Kim Kelly

Australian Author



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What happens when a hardworking farm girl and a spoilt rich-boy gambler are mistaken for bushrangers on the road to the goldrush? At a breakneck gallop through wild colonial Australia, Lady Bird & The Fox untangles a tale of true identity and blind bigotry, of two headstrong opposites thrown together by fate, their lives entwined by a quest to get back home – and the irresistible forces of love.


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Praise for Lady Bird & The Fox

Lady Bird & The Fox is a marvel of a novel…It’s a story that will stay with me forever.’ –  Wendy James, The Golden Child

Kelly is a masterful creator of character and voice. Reminiscent of Mark Twain’s dry humour…’ – Julian Leatherdale, Palace of Tears

Lady Bird & The Fox is a completely unique tale. It’s a fast-paced, deeply evocative story of life, love and adventure in early Australia. I read it in one sitting, loved every single word.’ Kelly Rimmer, Before I Let You Go

Lady Bird & The Fox is brilliant. Thought provoking, funny – as in, actually laugh out loud funny – historically accurate, meticulously researched, and crafted with impeccable inference.’ – Theresa Smith, Australian Women Writers

Praise for Kim Kelly

‘colourful, evocative and energetic’ – Sydney Morning Herald

‘impressive research’ – Daily Telegraph

‘Why can’t more people write like this?’ – The Age

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Our Millthorpe Pop-Up is a celebration of Australian writing, our books all gathering together in a little gold-rush era village with stories whispering from every wild colonial verandah post. Now, Kelly, if you were to set a tale in Millthorpe, with its many layers of history – from the Wiradjuri wars to boutique stores – what sort of a tale might you tell?

My book A Mother’s Confession is set in a fabulously quirky, fictional village called ‘Milton Falls’, which is located somewhere near both Orange and Bathurst…sound familiar? That particular story is an exploration of some pretty intense issues and the plot is driven by the blessings and complications of small-town living. For all of these reasons, it just didn’t feel right to name a real place for the setting, but in my mind as I was writing, ‘Milton Falls’ looked a lot like our lovely Millthorpe. So…I think I have already done this, although perhaps in a roundabout way!

Please tell us about the wonderful tales you’ll be bringing to the Millthorpe Pop-Up from far and wide.

I’ll only be travelling from my home in Orange, but the story I’ll be bringing is set half a world away in Alabama in the US. Here’s a little taste of my new book, Before I Let You Go.

ANZ_BILYG-Cover_Final (002)As children, Lexie and Annie were incredibly close. Bonded by the death of their beloved father, they weathered the storms of life together. When Lexie leaves home to follow her dream, Annie is forced to turn to her leather-bound journal as the only place she can confide her deepest secrets and fears…

As adults, sisters Lexie and Annie could not be more different. Lexie is a successful doctor and happily engaged. Annie is an addict – a thief, a liar and unable to remain clean. When Annie’s newborn baby is in danger of being placed in foster care, Annie picks up the phone to beg her sister for help. Will Lexie agree to take in her young niece? And how will Annie survive, losing the only thing in her life worth living for?

What’s your favourite Australian story – be it a novel, a film, or legend? And why do you love it?

I have a very soft spot for the novel Playing Beatie Bow, by Ruth Park. I read it when I was a child and was so absorbed in the story it felt like I’d fallen back into the 1800’s myself. Perhaps that book even made a permanent connection in my mind between that setting and great storytelling, because I love to take a retreat to The Rocks when I’m working on a first draft. My novels are generally set in the modern era, and not always set here in Australia, but there’s just something inspiring about getting to work in a place steeped in so much history.

How lovely. And what’s the view from your storytelling window today?

In the real world, I’m looking out through my window towards some stunning gum trees in the distance and a cluster of wattles just behind my back fence. But right beside that window is the window I’ve been spending far more time staring at today, and that’s my current manuscript on my monitor – today it’s got me staring back 1938, to a tiny village in Lesser Poland…where the opening scenes to my 2019 novel are set.

Can’t wait to find out all about this new novel. Now, if you were to write the Great Australian Novel, where might you begin?

One of the wonderful things about this country is that you could traverse a dozen or more environs and still not capture the breadth of it. If I were to write the ‘Great Australian Novel’, it would have to be an epic saga that spanned the inner-city and the suburbs and grasslands and mountains and rainforest and beaches and…well, you get the idea! But now that I think about it, I’d probably start the story in The Rocks…

Of course! After all that travelling, it’s time for a cup of tea. Fortunately, Millthorpe has plenty of options, from country pub to hatted restaurant, and several gorgeous cafes. So what’s your yen? Coffee and cake? Beer and chips? Coq au vin and Pinot Grigio?  And while we’re here, which Australian author would you like to invite to your table?

