by Kim Kelly

john waters


As a kid I was hopelessly in love with John Waters when he played Sergeant-With-A-Past Robert McKellar in the TV series Rush. I don’t think I’ve ever got over it. So, ultimately, it’s his fault I’m now knee-deep in the midst of a goldfields novel rife with bushrangers and troopers and an outrageously spunky hero with sexy eyes.

No, I tell a fib here. It’s not all John Waters’ fault. I had a crush on Jon Finch, too – the guy who played Ben Hall in the eponymously titled and like bushranging series. I think I probably had a crush on Sigrid Thornton as well, from All the Rivers Run. So, I must admit it, I had a crush on the whole 70s and 80s ABC Aussie period drama extravaganza.

Which has all undoubtedly been a massive influence on my obsession with Australian history today, thanks Aunty. I am happy as a little piggie gorging on 1860s research right now. I can’t get enough of crinolines and corsets, cartwheels, bullock drays and Dean & Adams five-barrel pistols – and all the bizarre and long-forgotten place and pub names I’m finding peppered through the Central West of the times. Just who would call a town Frying Pan or a pub the Hen & Chicken and why are but a few of the many deliciously unfathomable questions my fossicking has unearthed for me.

But I’m taking a couple of scary flying leaps with this new novel as well. It will be the most comic of all of my stories so far – a tale of mistaken identity, a breakneck rollicking picaresque full of parody and pokes in the ribs of all sorts. This kind of old-fashioned comedy requires a steady hand, cool control, and I don’t know yet if I can pull it off.

It’s also the tale of two characters who are, in several important ways, more culturally ‘other’ than any of my characters so far – people whose personal histories and experiences are worlds apart from my own, in an Australia that at times I hardly recognise. This is terrifying. But it’s also where my heart is driving me, to say some things I need to say about bigotry and prejudice that remain with us today, and so I have no choice but to go there. And see where we end up.

I’m halfway through the adventure now anyway – no turning back, no hanging up the saddle, no looking away from them dang sexy eyes.