Another month or two and I will be finished writing my new book. It has a working title of One Bright Day.
The inspiration for this story came from a visit by my daughter to Elizabeth’s Second Hand Bookshop in Perth, WA. As she was browsing its dusty shelves she picked up a book with pressed flowers between its pages and thought it might be a good way to start a story.
The early narrative thread (it is a time split novel) is set in the southwest of WA where I lived for several years on a vineyard so I know the area well, with detours to other parts of the world and finally, and most importantly, for this is where the heart of the story is, in the Tumut Valley where the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people lived for thousands of years prior to European settlement.
My story is about abandoned gardens and love and romance, betrayal, and of course big family secrets and what more beautiful place to write about than the lovely Valley that sits on the north-west foothills of the Snowy Mountains.
I enjoy writing stories set in the Australia and although I grew up beside the Pacific Ocean when I moved to a five thousand acre farm two hundred and fifty kilometres north of Perth it was there I found the sense of place I’d been searching for.
A favourite author of mine, Miles Franklin used to live in the Brindabella Ranges and she was committed to the development of a uniquely Australian form of literature. While she does not feature in my story through her I felt a connection to the area. Another link was Elyne Mitchell’s stories set in the high country that I’d read as a child and remembered fondly.
I was lately in the Valley and it was here I found not just a sense of place but a spirit of place. I travelled with two friends and we stayed in an old house with lots of history (but beautifully updated) in Wynyard Street in Tumut. I’d already written about this street in my story so to be able to walk where my characters walk was perfect for my research.
The best part of the trip was meeting people from the area, wonderful, friendly and engaging people who took us into their hearts and their community.
Sulari Gentill, the writer of the Roland Sinclair Mysteries series, lives in Batlow, a twenty minute drive from Tumut, and we met up with her and Sarah, her good friend, who’d invited me to speak at the View Club’s luncheon (in support of the Smith Family) for International Women’s Day. We shared coffee and cake in Coffee and More in the main street (no parking restrictions) and we parked right outside the shop.
Sulari, a generous person with both her time and sharing of knowledge of the area, took us to the Sugarpine Walk in Batlow where we strolled amongst the dense stand of enormous sugar pines, the largest and tallest of pines, planted in 1928. Someone in the past had had the great idea to take out a row of pines. It’s like walking up the nave of a cathedral and is a place where marriages are blessed.
Sugarpine Walk in Winter
I had read about the bogong moths that provided a rich food source for Aborigines in the area. The moths would be hunted by the male members of the tribe as the moth lay at rest in the mountains and many bogong moth feasts occured. I will weave this through my story.
I met Sue Bulger, a Wiradjuri Elder who grew up on the Brungle Mission, and felt a sense of connection to her when I sat next to her at the luncheon. Welcome to Country recognises the unique position of Aboriginal people in Australian culture and history as the original Custodians of the Land and Sue conveyed the meaning of this in her welcome to all the women at the event. I asked Sue if she’d launch my book in Tumut should I be lucky enough to have it published and she said yes.
We were also fortunate to meet Marcia from the Historical Society who kindly opened their museum to us and we spent an hour or so happily looking around. There is so much history about Miles Franklin in the museum and seeing one of her typed manuscripts and many items owned by or relating to this wonderful writer was inspirational.
I spent time with Pat who lives next door to our house in Wynyard Street. We sat together on her verandah and she told me about people from the past for she is a lady in her eighties, and we looked at clippings from old newspapers and one of the three published genealogy books on her large family. My friends and I were invited to a country property for afternoon tea at Marlene’s beautiful family home built of local stone and she showed us her art work made from old metal. I loved the bridal dress she’d welded from an old pressed tin ceiling and the added gauze veil with scattered pearls.
Outside of Tumut is a pioneer cemetery which of course we had to visit. A Chinese Funerary burner, which serves as a safe place for the ritualized burning of spiritual tributes, stood near old Chinese graves. In the photo below you can see the funerary burner to the right.
Tumut Pioneer Cemetery
And while I didn’t find Pat’s great-grandparents (the Bridals) graves (next visit) I did see, on another grave surrounded by rusted railings, a beautiful shed snakeskin. A superior being, the Rainbow Serpent in Aboriginal mythology created the people and the universe. The shedding of their skin made the snakes a symbol of rebirth and renewal. I have written about the Rainbow Serpent in my story so seeing the pale delicate beauty of the shed snakeskin seemed a powerful omen of good fortune.
We have been invited to return to Tumut, when no matter how beautiful we thought it to be, we have been assured that in other seasons the Valley is even more glorious.
And I forget to tell you that as Sulari pulled up at the Sugar Pine Plantation my friends and I saw our first brumby, a lovely young animal, who paused for a second to look at us before it disappeared into the shadowed pine forest.
All Saints Anglican Church, Tumut
On our last morning in the Valley my friends and I walked at first light with the mist hanging low over the river and in early evening we went around the corner to River Street and stood at the gates of historical All Saints Anglican Church to watch the last rays of evening light touch the top of the tall spire.
Friends found, a spirit of place found, and friends to share with.
We walked back slowly to our house and when we left the next day something of the magic we’d found in the Valley came with us.