Monday, 24 November 2014


Great grandfather Lorenzo

A strange thing happened last Wednesday. In the midst of a wild late afternoon thunderstorm, lightning flashing, thunderclaps blasting, I realised that if I kept writing for another hour I might just put the final full stop on the first draft of my manuscript.

'Paradise' - the working title of my epic story of 350 peasant Italians seeking a new life in the far flung Pacific has been a labour of learning and more learning. It has been challenging, informing, frustrating, exhilerating and energising.

In the end it all happened really quickly. At times I thought I would never see that final spot on the page but this final section, set in Noumea, seemed to gather pace as I wrote it. The elements came together, in some cases in surprising ways, and I think I have resisted the temptation to tie up the loose ends too neatly.

In my process, while I have lived with these characters for two years and some of them are my relatives from 130 years ago, I never felt that I really knew what they were thinking or about to do next. They kept surprising me and in the end still have lives beyond my knowledge. That too surprised me. Wasn't I supposed to know them inside out, back to front? How could I write about people who I didn't know at that depth.

Well, now I sit here and reflect that life is a very existential experience. Does any of us really know another? I hope not. Otherwise there would be no surprises in our relationships. While I value being loved by someone who thinks they know me, I know that deep down, they will never know my world fully because a lot of it is internal and much of it is too complex to share. I know myself enough to get by, but I am still surprised at times by my responses to things which seem to come from unconscious places that I am not fully aware of.

Today I begin the second phase of this project. I will begin reviewing what I've written to date, not rewriting, but organising the 250 odd pages into a restructured draft ready for reading by a select few to help me understand what I need to do to move it from draft 1 to draft 2.


Monday, 3 November 2014

Strolling the Flood Plains of Hill End

This is a map of the Kurilpa Peninsula in the great 1893 Brisbane flood. It peaked three times in the one month. The shaded area marks the flood plains comprising the suburbs of South Brisbane, West End and the locality of Hill End.

Named Kurilpa, the aboriginal name means 'Place of the water rat'.

I've just completed a local history walking guide which covers the area, the river plains in the south west corner of this map. Hill End. It's where I live. In the most recent major flood, 2011, my house was well above the flood line but in 1893 we would have gone under. That's almost unbelievable given how high we were above the water in 2011 despite the fact that it approached our front gate.

The West End Making History Group, of which I am part, has created four walking guides to the peninsula, this one being No. 4. I'm learning more about the difference between writng a history based guide and leading a history based walking tour from this process (this is my second guide).

The publication tells a story with the river and its impact on the community and its evolution as its focus. The river is the skeleton around which the guide is built. And I would have thought that the walks we lead would simply be a translation of that guide into the spoken word. Wrong! When confronted with a group of humans standing expecting to be told a story (the same one?), it becomes clear that there is a whole back story which needs to be told to fill the gaps and turn the skeleton into a body.

So I've spent the last week (after the guide has gone to the printer) researching and revisiting every aspect of the walk to find more flesh for those bones. It's surprised me but has given me a new appreciation of those who call themselves professional historians. They read everything available, whereas I read what I need to read to create the story. It's my theatre background - tell the story, tell the story - edit! edit! Simplify, find the essence!

I'm close to understanding what I need but now I need an historian's mind to remember all the details. Oh God. I thought I had finished all the hard work.

The guide, "Strolling the Flood Plains of Hill End", gets launched this Friday 7 November at the local bookshop - Avid Reader in West End. Come along at 6:30pm and say hi if you're in the area. An electronic copy of the guide will be available on our website by the end of the week.