Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: March, 2015

lawson

THE BANJO OR THE BOOZE?

I often wonder if there are two camps of Australian writers, and maybe Australians in general – the Lawsons and the Patersons. Those who walk with their characters and those who talk about them; those who are realists and those who romanticise; the socialists and the conservatives; the philosophers and the idealists.

Anyone who knows my stories would probably guess I’m a fan of Mr Lawson. It’s his honesty that takes me by the collar and makes me look, even when he says things I disagree with, and this small letter he wrote to The Bulletin in 1903 is one perfect example – and one of my favourite Lawson raves:

Dear Bulletin

I’m awfully surprised to find myself sober.  And, being sober, I take up my pen to write a few lines, hoping they will find you as I am at present. I want to know a few things. In the first place: Why does a man get drunk? There seems to be no excuse for it.  I get drunk because I am in trouble, and I get drunk because I’ve got out of it. I get drunk because I’m sick, or have corns, or the toothache: and I get drunk because I’m feeling well and grand. I get drunk because I was rejected; and I got awfully drunk the night I was accepted. And, mind you, I don’t like to get drunk at all, because I don’t enjoy it much, and suffer hell afterwards. I’m always far better and happier when I’m sober, and tea tastes better than beer. But I get drunk. I get drunk when I feel that I want a drink, and I get drunk when I don’t. I get drunk because I had a row last night and made a fool of myself and it worries me, and when things are fixed up I get drunk to celebrate it.  And, mind you, I’ve got no craving for a drink.  I get drunk because I’m frightened about things, and because I don’t care a damn.  Because I’m hard up and because I’m flush.  And, somehow, I seem to have better luck when I’m drunk.  I don’t think the mystery of drunkenness will ever be explained – until all things are explained, and that will be never. A friend says that we don’t drink to feel happier, but to feel less miserable. But I don’t feel miserable when I’m straight. Perhaps I’m not perfectly sober right now, after all. I’ll go and get a drink, and write again later.

Lawson

The Patersons can find him messy and a bit of a silly old fool, but I love him like a long, lost, strange and often hilarious uncle. There’s not a writing day goes by that I don’t try to shoot for his cheek and his humour.

But who’s your favourite bush bard? Lawson or Paterson or maybe a mix of both?

Whoever you love, here’s cheers!

cobb & co qld

TIME TRAVELLING

Just how many days does it take my lovely latest hero to ride from Sydney to Bunyip’s Bend, a distance of one hundred and fifty dusty miles, during the gold rush in the mid nineteenth century?

Today, consulting Google Maps and a plethora of other handy click-and-calculate resources, the answer would seem simple. Motorcars, depending upon the sobriety, wakefulness and endurance of the driver, are reasonably reliable over distances. One can say it will take approximately three hours to drive from Sydney to Bathurst today, pit-stops and red-lights on Parramatta Road notwithstanding.

But on horseback? First you need to establish the breed and fitness of the horse and consider whether or not the rider will take that one horse the whole distance or change horses along the way. Consider the weather and the state of the roads, too – if it’s particularly muddy, then you will be going slow.

Then there is the added complication of the horse having a mind of its own and deciding halfway that it needs a rest for an entire day, or maybe two. Push a horse too hard and he or she will get injured, fall ill, or fall over, and you won’t be going anywhere at all.

So, for my hero, who loves his super-athletic, super-keen Arab stallion like a brother, the journey takes four and a half days. And this is a reasonable dash for one horse, over the mountains and into the Central West.

Had my hero taken the more sensible option of catching the freshly tracked-up train from Redfern to Mount Victoria and then the Cobb & Co evening mail coach, he’d have likely got into Bathurst sometime late in the night of the same day, having left Sydney at seven a.m.

Bathurst was the epicentre of the inland transport system in those days, with coaches and bullock drays trucking in and out twenty-four hours a day at world-record speeds. These days, if you miss your bus to Bathurst, you might have to wait several hours for another, or even stay overnight – not much has changed then in that regard.

But a hundred and fifty years ago, the flash red carriages of Cobb & Co zipped back and forth and up and down the vast stretches of New South Wales, teams of heavy-chested, specially bred horses pulling their express loads of passengers, mail and gold non-stop. There were some thirty thousand of these horses spread out across the colony in our service, six thousand on the go at any one time. The drivers changed their expertly trained and chosen teams every sixteen miles, at pubs grand and tiny all the way out to Bourke and back.

It was a different world. Miss your bus back from Bourke today and you’re definitely staying overnight. But Bourke was a different town a hundred and fifty years ago, too, with paddle steamers choofing up and down the Darling River carrying bumper loads of wool. Caravans of Afghan cameleers hauling the latest fashion fabrics sent all the way from George Street emporiums for the fickle fancy of super-wealthy squatters’ wives.

It’s always a good idea to get these travel details more or less right in one’s adventures in historical fictioneering – finding out about the state of the roads, the precise date that railway tracks were laid down and stations opened, so much to check and know! – but it’s wonderful fun to follow these trails of research, too, just to imagine what this essential part of human existence was like, travelling in a different time, under different circumstances, through country as dramatically beautiful today as it was then.

It’s enough to make you want to hit the road…

photo

william 4

NOT FORGOTTEN

The above clipping starkly relates the story of the strange demise of my great uncle William Swivel, or Schwebel as he was born, before the family name was anglicised. It’s a sad little newsprint mystery, in that way suicides reported in the press always are.

Why did he jump off The Gap that day, April 20, 1936? What was going on in his life at the time? Did he have a terrible secret, or a burden he could no longer carry? Was he simply impossibly bonkers and nerve-wracked as Schwebels down the line have quite often been known to be?

The description of him here whispers odd familiar notes. Well dressed; strong swimmer; fondness for the great Australian address of ‘mate’; remarkably tenacious in the attempt to survive after the decision to self-destruct was made and promptly executed.

He was the same age I am now: 46.

I feel like I know him. But before stumbling across this little story while Troving a while ago, I’d never heard of Uncle Bill’s dramatic exit from the world. So newsworthy it was reported in no less than 17 capital city and regional papers, but unknown by the junior generation of his time, had he lived it out.

This isn’t surprising, of course. To talk of suicide until recent decades was taboo. The failure, the shame and, for the religious, the sin, overwhelmed the bereaved, stamping their grief into silence.

Other snippets of William are revealed in other reports – that he was married with an 11-year-old child, and that it was learned by the police that he had ‘suffered severely lately from ear trouble which had caused him at times to be melancholy’. I know he was a handsome chap, as Schwebel chaps tend to be, but that’s all I can add to the picture of him.

Not a good enough bunch of bits really for a man who lived and loved. Any man. But at least he’s not forgotten now.