Well…this might seem an odd answer to this question, but I’d love to sit down with the madcap children’s fiction duo Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton. Firstly, because their books inspired my son’s love of reading so I’d love to buy them a drink and say a heartfelt thanks – and secondly, because I’ve been reading their crazy tales with my kids for a few years now and I just reckon they’d be great fun to chat to!

Well, cheers to that! Thanks for bringing your story love to Millthorpe, Kelly.

Kelly Rimmer official author photo - Bree Bain Photography photo credit (002) Find out more about Kelly Rimmer here.

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Our Millthorpe Pop-Up is a celebration of Australian writing, our books all gathering together in a little gold-rush era village with stories whispering from every wild colonial verandah post. So, Kate, how has your Australianness, or your experience of Australia, inspired or influenced your storytelling explorations?

Most of my books are set long, long ago, in countries far, far away, and so they are not very Australian at all! My collection of feminist fairy-tale retellings, Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Young Women, features Russian, Scottish, English, French, Norwegian and German stories from the 18th and 19th centuries.

If you were to set a tale in Millthorpe, with its many layers of history – from the Wiradjuri wars to boutique stores – what sort of a tale might you tell?

A story set in the past, filled with drama and romance and struggle and triumph.

Please tell us about the wonderful tales you’ll be bringing to the Millthorpe Pop-Up from far and wide.

Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Young Women is a collection of old, almost VASILISA THE WISE AND OTHER TALES OF BRAVE YOUNG WOMEN v2 (1)forgotten fairy-tales, retold by me and gorgeously illustrated by Lorena Carrington, that feature strong, clever heroines.

What’s your favourite Australian story – be it a novel, a film, or legend? And why do you love it?

I love the story of my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Charlotte Waring Atkinson, who wrote the first children’s book published in Australia. Her life was just fascinating, and a true glimpse into the early days of the colonies.

Describe the view from your storytelling window today.

I look across my garden to Sydney Harbour and the ocean. It’s a glorious day and the water looks very inviting!

If you were to write the Great Australian Novel, where might you begin?

Setting it in a small country town with a long and enthralling history.

That was exhausting, wasn’t it? Time for a cup of tea. Fortunately, Millthorpe has plenty of options, from country pub to hatted restaurant, and several gorgeous cafes. So what’s your yen? Coffee and cake? Beer and chips? Coq au vin and Pinot Grigio?  And while we’re here, which Australian author would you like to invite to your table?

Champagne and caviar for me! And I’d invite Patricia Wrightson whose books meant so much to me as a child.

Well, cheers to that! Thanks for bringing your story love to Millthorpe, Kate.

kate forsyth

Find out more about Kate Forsyth here



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Our Millthorpe Pop-Up is a celebration of Australian storytelling, our books all gathering together in a little gold-rush era village with stories whispering from every wild colonial verandah post. So, Jo, how has your Australianness, or your experience of Australia, inspired or influenced your creative explorations?

My years of journeying into remote desert lands has enabled me to discover something of the extraordinary diversity of these places. Working closely for years with scientists across a wide range of disciplines, I have learnt of the growing environmental threats to arid lands and the intrinsic value, interconnectedness and essential necessity of the preservation of our desert environments and the challenges faced by their people, flora and fauna. I have been given special charter to paint the country of different Indigenous peoples, to visually describe many sacred sites, places of pilgrimage and ceremony, birth places, burial grounds, rock art galleries, homes and temples, entrusted with not only great privilege and responsibility but also enormous artistic opportunity. I share a special affinity, a collegiality with these desert peoples, through our intimate relationship to desert lands and our instinctive artistic compulsions. My artworks assimilate and translate various disciplines, cultures, philosophies and traditions, weaving knowledge and ideologies from the past to the present, from one continent to another and offering ‘fresh eyes’ on the cyclical nature of existence in these places.

If you were to create a story of Millthorpe through images, with its many layers of history from the Wiradjuri wars to boutique stores what might your sketches tell us?

Hopefully something of a personal, intimate experience. Art comes from a very selective eye, according to the sensibilities, interests and personality of the artist. I am interested in the very complex and powerful, reciprocal relationship of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have to place, how the land affects people and people affect the land. People have left their imprint on the landscape, just as the landscape has marked them. I believe my work has a particularly female perspective and contribution in describing the elusive primary sense that lies in the alliance to natural worlds.

Please tell us about the wonderful book youll be bringing to the Millthorpe Pop-Up.

