by Kim Kelly
It’s the sweetest treat to welcome Alissa Callen as guest blogger here today. Alissa’s latest novel, The Red Dirt Road, will feature in the Millthorpe Pop-Up stables of authors gathering in town May 24-27. Here, Alissa shares the inspiration she finds living in this rolling countryside…
FLAVOURS OF THE CENTRAL WEST
Real life has a way of wriggling into my words much like how our Jack Russell squeezes through the half-open kitchen door. My new release, The Red Dirt Road, is very much woven from the scents, sights and sounds of my everyday rural life in central western New South Wales. So while Woodlea, the town of windmills, is fictitious, the landscape surrounding the town and the experiences of the local community are grounded in reality.
The plot for The Red Dirt Road owes its genesis to a past Central West spring when all it did was rain. Paddocks were saturated, mushrooms grew on lawns, water tanks overflowed and long-necked turtles were a common sight on the back road from Dubbo to Cumnock. There really was a tractor and a ute bogged at a front farm gate for weeks and a large round hay bale that bobbed along in the flooded river that submerged our pumps. The idea for the bluestone homestead and stables where Dr Fliss runs to when in search of a sanctuary came from a friend’s farm at Molong. I also visited the Cumnock and Molong cemeteries, and the Molong hospital, in the name of research.
The inspiration behind The Long Paddock stemmed from the mobs of cattle grazing on the roadside verges between Molong and Yeoval one parched summer. Yarn bombers had decorated the trees in Dubbo’s main street and the colours and textures soon found their way into my story. After attending the Orange rodeo and Molong Campdraft, not only did I find myself with a bull-rider hero, but also a misunderstood bull who was determined to take centre stage. The karst caves at Borenore provided me with a real-life cave for my plot, while the mini-tornado that ripped through the outskirts of Dubbo gave me a natural disaster. The Macquarie Matrons ball in a cotton gin inspired Woodlea’s own charity ball and the 2828 dinner at Gulargambone contributed to the idea for a fund-raising dinner.
In The Round Yard (out February 2019) the old alpaca café at Narromine features, along with the excitement of a local picnic race day, as well as the small hall festival held at Toongi Hall. I also enjoyed adding a historical element. The aviation museum at Narromine contains a fascinating snapshot of Central Western history. During the Second World War there was a secret squadron who trained here for a mission that couldn’t be talked about until after the Official Secrets Act was lifted in 1975.
For the books Beneath Outback Skies and Down Outback Roads, even though the fictitious town of Glenalla lies further west, elements of the Central West again feature. The Molong Cobb & Co station appears as well as the murals at Eugowra. The flame-bright poplars of the Central West in autumn also colour the pages along with the air-brushed blue of the skies over Mount Canobolas.
It isn’t only physical aspects of the Central West that sneak into my stories. I also like to thread in local issues that may also affect other rural communities. From the threat of feral dogs, to the importance of rural mental health, to the regeneration of small town streetscapes and to the dwindling lack of services, all are touched upon in my fiction. Concern has also grown over the management and future of the travelling stock routes and this became an issue I wanted to explore along with the prevalence of rural crime and illegal trespassing and hunting.
Every drive around the Central West brings with it more inspiration, curiosity and questions. I hope the beauty and uniqueness of where we are lucky enough to live continues to flavour my fiction for many more books to come.