Kim Kelly

Australian Author

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HOW TO KEEP WRITING

You know I love a ‘How To’ about as much as I love fish sauce on ice cream, but I have been asked a lot lately how I keep writing and writing when opportunities for publication are continually shrinking and shrinking.

I suppose the first answer to that is: I’ve never written with publication in mind. I write where a story takes me; I write to finish the story.

The second answer is: I always have something to write. I’ve never had a problem with writer’s block, don’t really know what that is or what it might feel like. The voices in my head always seem to have plenty to say – often too much. I have a file full of stories I want to write and not enough years left to live to get them all out.

But let’s not gild that lily. I also have some nasty brain activity always on the go, too – those voices who’d rather I didn’t write anything at all.

Even during boon days where I’m writing up a storm, it’s not unusual for me to spend whole mornings grappling with the arguments ‘You’re Not Good Enough’, ‘Stop Bothering’ and ‘No-one Cares’.

Of course these arguments didn’t begin at some crucial point in time; they’ve always been with me, just as a fascination for stories and words has always been with me. Do they go hand in hand, though? Are creativity and crushing anxiety inextricably pleached? I don’t know.

I was about eight when it first struck me that I could never truly know if I knew anything or not, if I could ever be sure if I was right or not – or if I was all right or not. I remember standing halfway on the steps between the knee-scarring asphalt playground and the wilds of the paddock beyond it, watching my friends running around and having fun, while I was stuck there thinking: I don’t even know if you’re real or not. Yes, I was a weird kid. Weird grown-up, emphasis on the weird.

Most people who end up thinking for a living probably are a bit weird. Grasping oddness, spotting anomalies, finding cracks in the glass, are kind of necessary to curiosity, to being able to embrace difference, to finding the courage to look for answers that may in fact not be there at all.

But while self-doubt is a useful tool, probably essential to making sure you don’t allow your questing soul to break too far and too long from reality, let those doubts take too tight a hold and they become a tool of destruction.

The arguments get darker and louder: ‘Loser’, ‘Flake’, ‘You’re Wasting Your Time And Everyone Else’s’.

It’s embarrassing the amount of time I have wasted fighting my inner nasties, it’s embarrassing to admit to the things they say to me, but while I can’t switch them off, throw them each down a long hole or bury them, I have learned to live with them. Despite their collective efforts, I manage to push through, and I’m getting better at it all the time.

I reflect on the stories I’ve completed. I reflect on the joy and understanding these stories have brought others – especially those who don’t know me and have no reason to say nice things to me. I mentally gather all this best gold I own and shove it under my worst enemy’s nose: cop that, bitchfaces.

My best weapon, though, is very simple but increasingly effective: write. Even when it hurts, write. Even when you’re crying, write. Even when you can’t comprehend the words on the screen as anything above the most putrid muck that’s ever come out of a human, write. Even when there truly seems no purpose, no end to this piece of string that’s yanking you onwards, write.

Remember, it’s important that you do, and that’s no platitude. Remember, it’s the lonely cloud that finds the field of daffodils, and no-one will see them the way you do. No-one is weird the way you’re weird. No-one can say the things you have to say, in the way you will say them.

Just keep writing: because you have to.

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THE PRICE OF FREEDOM

By some miracle of immigration, all my forebears managed to escape most of the great horrors of the twentieth century. The Irish avoided the Troubles, the Jews avoided the Holocaust, the Germans avoided the firestorms of World War II.

But it’s that last which has kept returning to me in recent writings. Both my Snowy Mountains story and my latest manuscript about a German-Australian surgeon hold the destruction of Dresden in their hearts.

My family didn’t come from Dresden but it’s a city of deep personal significance for me. A decade ago, when I was very lost and lonely, wounded and in quite desperate need of healing, I washed up here on the banks of this jewel of the Elbe not really knowing where I was. I had run away from home for a few weeks to try to get a grip, that was all.

I got more than a grip. I’ll never forget walking across the Altmarkt and seeing the Frauenkirche for the first time. This magnificent church had been reduced to rubble during the bombing in World War II and had only recently been restored to its former gilt-edged rococo glory. The people of Dresden had had such hopes even then – in that deadly February of 1945 – that one day this beautiful building would stand again, they collected as much of the original stone as possible to use in the restoration.