Jo Bertini Fieldwork is a visually engaging contemporary art book that brings to life artist Jo Bertini’s long and intimate involvement with the Australian desert. Her pen and ink drawings, works in pencil, charcoal, as well as hundreds of small gouaches, jo bertiniare a vibrant visual diary of the changing landscape.

There is a yearning in Bertini’s drawings and gouaches, an ache to connect with what she sees, before it disappears. Rarely do we get so close to the experience of an artist at work.

With an introduction by Robyn Davidson, author of the best-selling book Tracks, Fieldwork is an authentic engagement with the desert lands and Bertini as a painter and explorer.

‘It is only possible to paint the desert with knowledge. You cannot just dip into the desert and hope to see it. Jo Bertini has been very fortunate in going into the desert repeatedly … There is an energy in her brush that corresponds with the emotional response to this landscape.’ – Andrew Sayers, director, National Portrait Gallery

Whats your favourite Australian story be it a novel, a film, or legend? Or even a painting? And why do you love it?

I love Sidney Nolan’s narrative painting series of Burke and Wills and the inland explorers. Particularly the paintings of the camels around the salt lakes of central Australia and the lost explorer encountering an Indigenous man who is attempting to help him. These paintings actually move me to tears as they are so close to my own experiences but from a particularly male historical perspective, the great myth of male virility and flawed conquering of the continent.

Describe the view from your studio window today.

My studio is in an old woodshed on my property and the doors open onto a creek gully full of very old heritage apple and quince trees. There is a resident striped faced swamp wallaby who lives beneath the trees in the creek and spends time grazing around my woodshed, looking at me painting while I look out at him.

If you were to write the Great Australian Novel or draw it! where might you begin?

Out bush, probably in the heart of central Australia, in a very remote and inaccessible, sacred Aboriginal waterhole in the northern Simpson Desert.

That was exhausting, wasnt it? Time for a cup of tea. Fortunately, Millthorpe has plenty of café options. Now, which Australian author or artist would you like to invite to your table?

Sidney Nolan, although that would be impossible, so otherwise the wonderful intrepid Australian writer and explorer Ernestine Hill…equally impossible as both are deceased.

Thanks for bringing your story love to Millthorpe, Jo.


Find out more about Jo Bertini here.

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Our Millthorpe Pop-Up is a celebration of Australian writing, our books all gathering together in a little gold-rush era village with stories whispering from every wild colonial verandah post. So, Mr Johnston, how has your Australianness, or your experience of Australia, inspired or influenced your storytelling explorations?

I’ve not really written so much directly about Australia. Partly because of a lack of luck –  I haven’t found Australian stories that interest me enough to devote three or four years of work.  That’s not to say these stories don’t exist – they just haven’t dropped into my fevered brain. But I think my Australianness has informed the way I look to Europe. I’ve always thought of the poet/writer as the outsider, looking in with uncluttered and greater clarity. It makes it hard, having to find information over such a distance and in other languages, but in some ways that has made me more cunning in finding the paths to bits of information. And especially when I was in France researching The Cast of a Hand, a lot of people I asked questions of were so surprised an Australian was interested in this story they went to great lengths to help me.

Having said all that, my latest work-in-progress, Cane, is set in Far North Queensland. It has been something of a novelty to work mainly in English and to have easy access to local newspapers via Trove. I don’t think I’d realised what a blessing Trove is as most countries do not have such a thing. The French have digitally archived a lot of information but getting access to it is another thing.

If you were to set a tale in Millthorpe, with its many layers of history – from the Wiradjuri wars to boutique stores – what sort of a tale might you tell?

It would be a tale of an outsider of some kind, trying to find their place. But not that they would sell out to co-exist, they would reform people’s opinion of some issue and then gain acceptance.  Perhaps an annual floral festival or pop-up shop… A Sydney writer who marries a local for love…  A title, something bold! Dramatic! Heroic! – Peace and War, perhaps, Sensibility and Pride.

You’re a card, Mr Johnston. Please tell us about the wonderful tales you’ll be bringing to the Millthorpe Pop-Up from far and wide.


The Cast of a Hand is a true-life murder mystery, set in a turbulent period of French history, 1869-70 and the first signs of the fall of The Second Empire. Over the course of a few months, a whole family, mother and father and six children, were murdered. At first it was very clear to the prosecutors what had occurred, but as the case unfolded, and the political climate of those years unwound, it became clearer the case was much more complex than originally thought. The research, mostly in French, took me a long while to translate. The whole novel took me over ten years, working on and off.

What’s your favourite Australian story – be it a novel, a film, or legend? And why do you love it?

