The link is to a part of the draft that was cut from the final manuscript. Writing about a subject brings that subject close to me; I interact with it, get to know it, and it usually becomes personal. Writing ‘The Kapooka Tragedy’, reconnected me with my own grief.
At the library readings, someone usually asks me what my connection with the Kapooka Tragedy is, whether one of my relatives was in or near the dugout. It is a question about motivation. It is a question I spent much time internally poring over in the throes of trying to work out a workable approach to the book. This article, Article_KT – Why Me , is a window on my thinking in 2012/13. It is an excerpt from my last assignment for the Masters.
Have a good day.
Hi. This is the first of a series of articles backgrounding the writing of The Kapooka Tragedy. Some of this material comes from the initial drafts of the book; some comes from assignments I did to complete my Masters degree. Some I just wrote for this. The aim is to illuminate some of my writing process.
The first article is a detailed look at my motivations. The draft for this article came out of early attempts to both orientate the reader and explain why the work is important to me. At this point, I had decided against writing fiction and was struggling to create an approach that would make sense and draw readers in. The thread for the book was going to be my own journey into the history.
Follow this link: Article – Why Did I Write About This?
REVIEW of The Friendly Mission: the Tasmanian Journals and Papers of George Augustus Robinson, 1829-1834
This is a massive work. Reading about Plomley’s process of editing GAR’s notes and papers, it is clear it was a complex, lengthy and sometimes frustrating task. The result is what appears to be a definitive work. GAR’s legacy is worthy of the highest scholarly endeavour.
Robinson was tasked by the governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) with employing conciliation to resolve the white-black conflict. It was an unpopular approach among the settlers who saw only two solutions: extermination or removal. With tragic irony, the outcome of Robinson’s friendly mission very nearly achieved both.
I read, taking notes like a uni student prepping an exam, searching for the scraps of information that, together, might illuminate indigenous life even as it had to be lived after years of guerrilla warfare. Robinson’s filters were strong and fine. There was his Euro-Christianity, his belief in the superiority of his civilisation, and his desire to rescue the unfortunate. I found it difficult to comprehend much of the indigenous culture and way of life as it appeared through these filters. To be fair, it was not his intent to create a ethnographic record. But there is so little else from the times, so little written, so little understood.
His firm belief that violence was the antithesis of an answer to the situation rendered him a focus of ridicule among his own people and perhaps the most trusted white man in the colony among the indigenous people. I admired his strength in persisting with this course of unarmed parties when so many others were wantonly shooting anything dark that moved. His approach to the conflict and his task is reminiscent of the non-violent movements of the twentieth century and Christian groups in the first and second centuries. Despite his sense of superiority, there seemed to be occasions of genuine respect for the indigenous people with whom he was working. Indeed, he had more time for them than most of the white men in his parties or in the settlements.
Plomley’s assessment that GAR gradually was overcome by a growing sense of his own importance and the rewards that were his due seems to be fairly accurate from the increasing space given over to these subjects in his journals. However, balancing this is the fact of the years GAR spent in physical hardship, tramping through incredibly tough terrain with uncertain companions, and confronting the violent prejudices of so many settlers and government officials. That he wrote so much in such conditions boggles my mind.
I suppose it was when I read articles about contemporary assessments by Parks and wildlife people of the sites of significance to indigenous people in the north that I began to glimpse how much GAR had missed or not been privy to. It impressed upon me even more deeply how little remains of the rich cultures that were lived here. It makes me want to weep for who and what has been lost. And it frustrates me to the core that the violence remains latent in my polarised community.
WAGGA LAUNCH – Monday, 9 November
Success! (See previous post.)
REMEMBRANCE VILLAGE – Wagga Wagga – Thursday, 12 November, 10.00 am:
RV is a retirement home run by the RSL and situated behind The Haven in Bourke Street. Ros Brown gathered up ten or so residents to hear me talk about the book. This was wildly different to the launch, and to every other reading on the trip. Some couldn’t hear well, others couldn’t see well, and couldn’t remember too well. But we enjoyed ourselves all the same. Without exception they could recall events from WWII. There was much nodding and the occasional question.
One chap, Steve Little, used to drive taxis part-time around Wagga in the 1940s, and recalled Colin Kendall who was injured in the blast. He had a few other stories that I will post in the book’s ‘New Information’ tab once he has vetted my wording.
From there, it was a quick trip up the mountains to Batlow.
BATLOW – Thursday, 12 November, 3.30pm:
We visited Mary Ann’s parents’ graves in Batlow’s wonderful cemetery, which features in ‘The Bracelet’, on our way to the library. It is another coming home.
Robert had prepared food, drink and a space in his domain of books and computers. We felt welcomed. Batlow life moved about us quietly as people came and went about their business.
About seven folk turned out including Mary Ann’s aunt Gay, Cynthia Price of the Riverina Library network, Stan Wood who served in Korea, and Sulari Gentill. I must confess to missing my stride when Sulari walked in!
Marie Matton I had not met before. She was first cousin and four years younger than Ted Robson. More about her stories of Ted will appear in the New Information tab also.
It was a fairly intense session, partly because of the smaller size of the audience and partly because of the experiences of the group.
Over in Canberra, I met Sue Ducker at the Australian War Memorial and left her with a copy of the book. Hopefully, someone from their magazine staff will pick it up and find it sufficiently interesting to write a review of it.
TEMORA – Wednesday 18 November, 6.00pm
Temora is a country town of about 5,000 folk an hour to the north of Wagga. The town was gearing up for Warbirds Down Under, a gathering of vintage and not-so-vintage planes and enthusiasts. Last year, the visitors numbered about 15,000!