When I stepped inside, I was overwhelmed with such a force of love and possibility I had to sit down. I’m not a religious person, but here, in this church, something of goodness and faith hit me like a tonne of bricks.

I walked back through the city with clearer eyes. I saw the last remnant holes in the ground left by the war now as building sites, I saw the unashamed contrasts of elegant old buildings sitting cheek by jowl with bold new ones as symbols of regeneration and resilience. Suddenly, for me, joy seemed not only achievable but a responsibility. Get up and get on with it, Kimbo.

I did, and a few years later, I dragged my teenaged kids across the world with my new man, Deano, so they could experience it too. The three of them survived the trip and my mad need to have all my love and wonder in one place for a spell. My eldest boy turned eighteen there and Deano shouted him his first legal pilsner on the Altmarkt. Beautiful, beautiful memories.

But this morning, I was confronted anew with destruction that has lain a little closer to home all this time.

My German family is from a small town called Wald-Michelbach, nestled in the gentle fir-clad slopes of the Odenwald, and in my imagination it’s always seemed a little slice of fantasy fairytale, an idyllic place from which two brothers stepped long ago, taking a ship from Bremen across the seas to Australia. I’ve been thinking I should rattle the dream and see what true tale I might find there – one I can turn into a new novel. A glimpse of such a story flitted through my mind, beginning here in the mid-nineteenth century, a young travelling musician…

‘I want to go back to Germany,’ I called out to Deano.

He groaned. We have this conversation a lot. He’d like to go back to Germany too, but we don’t have time, can’t justify the expense right now, and at six feet, five inches tall, he groans at the mere idea of long-haul flight.

Nevertheless, I started plotting a trip. We could come into Frankfurt, tootle around Wiesbaden, Weinheim, Heidelberg, Darmstadt, Pforzheim, Mannheim… And then I realised half these places no longer exist as my ancestors would have known them – the last three had their centres almost completely obliterated by fire-bombing. Frankfurt’s medieval streets – gone.

With some other sudden clarity, I saw the scale of destruction right across the entire country. So much history lost; so many people. To give a sense of the numbers involved, if 32,000 ordinary workaday civilians were killed by the Germans during the Blitz throughout Britain, no-one knows how many were killed in Dresden alone by the Allies – estimates range from 35,000 to 135,000. In Darmstadt, 12,000; in Pforzheim, 17,000; Frankfurt 5,000, and on and on; by 1945 millions throughout Germany were homeless.

Of course, this is the price of freedom. No-one argues that. The British remain quietly, sombrely defensive about the figures; the Germans cling to lessons of mass madness and contrition in a Europe that seems set to tumble towards fascism again.

Whatever happens now, only one thing is clear: none of us can go back. We can only continue to seek out and tell our tales, to try to keep the truths of the past alive – and heed their warnings.

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(Photos: the Frauenkirche, Dresden, before and after)

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A LITTLE KINDNESS

They say write what you know – whoever they are. I’m not sure about that advice.

First, it’s my own ignorance, and the questing curiosity always hoping to rectify it, that drives my desire to investigate all kinds of stuff through narrative and character – everything from surgery to nuclear fission, from underground mining to botanical classification. Second, since I write historical fiction, I can’t in any authentic sense know anything much of the experiences I write about.

What I do know about, though, is the emotional landscape of the stories that weave their way from heart and brain onto the page.

Love. Grief. Friendship. What home means. Disconnection and reconnection. Hurt. Healing. The deep, intimate madnesses that all of the above can trigger.

But I’ve realised over the past little while that the pulse that runs beneath all my tale-telling is kindness. Characters who have too little of it learn it. Characters who don’t have any of it lose. Heroes possess it in spades.

My heroes – the guys and the gals – are all flawed and frail in some way. Sometimes they’re annoying: stubborn, foul-mouthed, shoulders chipped and packaging damaged inside and out. Sometimes they betray those they love – and themselves. But kindness is at the top tip of their growth, their success and their nobility.

I’ve copped a bit of shit over this from both sides of the literary fence. Lovers of romance can occasionally get uppity that my heroes are, really, a bunch of basket cases. Culture creatures, on the other hand, accuse me of sentimentality and Pollyanna-ism.

The thing is, though, these characters are, to me, in all their feels very real. They are me. The more I write, the more I realise I am writing not so much what I know but what I live.