That’s a VERY hard question. So many things on second viewing or reading unwind. But Muriel’s Wedding seems perfect, every time I’ve watched it. It depicts that urban discomfort of Australians so well.  It’s Australia looking at itself and not being quite comfortable with what it sees. It’s perfectly cast and the plot isn’t predictable. And ultimately it’s a story of mateship.  And there are so many great lines. And the ending, where they drive away from Porpoise Spit, up the hill in the taxi, reminds me of the ending of Thelma and Louise, or am I stretching too far?  Discuss.

We’ll take that discussion offline, hey? For now, describe the view from your storytelling window today. 

My view is quite pinched, not at all far-reaching. I have a large 2.5 x 2.5 metre window (partially blocked by my second computer screen) which looks out onto a small, bark-covered verge before a high hedge of thick pittosporums. I’ve put a few pot plants there to add a bit more colour and coaxed back to life a camellia bush which was hacked-to-the-ground by the last tenants. But the morning sun spills butterscotched and dappled across my desk. And if I look through the glass of my desk, there’s mostly a very good-looking black and white pussy cat, Robert “Bob” Trudeau, asleep. And sometimes a golden Labrador, when Amber comes to visit.

 If you were to write the Great Australian Novel, where might you begin?

Like Maria von Trapp, at the very beginning.

That was exhausting, wasn’t it? Time for a cup of tea. Fortunately, Millthorpe has plenty of options, from country pub to hatted restaurant, and several gorgeous cafes. So what’s your yen? Coffee and cake? Beer and chips? Coq au vin and Pinot Grigio?  And while we’re here, which Australian author would you like to invite to your table?

Well, Kim Kelly, naturally. But if she wasn’t free, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin. We could discuss our brilliant careers and I’d love to know what she thinks of the awards her names preside over.

Ha! Flattery will get you a free coffee. And cheers to that. Thanks for bringing your story love to Millthorpe, Mr Johnston.


Find out more about G.S. Johnston here.




She couldn’t tell a story straight if she tried – there’s my epitaph. That is, all charges of tall tale-telling blarney aside, I can’t write historical fiction in neatly episodic chunks of third-person, past tense, plain-English prose.

I love language too much, for a start: I love falling down magical rabbit holes of etymology, to wonder at the way language changes across time, and from person to person. I love every quirk of the vernacular – every skerrick of slang, every blessed curse word, and that way Australians have with inventing new ones – like ‘wowser’ and ‘flummox’ and ‘maggoty’, whole dictionaries full of them. I love to wonder at every influence upon our Strine: the Irish, the Americans, the Germans, the many First Nations languages spoken across the continent. Our language is constantly changing, and those fine-detail changes can tell us a lot about our history, who we are and where we’ve come from.

But what I love best is the utterly unique idiom we each carry around inside our heads. Each of us has a distinct way of speaking; and we each have at least two different speaking versions of ourselves: the one we use when we’re actually talking, and the one we use when we’re talking to ourselves. Our actual talking voice is also split into at least two versions: a more formal one for use with strangers; and a more relaxed one we use with our friends – a language often laced with code, the beautiful, secret language shared by those who hold each other dear.

Obviously, this is why writing in the first person – writing in character – is a very natural way for me to explore story, and to explore Australian history. But of course, novel-writing is more than talking, and more than the nuts and bolts of story, too. Novels, generally, are about people, and those people must step from the page and into readers’ imaginations immediately and truthfully for readers to want to follow them anywhere at all. Constructing character then – dreaming up a living, breathing, believable person – is the happy challenge that entwines itself around the voices in my head, and it’s right here, in the meeting of voice and character, that I find the beginnings of every new novel.

And a great deal of research goes into all that dreaming up, too. The first glimmers of my new novel, Lady Bird & The Fox, came to me in the form of Annie Bird’s voice. She virtually shouted at me, she arrived so wholly, and her first words were: ‘This is a disaster!’ Who was she, and where did she come from? A combination of reading about gold rush Australia and puzzling over the scant traces left of the life of Australia’s probably one and only female Aboriginal bushranger, Mary Ann Bugg; as well, I carried voices with me of the strong and forthright Aboriginal women of La Perouse who peopled my childhood; I also carried with me the voice of one of my oldest and most cherished friends – the strong and forthright daughter of one of those women.

I saw Annie raise her hand to shield her eyes from the rising sun, and I saw not only the warm, deep brown of her skin: I saw the shape of her wrist, her long slim fingers and the fineness of her bones.

And then followed the delight of getting to know her, this woman of great conviction, who is stubborn and funny, both soulfully compassionate and rip-you-to-shreds critical. What did she wear? What did she love to do in quiet moments alone? What were her prized possessions? What was her favourite food? What was her favourite drink?