A dozen or so souls gathered for the feast – home cooked savouries, wine, juice and more. This time, no-one had a connection with either the military or the accident, but the flow of questions and surmising made it a highly interactive session. It was an intense 90 minutes.
COOLAMON – Thursday 19 November, 10.30 am
I managed to leave my computer with my cousin (she thought it hilarious!) and donated myself an extra 5 hours driving. A dozen men from the Men’s Group and a couple of ladies filled the space. No photos this time – they were on the computer – but it made little difference to most. There were a couple of chaps with experience of explosives who contributed with authority to the discussion of what might have happened.
My presentation was loosely bedded own: narrate the events of 21 and 23 May 1945, explain the twofold tragedy, outline some of the research and especially the conversations with families and friends, describe how I came to write the story and what my purpose was. Depending on who was in the audience and what the questions were, this was subject to continual and wanton change.
GRIFFITH – Friday 20 November, 2.00pm
Hot. 40+ degrees and a dry wind that felt like an oven blast.
The library was a cool, colourful, delightful oasis. Rina had everything ready, including iced water and fruit cake. Maybe she was optimistic with the number of chairs she had set out, but no, they filled up. Another eclectic gathering. A Korean vet and I passed the time while the clock ticked down and another dozen folk took up seats. Grahame and Bev Young (Bev was young Hurst’s niece) and Stan Emery’s carer knew about the accident. There was a Navy veteran for whom the Voyager disaster was still a sensitive subject. The young fellow with the camera around his neck turned out to be a reporter for the ‘Area News’, the elderly Sikh gentleman made no comment, and nor did the young lass in the second row.
The Navy veteran spoke passionately about the effect on his neighbours of the Voyager tragedy which killed 80 men, one of whom had lived next door, and what he saw as the cover-up. His anger was echoed by some elderly women. Passions were on display. Bev and Grahame spoke about Kevin and his mother’s dealing with the trauma.
As usual, I finished up with sales and signings of the book and, again, a number of people wanted a copy.
Afterwards, Rina and I were talking about the enormous and largely invisible effect of war service which rippled out through families and communities, when the young lass interrupted her reading to join us. A Brit, her husband had served three tours o/s, and after the second in Iraq, came home a completely altered person. She had come in to print and sign divorce papers, had seen the flier for the talk and decided to join us. She was charged with pain and more when speaking of the toll on her husband and herself, and of how hard it was to talk about the nitty-gritty of his war experiences. She mentioned other stories of friends, none of them uplifting.
It seemed a fitting way to end.
PS The ‘young lass’ was 30!
ALBURY – Monday 23 November, 2.00pm
Out of Canberra in rush hour – not so bad – to pick up boxes of books from a friend, then on to Albury Library. Arrived in the nick of time by skipping lunch. Michelle organised a plug-in which allowed me to show photos on a big screen – wonderful!
We each got a shock to see my face staring back from posters in the loos. I don’t think I will ever get used to that.
Mick Heydon, veteran and advocate, greeted me jovially and Cheryl Sly alerted me to her close relationship with Sheila Sly/Oehm. Noel Hunter’s granddaughter, Ashley, was also present. Nine people altogether and much to-and-froing during the presentation. Ashley and Mick talked about the effect on Noel and his struggle to have his experience acknowledged. Cheryl gave us a glimpse of the impact on Sheila.
Another interested, interactive gathering, more happy librarians, fewer books in the box.
Then back in the ute to drive to Melbourne and the Spirit Tuesday night. Draw breath and start again. At least I will get to sleep in my own bed.
These are the upcoming dates for Tasmanian readings from ‘The Kapooka Tragedy: remembering 21 May 1945’:
Burnie Linc – Thursday 26 Nov, 4.30pm
Wynyard Library – Friday 27 Nov, 10.30 am (followed by Living Book interviews)
Window on the World (Ulverstone) – Saturday 28 Nov, 12.00pm
Penguin Markets – Sunday 29 Nov, 9.00 – 3.00
Penguin Library – Tuesday 1 Dec, 4pm
Smithton Library – Thursday 3 Dec, 11am
Crowded Lounge, Latrobe – Friday 4 Dec, 2pm
Foreshore Market, Wynyard – Sunday 6 Dec. 8.30 – 2.00pm
Hopefully, more to come.
At least if you put the bum in the seat, if something goes off in my head, I’m ready!
The launch was a terrific event. We had about 40 folk in the room, and a diverse gathering it was – an AWAS from the base that day, Kath Weale, two young members of the crowd that lined the streets for the funeral, Evelyn Patterson and Dick Bostock, members of Wagga’s RSL Sub-branch and Historical Society, a member of the team that constructed the memorial, Damian Strauss, two of Jack Nixon’s nieces, locals, my wife, artists, historians and friends.
I was also able to publicly and personally thank Zita (DDD) and Maris (Textiles Anyone) for their efforts in bringing the book to print.
Instead of having a single speaker to speak about the book or the event, many of the people mentioned by name above chipped in from their experiences. The intention was to show that the book and the memorial have been communal efforts, and it seemed to work well.
I am proud to be able to say that this is a Wagga book and I am proud of the book. I consider myself a Wagga ex-pat, and the publisher, designer of the layout, and the printer are all Wagga people and businesses.
I liken the process of writing a book to parenting. The completion of the first draft is like the birth; the rewriting etc is like childhood and adolescence; the launch is akin to the old-fashioned debut into society. Like parenting, it never ends, even when the child is out and under their own steam.
God be with you this day.