The pursuit of kindness – how to be generous towards others, to be compassionate, a listener, a forgiver, an understander, how to be larger than your own smallness and stronger than all your weaknesses, how to walk away from anger – is a quest at the centre of my own life. I fail daily, but I will die trying.

Why? It’s no moral cause. Those who know my work well know I fall firmly into Nietzsche’s camp on that: good and evil are crap constructs, reductive idiocies that cause untold war and pain. I don’t want to be kind because I think I’ll be rewarded – in heaven or by others. I want to be kind because it makes sense, because it reduces conflict and creates safe bases in chaos, because, as a chronic anxiety sufferer, I need as much peace and order as I can get.

But more than this, I’ve been on the receiving end of unkindness. I know what it’s like to be bullied, raped, kicked, spat on, belittled, told I’m worthless. I know what it feels like to have the life of someone you love ripped from you so that all you can do in response is scream. I know that these terrifying experiences never go away.

This afternoon, Deano – my husband, best mate and muse de bloke – came in from work talking about a program he’d just heard on the radio about economic violence, that mind-twisting, sadistic game where someone takes such control over your life, they steal your money. I started to cry as we talked about it, because I know what that feels like too, to be shrunk so low, and the conversation sent me straight into a traumatic flashback from many years ago.

Why don’t I write about those experiences instead? Why don’t I write about that darkness and disempowerment? Because I want to tear the power from bullies and bigots of all kinds while I’m alive. Sharp-eyed readers might have spotted that I never mention the name of a certain genocidal German leader whose name was barely off the front page during World War Two. I don’t mention his name because to do so maintains his power. I might detail the acts – but not that man.

I detail the triumph of kindness instead because it’s the only truly effective weapon I have.

Plus Deano, of course. He’s the kindest man I know.

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FOR THE RECORD

Well, I just finished that novel I began in January. Forty-three days, it took to write, or probably thirty-eight taking away real-life interruptions. I’ve broken more personal bests than the weather with this one. I’ve never written anything so quickly, with such a desperate, aching need to pour a story from my heart and onto the page.

It’s called Walking, and it’s inspired by a true tale of a brilliant German orthopaedic surgeon who became quietly famous in Sydney for making crippled children walk when others said it was impossible. The Australian-British medical establishment was so miffed by his success they arrested him at one point and threw him into prison. It’s a sprawling novel that spans two continents, two world wars and two love stories.

I’m still inside that mad infatuation any writer can feel for a completed story – a dangerous time when all emotions are raw and all words should be put away for a while. But words don’t stop, do they – they’re a part of every day.

A few days ago, I was having dinner with some friends and the conversation turned to the idea of retirement. Everyone at the table was in their forties, some getting more tired of the grind than others. In the thick of my madness, the last few chapters of Walking shouting to get themselves out of my head and somewhere more comfortable, I told the table: ‘I’m terrified of the idea of retiring.’

My husband said dryly: ‘She wouldn’t retire if she had an off switch.’

But the crack was lost in the dismissive response of another: ‘It’s different when you’re doing something you love.’

I mumbled something about it not being a daily frolic in the woods, and shovelled some food into my mouth to stop anymore words escaping.

Like: ‘I’m in physical and psychic pain right now from lack of sleep and the almost indescribable rush of anxiety that overtakes me when the novel I’m writing begins to end. I have a permanent headache from crying because one of my characters has died and this grief feels so real it’s a new form of mental illness. It’s not much fun at the moment doing this thing I love.’

And I’m not getting paid for it. Doesn’t work like that for writers, or most other artists. You do the work first and then maybe someone will want to pay for it, but not always; sometimes not often; sometimes never.

I’ve written six published novels and have three manuscripts at present to shop. I’ve had no amazing record of sales, but not a terrible record either. I love my readers like my writing life depends on them – because it does. I work very hard at book promotion and all sorts of author profile palaver, as expected by publishers. I’m very easy to work with because, when I’m not writing, I work in the industry as an editor, and I know what a shitfight it can be on that side of the curtain. I have bundles of energy for all this work and not enough years left to live to write all the stories I want to write.

Despite all this, I find myself with no publisher right now for my new works. This is not in any way uncommon for a writer. The constantly shifting circumstances of publishers and their lists mean the whole thing is a circus precariously arranged upon a damp paper plate balancing on a mile-high pin. It’s a tough business.