In answering these kinds of questions for any character, I hit the newspapers of the year – in this case, 1868. And when it came to Annie’s preferred cold beverage on a hot day, it took a while for me find the one that really was hers. Lemonade? No – too common. Soda water? No – too plain. Beer? No – she was always too busy for alcohol. Iced tea? Wasn’t invented yet in the far flung outer reaches of mid-Victorian Sydney.

Then I came across an ad for a public house outlining its basic provisions, and one of them was raspberry vinegar. I had no idea what that might be – and that was intriguing enough in itself for me. Best of all, the combination of sweet and tart it suggested made it perfect for Annie. She is lovely and sharp at once.

But while I soon discovered raspberry vinegar was a popular cordial of the day, for the life of me I couldn’t find a recipe. It was so annoying that I couldn’t quite taste this drink that Annie loved.

That was, until dinner with friends a few years later, when Lady Bird & The Fox was at the typesetter, pretty much done and dusted. My lovely real-life friend, for reasons I can’t now remember, produced one of her mother’s beautifully handwritten recipe books, dating back to the 1930s – and there within its pages lay Annie’s raspberry vinegar.

When serendipity strikes like this – especially in such a way that makes the world feel wonderfully small and bright – it strikes with a thrill that makes me tearful, and grateful, and intensely aware that we are all somehow connected through soul-threads of love.

As soon as I could, I made up the recipe, tweaking it for a little less sugar, and we enjoyed it with a splash of vodka, soda and mint.

Chin chin then, Annie Bird. Not just a voice, not just a character, but a friend. I might never be able to tell a story straight, but I – or rather we – will always tell them true.

Oh, and by the way, Annie’s favourite word is ‘collop’, but you’ll have to read the story to find out why, and what it really means – to her.

Lady Bird cocktail




This dirty little three-letter word is just about the worst thing anyone could say about another’s creative efforts.

‘My darling, I’ve cooked you a beautiful meal.’ Meh.

‘Do you like the new outfit I made?’ Meh.

‘I think I might, in my wildest imaginings, have just glimpsed the cure for cancer!’ Meh.

‘Yeah, I can hardly believe it either, but I think I’ve written a novel.’ Meh.

It’s the worst word with which to condemn another’s endeavours to make and do as it carries not only dismissal and contempt, it suggests that the effort was so dull and pointless it barely deserves any reaction at all.

I received a ‘meh’ once, a few years ago now, and it was a fairly unforgettable experience, made far more revolting by the fact that it came from a fellow author, who felt the need to express it publicly. We all say half-arsed things from time to time, but among them the meh is somehow indelible. I met that author face to face a few months ago and all I saw was the meh, as if that word were tattooed across their forehead, and, as per the immutable laws of emotional physics, I was instantly so overwhelmed by a desire to spit on the ground at their feet in disgust, I was compelled to turn away. No meh about it.

Boohoo me. But there’s a depth of meh yet more putrid still – meh-ing a classic, a work of great skill – and I stepped into steaming example of such just yesterday.

Backstory: one of my human babies recently worked on the forthcoming Bruce Beresford film adaption of the novel, The Women in Black (most fabulously as an assistant costumier, go baby, mamma woot, punch the air). Written by the late Madeleine St John twenty-five years ago, it’s an impeccably crafted slice of stultifying mid-century Sydney, sans aircon and avec lashings of satire. One of its central characters, a young woman on the cusp of going to university, is so excruciatingly and beautifully caught between her parochialism and her yearning to discover herself and the world through words, she is me – and millions of other Australian women, timelessly. The novel also has more layers of butter and salt than a post-war Hungarian cheese puff: cultural cringe and kitsch, sacred Australiana, our top-class competitive sports of anti-intellectualism, insularity and misogyny on full-colour display, a text that asks, ‘What’s changed?’ with wisps of Voltaire, Tolstoy and Blake dancing round its edges, both mocking our smallness and beckoning larger and more dangerous thoughts.

And then yesterday, in wanting to have a look at the resurgence of interest the book was no doubt enjoying as a result of said film, I decided to consult the usual review hubs to see how it was being received by readers, and there my eyes almost immediately fell upon the word ‘meh’.

You have got to be fucking kidding, I said to myself at first glance, but when I saw the reviewer was yet another fellow author my heart hit the floor.

Really? Madeleine St John is dead and even if she were alive I’m sure she wouldn’t give half a sliver. What upsets me – inconsolably – is that other authors, who know what it means and what it takes to write a book, would even think to treat others of their ilk with such flagrant disregard.

Meh is not clever. As a writer and permanent student of literature and life, your feelings about a text are irrelevant; let them interfere with your critical faculties, and your opinions are even less worthy. As a writer, a thoughtful, curious writer, your primary quest, surely, is to consider the intentions of any author you read, weigh up how well you consider those intentions have been executed in light of your own ever-gaping ignorance, and to pinch what you can of their best bits. Anything else is arrogance.

