These books bring together short (and longer) stories written at different times since the 1980s. They tell of life before globalisation and the Internet, with an Australian focus and a hint of Gothic.
Radiant Sands is a collection of short stories based on my experiences in the Australian desert in the 1970s and 1980s. The stories are entirely fictional, although imbued with the truth of time and place.
Many tourists spend time in Central Australia visiting well-known attractions such as Uluru. Some seek a deeper encounter through art, bush foods and cultural experiences. The work of artists and photographers supports a growing appreciation of the stunning beauty of the land in its many moods, and the achievements of the Aboriginal people, although there is still so far to go. The present is still imbued with the past: past histories, past struggles, past hopes and dreams, past failures.
The stories in Radiant Sands take us into that past. They are set at a time when communications were limited, roads were unmade, visitors were scarce and the interface between indigenous and non-indigenous life was minimal. Today, it seems almost unimaginable. When I lived in the desert with my husband and two children we were over two hundred miles from the nearest store at Oodnadatta. The road was impassable after rain, there was no telephone service, no electricity, mail and supplies came by truck once every two weeks, and we relied on bore water carted in tanks in the back of the Land Rover. We lived in a caravan, which burnt down, and then in a tent and an aboriginal shelter, or wiltja. We cooked over an open fire and ate damper, jam and tea along with tinned foods and hunted meat. The nearest non-indigenous neighbours lived on a cattle station homestead forty kilometers away.
The stories here explore different desert worlds. An isolated lady anthropologist disappears mysteriously in the desert. Are the dogs to blame? A hard-working and well-meaning medical sister struggles to know how to live with the demands of her clients in the outback settlements. Then her new nursing sister dies in a dust storm. Other stories in Radiant Sands reflect themes of love, loss, longing and confusion, with a taste of Desert Noir.
Last Patrol is the final story in the collection. Novelette length, it is set in and around Maralinga in the 1950s-1960s, when this remote part of Australia became the main site of British atomic testing. Maralinga remains an iconic event in Australia’s history. The Australian public was kept largely ignorant of the tests, their dangers, and the effects on the Aboriginal people on whose lands they took place.
In the early 1980s a public inquiry was announced. The Royal Commission into British Nuclear Testing in Australia took place in 1983-4 presided over by Chief Justice “Diamond Jim” McLelland. I was one of the two anthropological advisors to the Royal Commissioner. We were walked around on blasted fields still full of plutonium. I had to throw my favourite shoes away.
The Report of the Royal Commission is available in pdf form online in two volumes.
GO LEFT AT THE RIVER explores the lives of ordinary people suspended between the twentieth century past and the post-millenial future. Set between the 1950s and the early 2000s this era becomes increasingly strange to us today. Some people pursued revolution on the streets, while others lived as if nothing had changed for a century. A bruised little boy on the banks of the Hawkesbury River reaches out to his father and wonders what a slut is. A pregnant feminist asserts her independence by marching against the Vietnam War and goes into labour beneath the banners. A wealthy widow has cosmetic surgery in Bangkok but turns her back on beauty and becomes a Buddhist nun. An ardent revolutionary writes his master-work in the communes of northern New South Wales, but after his death his daughter throws all his writings away. Funny, sad, sometimes shocking, this is another venture into the Australian Gothic.
NOTE: Covers above are still in draft. Permission has been given by the photographers for me to use their images in the final versions. Grateful thanks and acknowledgments to Nick Rains and Ilya Genkin.
Copyright clearance is being sought for a number of photographs proposed for inclusion in Go Left at the River.