And it means I’ve just busted my guts to write a story that has every chance of not being picked up by a publisher. It means I might get nothing in return except for the fact of having done it.

Just as well I love it. Just as well I’m in love with it.

Not everyone, given the opportunity – the time, the space, the financial wherewithal – has the guts to put themselves on the line this way. All artists do it every day.

So yeah, maybe next time I’m told I have an easy time of things, I might say: ‘Have a go yourself. Take forty-three days out of the grind. Do that thing you love. I dare you.’

(Photo: Judy Davis, ‘My Brilliant Career’)

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MAGICKED AWAY

I’ve been so quiet bloggery-wise lately, I thought I’d best explain: I’ve been kidnapped by a story.

Inspired by a real-life surgeon who changed the lives of countless children in Sydney in the early twentieth century, it’s a story that was planted in my heart some twelve years ago when I was researching medical techniques for my first novel, Black Diamonds.

A couple of the characters from that first-baby novel make an appearance in this one, too – such a wonderful, emotional experience for me to re-meet these imaginary friends, I cry as we say hello.

The photograph of the little girl above sits on my desktop every day, watching my words, whispering to me to keep going.

I’m writing very quickly, my prose concise and sharp, my whole mind at the coal face. I guess that sort of thing happens when a story has been waiting, waiting, waiting for so many years to be told.

So cheers, friends here in this space. I hope 2017 is unboxing all manner of long-held dreams for all of you.

xxx

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RISK

Writers are fancy gamblers, addicts suffering from collections of random personality disorders. At least I am.

Every novel I write, and I’ve written eight (six in the world and two on the way), I tell myself I won’t make myself ill this time. But each time I do.

In the final weeks of completing the first readable draft, I don’t sleep. I slip into a kind of inescapable mania which, near its end, leaves me physically wrecked and emotionally raw. Skinless. Sore. Exhausted. That’s where I am right now.

The day after Christmas, I finally completed a novel that’s taken me more than two years to write; earlier in the year, I completed another that had been kicking around in my consciousness for three years. There is never a time when I’m not somehow immersed in story, and while huge and happy amounts of research go into those stories, their narrative threads come from me: pulled, coaxed, wrenched directly from my heart. It’s a process of personal interrogation that hurls me towards understanding and empathy as nothing else can. But it’s also often painful.

There are times when I disconnect from my family, friends, colleagues; times when terrifying doubt causes me to disconnect from everything but the tiny light-tunnel of story.

I take every one of these trips not knowing if my story will be published; and knowing that if it is published, it’s unlikely to sell in any quantity that might justify such enormous effort – because that’s life for the vast majority of authors.

All this, but I can’t stop.

I have a co-conspirator, though. My muse de bloke, my lover – Deano. As much as he struggles with my struggles, he’s besotted with my addiction, too. He loves watching those lights switch on in me, how alive my mind becomes.

Three hours after I finished my latest manuscript, we lay in bed, washed up on the shore, and I told him I’m not writing anything for at least two weeks.

He asked me: ‘What do you think you’ll write next?’ Knowing that there are two ideas I have burbling away in the back-brain.

We spent the rest of the day discussing that next book. I’m already itching to dive in.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

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THE HANDS THAT MAKE OUR WORLD

I’ve had a fascinating time in 1860s New South Wales over the past few months, falling down all kinds of research rabbit holes, rich and deep – and usually full of gold.

I’ve spent hundreds of happy hours trying to reconstruct city and townscapes from 150 years ago, tracing the roads my great, great grandfather Georg Schwebel might have travelled as a young man from Germany in love with a strange new land and a girl who was born here.

The world of young men is a place I return to again and again in my stories probably mostly because I am a mother of sons, but also because I’ve always been drawn to the stories of those who make our human world – the artisans, engineers, tradesmen, miners, those who forge all the convenience we enjoy with the strength of their bodies and the skill of their hands. Those who made the roads. And up until recently they were mostly young men.

Georg was a carpenter and a carter hauling building materials here and there under government tender. He lived in Newtown, in Sydney, and died in 1896 in an accident at work. According to the Sydney Evening News that November, Georg was “placing the winkers on a horse attached to a cart in Trafalgar street, Newtown [now Annandale], when the animal bolted, and threw him on the roadway. One of the wheels of the vehicle passed over his face. The injured man was taken to Prince Alfred Hospital and admitted by Dr Zlotkowski for treatment.” But that was the end of the road for him.