Use the meh and you prove you warrant no better yourself.

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The lovers in my new novel, Lady Bird & The Fox, seem such an unlikely couple, at first glance.

Annie Bird is a part Mulgoa, part English woman searching for her Wiradjuri grandfather. She’s Aboriginal in both her understanding of herself, and in the way others treat her; but she’s been robbed of the vast majority of her culture, her Aboriginal inheritances, and especially mourns the loss of her mother’s language. At the same time, she is both intellectually and conscientiously Christian.

Jem Fox, on the other hand, is part Polish, part French, and although educated in London, in the English public school system, with all its oppressive Christianity and class snobbery, he is inescapably culturally Jewish. As a result of these clashes and confusions, he’s rejected religion, and any convention, pretty much entirely.

Both of them are Australian, though. Their starry paths cross and they fall in love with each other. Like people from diverse backgrounds do, every day. The love of Annie and Jem is a love that’s destined to be successful in every way, and yet the more successful they become in business, the more the complex cultural details of their lives will be whitewashed away. Jem’s Jewishness disappears from annals of the day; the colour of Annie’s skin is omitted from any mention. Their grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and so on down the line, might inherit little more than a whisper of who these lovers that made them really were.

It’s a trick of history Australians are particularly champion at. It’s also a form of identity theft against those who sit outside what the mainstream decides an Australian should look like, and we do it all the time, every day, today. We have done it, forever and most profoundly, to First Nations people, and these thefts should be considered crimes.

The year after the novel ends, 1869, the Aboriginal Cricket Team mentioned in the story, a group of grown men who’d been touring England, returned to a country in which the laws had been changed, at least in Victoria, to ensure an Aboriginal person couldn’t leave these shores again without government permission; those men could now also have their applications to marry arbitrarily refused.

The year this novel was begun, 2014, a beautiful, vibrant Aboriginal woman, Miss Dhu, died of complications of septicaemia and pneumonia in a police cell in Western Australia, there for unpaid traffic fines. The same year, in the case of another young Aboriginal woman, Lynette Daley, who was raped so savagely that she died of her injuries, the New South Wales Department of Public Prosecutions decided that the white men who attacked her could not be charged despite coronial recommendation and the glaring evidence against them; an injustice that has only been overturned, by the determined efforts of her family, as I wrote these trail-of-breadcrumbs notes for the novel more than three years later.

Throughout the writing of it, I came up against immeasurable holes in the historical records of what happened to the Mulgoa and the Bathurst-Wambool Wiradjuri, after colonisation. Half-sketched or absent acts of war that remain unresolved by truce or treaty today. Open wounds that can only be closed by the telling and acknowledgement of the truth.

What really happened and is continuing to happen is that Australia has a devastating problem with racism.

As an Australian of European descent, I wrestled for a long time with the ethical dilemma of taking on the voice of a First Nations, Aboriginal character, but Annie’s is a voice that’s been with me a long time. This woman is my friend. I grew up at La Perouse, on the northern, axe-edged tip of Botany Bay, where half my friends were Koori and the other half came from all over the world. Few of us fitted neatly into the white-bread square of what an Australian should be. The Aboriginal people in my life today are not only people I’m proud to call friends, but are among my oldest friends. Maybe it was inevitable that I would one day try to write a bold, determined and triumphant black woman to match the examples in my own reality.

It was a chance encounter that really got Annie Bird whispering, and sometimes shouting, into my ear, though. I was roaming through some research, wanting to discover the history of the wild west of the New South Wales goldfields, where I live today (and indulging my long-held love affair with that period, the 1970s TV series Rush and my abiding crush on the actor John Waters), when I came across a fleeting footnote to the white male history of the times: the real-life bushranger wife of Captain Thunderbolt, Mary Ann Bugg. Bugg was the daughter of an ex-convict English farmer and an Aboriginal woman of unknown nationality (possibly Worrimi or Biripi) from the Hunter Valley area; she was boarding-school educated in Sydney and variously said to be exceptionally beautiful and articulate, a cracking good opera singer and a resourceful, britches-wearing bushwoman; some time after her husband was shot dead by police in 1870, in one account, she stated that her heritage was Maori rather than Aboriginal, possibly in order to obtain work and perhaps to retain her independence, to avoid being corralled on a mission station and having her life controlled by church and state. Her story, or the wisps of it that remain, intrigued me for what it says about the nineteenth-century myth of the First Nations peoples’ inability to make their way in the white world or between cultures; and what it says about survival.

