Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: October, 2016

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THE GLAMOROUS LIFE OF AN HISTORICAL FICTIONEER

Crime writers might book themselves in for autopsies, thriller writers might throw themselves out of planes, while romance writers might rather fly themselves to Paris, but never let it be said that historical fictioneers don’t love a research challenge, too.

I spent almost two full days this week researching the whereabouts of a nineteenth century pub. Sober.

The pub in question is, or was, quite a famous one – the Weatherboard Inn – which once upon a time fed and watered travellers on their way over the wild and beautiful Blue Mountains of New South Wales.

In 1814, or thereabouts, a hut was built here to service those building the Bathurst Road (the forerunner Great Western Highway), and this little hut was constructed of weatherboards, of course. The Blue Mountains being a bit of a fire trail, though, the hut burnt down in 1823, only to be rebuilt – bigger and better – in 1829.

At its height, the Weatherboard Inn boasted seven bedrooms and stabling for seventeen horses, as well as three parlours, a taproom and a bar. Charles Darwin overnighted there in 1836 during the Australian leg of his worldwide Beagle tour. Taking a walk through the bush to view the nearby falls, he looked out across the Jamison Valley and found there in the ancient sandstone cliffs his first inklings of sedimentary geology.

One of the last to see the pub in all its glory was Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who, in 1868, took a lavish, celebrity excursion to the falls and on his return to Sydney was promptly shot in the backside by a Fennian rebel – a bullet which, though it didn’t kill him, rather brought down the tone of his visit. But I digress.

The thing is, this Weatherboard Inn was conspicuous. Being the only building for several miles around, thousands of tourists would have taken refreshments here before it went out business – something that appears to have happened about the time the railway came through and made the place redundant as a travellers’ rest on the hard, steep road through the range.

All of these snippets of history are fascinating – to me at least! But all of them are irrelevant to my research adventure. All I needed to know was where, more or less, the bloody thing was on the map.

Now, I do love me a geographical puzzle. I love to reconstruct long-since bulldozed streetscapes and ragged colonial roads. Give me a stash of 140-year-old train time tables and I’m there with bells and whistles. But this puzzle proved among the trickiest I’ve come across.

The more sources I consulted, the less clear the whereabouts of the pub became. In all manner of newspaper and journal mentions of the place, the name of the village it was supposed to have been located in wasn’t consistent, having been variously and imaginatively said to have been called ‘Weatherboard’, or ‘Weatherboard Creek’, or ‘Weatherboard Falls’, or, on actual train time tables, ‘The Weatherboard’.

In contemporary references to the place, it was said Weatherboard was the original name of Wentworth Falls, and yet, Australian placenames being a fascinating and often infuriating study in themselves, the historical primary sources I looked at had it variously and possibly creatively located in Blackheath (originally named Hounslow), Mount Victoria (originally named One Tree Hill) and Lawson (originally named Blue Mountain). Confused? I certainly was.

So where was the pub at the end of all this?

I eventually found a New South Wales state government report that sites archaeological evidence of the remains of a building’s foundations just north-west of where the village of Wentworth Falls sits today.  But really, who knows?

And who cares? Well, I do. The heroine of my gold-rush bushranging tale makes a visit here on her own wild and beautiful tour.

But for now, this historical fictioneer needs a drink…

(NB: the pic above is of a random timber building in Hill End, because of course no photograph or drawing of the Weatherboard Inn survives either!)

 

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LOVE IN A TEACUP

I’ve never gathered much in the way of stuff around me. Nice roof over head, nice frocks and nice bed linen, what more does one need? Apart from a laptop, phone, a stupid number of books, novelty socks and decorative pillows… Ahem.

Yes, I buy far too much crap. I’m not wealthy by Australian standards, but I am very conscious of my privilege: I’m white, well-educated and well-loved. I am my parents’ and my grandparents’ hopes and dreams made manifest. I am the living proof that sunshine, schooling and safety wipe the slate clean of any trace of poverty or dislocation.

But I think the simple living of my forebears must remain somehow in my DNA, so that as much as I buy too much crap, I’m also constantly giving it away. From handbags to lounge suites, I can always find someone to pass things on to, because they might need them, or because they might like them. Because one or several of my sons’ lovely lady pals are in need of a party frock. Or a fruit bowl.

My husband thinks this is a pathological compulsion, and worries that one day he’ll come home and I’ll have given away the cats, the chooks and all the family photographs. Not true!

It is true that having too many things around me, too much clutter of stuff, can make me feel overwhelmed – too greedy perhaps, wracked with remnant Catholic guilt – but there is one thing, one little clutter of things, I could never part with: my grandmother’s teacups.

An eclectic mix of Royal Albert, Wedgwood and Noritake, I’ve carted them around with me since I left home, and I’ve collected teacups of my own to keep them company wherever we go.

Looking at them brings me more than happiness; they bring me back my grandmother, and my mother too. They connect me to them through the stories I hold in my heart, bright and diverse as these hand-painted blooms on porcelain, though neither of them lived to see me write stories of my own. They return me to long, lazy school-holiday afternoons when I nagged them to get out all the good china for me to dream over.

Munching Arnott’s Lemon Crisp biscuits, I’d imagine my grown-up life, all the tea parties I’d throw. I couldn’t have imagined where these teacups would find themselves over the years that followed: mad places, wild places, sometimes frightening, sometimes beautiful. Wonderful. And not a chip or crack among them for all that, I hold them so dear.

Of course I do. My grandmother – Nin as we called her – never owned much. She never bought a house or a car; she never saw Paris or London or Rome. But she owned fabulous teacups. She owned fabulous stories, too. I can only imagine the look on her face – and Mum’s – at my telling them that Nin’s favourite actress, Helen Morse, is the narrator of my latest novel. We’d get out the teacups for that!

There’s one little green, gilt-edged cup that’s always been my absolute favourite, though. It has no great name, and no grand style, only a Chinese stamp under the base, blurry and bright gold.

I would ask my Nin on school-holiday loop: ‘And where did you get this one?’ Always wanting the tale, wondering if this little cup came from ancient Greece, or maybe from the table of an Egyptian queen.

And I remember Nin replying with some faraway quizzical frown, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’

As if it had come to her by some magic.

Perhaps it did.

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