In trying to find out what working life brought a young man 30 years earlier, when my story is set, I’ve found many a moving account but none more so than the stark simplicity of this accident report in the Maitland Mercury of 1862 for the township of Murrurundi:

During the past fifteen months the following accidents occurring in the district have been attended by our Medical Practitioner, Mr. Gordon:

15 broken legs, 1 broken thigh, 11 broken arms, 1 amputation of arm through the bursting of a gun, 5 cases of amputation of fingers through same and blasting, 6 broken collar bones, 8 cases of broken ribs, 3 deaths by drowning, 1 ditto by lightning, 1 case of absorption of animal poison, 3 snake bites, 2 dreadful cases of burning, 1 fracture of skull from falling from a horse, 1 death from being jammed against a tree by a dray, 1 attempt at self-destruction by cutting the throat, 4 cases of kicks from horses, 3 cases of goring from horns of oxen, very bad, 1 bite from a pig, 22 cases of jams and cuts upon the hands and arms, some very bad, from picks and blasting stone.

Not one recorded baby born nor woman lost to the fight for it, but men working away, most of them probably thinking about that girl, somewhere, some of them working only for rations.

In Australia, we often save our praise and our accolades for soldiers and sportsmen, for squatters and schemers and rogues, but these ordinary hardworking men who laid the ground of so much we see today deserve to have their stories told too.

I will always place them in the frame. I will always sing their love songs. They are the men who made me.

 

Photo: King Street, Newtown, Paul McCarthy (Wikimedia Commons)

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CULTURAL RELEVANCE

As the aftershocks of the Alt-Right quake continue to rock the Western World, there’s been much browbeating about who to blame for it. Quick out of the finger-pointing blocks has been the assertion that ‘identity politics’ is the culprit here.

Apparently, all of us who believe that encouraging tolerance of difference, rather than always pressing for sameness, are the reason why the poor and desperate are revolting. Ahem. Nothing to do with economic insecurity caused by corporate greed and the demonisation of any collective action or social policy that doesn’t make money for the rich. Duh.

How could we have been so blind! Oh well.

Identity is inescapable. From the time we each get up in the morning and look at our faces in the mirror, we’re aware of who we are in the scheme. We carry the physical and genetic markers of who we are around with us all day: fair, dark, ginger, injured, young, old, indifferent, tall, short, skinny, fat, fabulous and ugh.

What I see personally is a woman who, apart from a need for spectacles, has pretty much won life’s lottery in terms of privilege, status, the ability to do whatever I want. On the surface of things, I’m so in the middle of the pocket of acceptable norms, among my major complaints is that I never get the bumper specials on frocks and shoes because my size is always gone first. Boo hoo.

But more powerful than the obvious is the invisible: the histories each of us carry behind our eyes. Generational racism and dispossession, intimate struggles with sexuality, memories that flicker with violence and fear. These things can’t always be seen, but they can hold a person back from giving all they have to give and getting the best from life.

How can it be wrong to say at the highest levels: your difference is respected and acknowledged as important to the fabric of humanity? Of course it’s not wrong. Blaming ‘identity politics’ for the scary place we find ourselves in right now is just run-of-the-mill, look-over-there scapegoating – a familiar and distinctive feature of the fascist, authoritarian brand. Bajeepers, ‘Alt-Right’? That’s just another euphemism for opportunistic arseholes who exploit the despair of others.

We’ve been here before – loads – and most notably in the late 1930s when the world lurched into another mega war. Part of my personal identity is a wonder about one German politician, Georg Schwebel, member of the Social Democratic Party, who spent that war in a concentration camp care of the Nazis. He represented the home town of my Schwebel forebears – Wald Michelbach in Hesse, in central Germany – and he makes me curious as to whether the rich vein of social democracy that runs through this part of my family is some quirk of heredity, like the name Georg.

For me, there are also the whispers of my Jewish forebears, the Miers and the Woolfs, one slim thread of which ended up in Australia. Why? Who knows? But they make me related to the guy who co-wrote the lyrics for the Wizard of Oz – Edgar Allan Woolf, a New Yorker and purportedly quite a wild thing. Some quirk of heredity there, too, perhaps, for the similarly rich vein of performers and storytellers and storylovers who live in my family tree.