My story is not an Aboriginal history, though, and doesn’t pretend to be. The intricacies of that history are not mine to tell. Like all my stories, Lady Bird & The Fox is an expression and invention of the love, curiosity and despair I have for the country I call home. There are many First Nations writers exploring stories of dispossession and survival and triumph through their fiction today, the complexity and diversity of that experience infused with living, contemporary culture: Anita Heiss, Alexis Wright, Kim Scott, Tony Birch, so many more – discover them and be richer for it. It’s my hope only that I inspire readers of all kinds to go and find out more – more and more of the truth.

As for my credentials as an 1860s larrikin Ashkenazi Jew, well, perhaps there’s a fair amount of that in my DNA, both Prussian and Irish, an intense need to know what Sydney was like when they stepped off the ship, and to understand how and why that element of my family identity has remained so strong so far down the line. To have an Irish Catholic great-great-grandmother, as I do, is one thing; to have an Irish Jewish great-great-grandmother as well feels, to me, like I’ve inherited some kind of cultural jackpot.

But Jews have often been painted out of the picture of Australia, too. It’s a consistently overlooked fact that they have been a significant part of the fabric of Australian life since British colonisation, and have contributed to this country enormously – far beyond their weight of numbers, and despite religious and racial prejudice. Among the approximately one hundred and fifty thousand convicts transported to Australia, it’s thought that around one thousand of them were Jews; by 1868, when the colonies had swelled to a population of about one and a half million, about six thousand Jews had come to call Australia home. From the beginning, they’ve comprised only about half a percent of the population and yet gave us our first Australian-born governor-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs, and our first and most famous military general, Sir John Monash – both of them born here during the gold rushes.

These identities aren’t political dots points. They are real people, who live and love. They are the twenty-four million from all over the world who call Australia home today.

They are Annie and Jem.

They are you and me.

bigot wttle


This is the catchcry of every Australian hard-arse bigot: ‘Get over it.’

Lost your job and ended up homeless? ‘Get over it. Pull your socks up and get another job.’

Lost your country and ended up in an offshore gulag? ‘Get over it. Save the sob story for someone who cares.’

Been abused for speaking a language other than English in public? ‘Get over it. And I asked for extra peanuts on my Gang Ped Goong or are you frigging deaf too?’

Been refused service in a pub because your skin is darker than the barman’s? ‘Get over it. Don’t think you’re going to get away with playing the race card, either – I just don’t like the look of you.’

It’s 2018 and this stuff is still everyday.

Yesterday, an old school friend, noted for being a well-balanced realist with a sense of humour that delights in just about every absurdity, put up a Facebook post which included the words: ‘Most who know me know that I’m not overly touchy on racism subjects…’


Someone he knows had just experienced the humiliation of being refused a drink in a hotel. The man in question is a well-respected member of the community, and he wasn’t drunk – apparently, he hadn’t yet had the chance to get a drink of any kind at all. Behind him, the bar was filled with very pissed and very loud backpackers. This man was refused a drink for only one reason: he’s Aboriginal. The name of the bar was said to have been Scruffy Murphy’s, by the way, in Sydney’s CBD – a well-known den of excess, sitting across the road from Chinatown, oblivious to every irony.

What followed, in the Facebook thread, made me cry: men sharing their own experiences of this rejection, this casual cruelty, not with anger, but with sad resignation. One man, another I went to school with, said, ‘I’ve never been allowed to enter Coogee Dolphins.’ Another man said simply, ‘It will never stop.’

We hear everywhere, blasted from mainstream media megaphones, that Australia has no problem with racism. We’re told that if only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people got over themselves and the past they’d be fine. We allow the powerful – academics, politicians, former prime ministers – to dismiss any claims of hurt with counter-claims that colonisation was good for everyone. ‘Hey, don’t they like having mobile phones and all that?’ We have a present prime minster who greasily asks a gathering of the top First Nations thinkers in the land how they might best influence public policy, and then promptly, shamelessly, ignores the advice.

The advice to First Nations people from the maggoty heart of all our reflexive, guilt-rancid racism is: ‘Get over it. Or would you prefer to be hurled back into the Stone Age?’

And yes, a ‘journalist’ from the Murdoch press actually said words to this effect in the lead-up to Australia Day – and no, I’m not going to name him, because I’m not going to lend him one dot more of the infamy he craves.

Over the past few months, I’ve been riding my regular little rollercoaster of worry that I have no business, as a gub who is White As, writing about race. The increasing colour-between-the-lines strictures of identity politics say I should leave this space to those who face it. The mostly middle-class demands for authenticity and purity of voice shake me daily. But I can’t step away. I can’t see these things, and feel these reflections of trauma, and be quiet.

I see the small-boy faces of those men I went to school with and it breaks my heart. And I won’t be getting over it myself, because they never will.


The newspaper clipping above is taken from the Freeman’s Journal, Sydney, 1877

Greghamstown 1


This is Greghamstown, one of the tiniest dots on the map of New South Wales. These days, its main street consists of half a handful of tin roofs and a few dozen outlying rural properties, one of which is The Bend, where I live, and depending on which map you consult, it appears as a hamlet of Millthorpe or of Blayney – or doesn’t exist at all.

It was only a strange trick of time that brought me here in the first place. My muse de bloke, Deano, and I were facing the grinding crisis of his surprise bout of catastrophic kidney failure, and the promise and fear of impending surgery that would see me give him one of mine. What else do you do at such a juncture but buy a small and gorgeous slice of nowhere?  That’s what we did, anyway. An act of faith in defiance of heartbreak.

A home. And one I’ve never felt so much at home within – which was a surprise in itself. I’ve always been unanchored to place, being a person of blended identity and aware since childhood of my status as interloper. Outsider. Cultural drifter. This is where my fascination with history began: who am I and how did I get here? Questions that have revealed an infinity of time tricks and shown me always how very blessed I am to have any home in this country at all.

Even before we moved into The Bend, I began fossicking for stories about this place, and one of the first I found was a snippet from The Leader, an old newspaper printed out of Orange, in 1912:

A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and evening was provided by the Greghamstown folk on Wednesday when the usual picnic and concert in aid of the Anglican Church was carried out in the church grounds. The day was an ideal one for a picnic, and in consequence the attendance was unusually large, about 300 adults and children being present, including many visitors from Blayney, Millthorpe, and the whole of the district. Afternoon tea was served in a marquee specially erected for the purpose, and it speaks well for the ladies in control that notwithstanding the extra number of visitors there was ample for all. The concert was held in the marquee, which was packed. A bright varied programme met with generous applause and appreciation.

Three hundred people at a picnic, here? Of course that then sent me off fossicking further into the past, finding all kinds of stories, clues to the changing shapes of this country – whispers of war and land-grabbing, gold rushes and grazing.

In our shiny, grimy, ever-swelling cities that cling to the coast, it’s easy to imagine that our knock-em-down-build-a-bigger-one approach to urban development is just the way things are, and that the bush is somehow a static mystery we’re all a bit too busy to be bothered with. But places like Greghamstown hold the archaeological keys to the dynamic, ever-epic identity we all share: fierce battles between the Wiradjuri and the military force sent out to crush them; the corruptions of wealthy pastoralists who thrived on stolen land; the savagery of bushranging outlaws who sought to tear it all down; the genteel carving up of the vast squatters’ runs into smaller selections in hopes of taming this country and her people. All these things happened in and around Greghamstown – a place that’s all but been reclaimed now by the bush its imagineers fancied they might conquer.

Just as our lives are ephemeral, so is everything we make and do, but in another act of faith in defiance of heartbreak, I started a novel here that first spring we arrived at The Bend. When we wrestled with doubt about the move, I’d asked my Deano, ‘Where do we want to be if things go bad?’ Whispering with all my soul: Where do you want to die? No contest. We had to make our move. But in my own quieter terror, I asked myself: ‘What do I want to die writing?’

Fast and loud the story roared onto the page, driven by all my own wonderings of who I am and how I got here, and urged on, too, by all those who gazed out at this country before me. I wrote to laugh with every lucky hand that had brought me to this precise place, so full of questions itself, and to cry with every loss that had delivered its mortgage documents to me.

As the unlikely hero of my story, Jeremy Fox, falls in love with Annie Bird, a young woman searching for her own place on the map, searching for her Wiradjuri grandfather, he is struck by the truth of Aboriginal dispossession and dispersal as it contrasts with his own Hebrew heritage:

Things change, times change, names change, people come, people go, like tides, Jews flee Tangier once every century, and return to begin again, but there’s something about Annie Bird’s loss, some lonely-moon marcasite enormity in it, that’s overwhelming.    

And it remains overwhelming. But while we can’t turn back the clock to right the wrongs of the past, we can tell our truths about it for a fairer future – before it all slips through our fingers like sand. I’ve chosen to tell my truths in a spirit of love and justice and gratitude, mostly because that seems to be the only way I can tell a tale.

And I can’t wait to share this one with you. That story I began back then with a pocket full of wishes is at the typesetter now. She’s called Lady Bird & The Fox and come April this year she’ll be set free in the world, taking this little speck of wonder hidden in the hills out around the globe.

greghamstown 3

Find Lady Bird & The Fox at Goodreads here.