But the strongest strain of all, of course, is my Irish heritage – and its chin-up, show-em-what-you’re-made-of grit. Courage, decency, loyalty, faith, I can still feel the warm hands of the one who gave me these precious things: my grandmother, Nin. As well as a soft spot for sentimentality and an inclination for kitsch.

So, when I found this little carving of a kangaroo and her joey a couple of weeks ago at a local op shop, my heart did a triple somersault of joy. Nin had one just like it all the years of my growing up. I don’t know what became of it except that it’s here with me again now.

A small but significant representation of where I’ve come from.

A reminder of how heartbroken I would be if some Alt-Right jackboot told me I could no longer identify as me, could no longer cherish these bits and pieces that make me. That’s never going to happen of course – I’m too much a Joe Norm. But if you’re black or gay or Muslim, it might just become an unpleasant reality if we let bullies rule.

I look into the fake emerald eyes of my little roo and she tells me to reject absolutely those who attack others for their own gain. Reject all nastiness of spirit. She tells me that there is nobility and honour in caring for others – that everyone really does deserve a fair go.

This is my culture. This is who I am. A fiercely proud Australian.

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TRUMPET

People do crazy things when they’re hurt – like voting to install a flagrantly manipulative narcissist as leader of the free world, or leaving the European Union, or imprisoning refugees indefinitely in concentration camps on remote equatorial islands.

When hope and opportunity are ripped away piece by piece over time, it wears down resilience, and blows away empathy with it.

The woman who serves me at the supermarket checkout or the young man who wipes my windscreen at the carwash don’t care about me or how shocked and disapproving I might be at recent radical political shifts which threaten the peace of my pleasant, middle-class life. Nor should they care.

Because we – the privileged – have let them down.

Regardless of which way we vote, or whatever hackneyed, hypocritical rubbish we spout about equality, every time we indulge in such perks as tax minimisation and negative gearing and the moral superiority that makes it all possible, we hurt the woman at the checkout and the boy at the carwash. We shrink their world to keep ours comfortable.

When the darling of Australia’s left, Paul Keating, began the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank and brought in superannuation tied to the stock market, I thought this wouldn’t end well. When I expressed this worry, I was scoffed at by my uni mates who knew so much better.

They didn’t, but I didn’t know better than to doubt myself. I’d dropped out of uni for a spell and was working at the Commonwealth Bank at the time, in the late 80s; before that, I worked at Coles variety store in Redfern. I watched workplace agreements and their attendant secrecy divide colleagues, destroying not only solidarity but camaraderie.

Later, I watched Keating’s ‘recession we had to have’ result in mass sackings and pave the way for more and more corporate gobbling – the mergers and takeovers that would result in more and more economic rationalisation, aka more sackings and lower wages.

We walk the same streets today as those who never recovered their dreams, their promised lives, from those strokes of bad luck that had nothing to do with them.

And yet we blame them – the unlucky. Or perhaps choose not to see them. We smile perfunctorily at the woman at the checkout and the boy at the carwash, unseeing smiles that judge them for their losses and their lackings to stave off our guilt at having all that we have at their expense.

Because this is the way it works – and we know it. We know the economic pie is finite. We know the disparities inherent in the way we value labour are a disgrace – because we all learnt that at university.

A note to those traumatised today at Trump’s ascendancy: stop the bullshit right now.

More than two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle dreamed us – the middle class – into existence. He called us the ‘mean between extremes’ – those who would be so fearful of falling into servitude but so constantly, graspingly aspirational that we’d be the tiller, the steadying force of democracy, keeping revolution at bay, keeping all bastards honest.

We have failed. We are a waste of our education – which most of my vintage largely got for free, before we started chipping away at that, too, to pay for our chardonnay, our turmeric shakes and quinoa salads.

We sigh at the enormity of the problem. Globalisation and mechanisation have smashed the unlucky further down in recent times but how can we possibly help? All our investments are tied up in the corporations that are keeping them in relentless poverty. It’s becoming positively Dickensian.

But really, what can we do?

Deny all responsibility. Shrug our shoulders as history repeats and repeats. Be horrified at what checkout woman and carwash boy have done.

Pretend sometime in the far away future that we were the good Germans because we bought free-range eggs.

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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!)