Bill’s literary tour of the Mallee

I love road-tripping around different parts of Australia, and for some time now have had a hankering to explore the Mallee-Wimmera region of western Victoria. This hankering has been enthusiastically supported by Bill (The Australian Legend) for whom this part of Australia was his youthful stomping ground. We have discussed the region and what might be included in a Mallee literary tour several times over the years – with Lisa joining in on occasion too.

Jenny Ackland, Little gods

We would all, I think, like to compile a list of books set in the region. I’ve reviewed a few on this blog – at least I think they are set in the Mallee, as the region’s borders are a bit confusing to me – such as Jenny Ackland’s Little gods, Charlie Archbold’s Mallee boys, and Sue Williams’ crime novel Live and let fry. Lisa recently posted a review of a new Mallee-set book, Anne Brinsden’s Wearing paper dresses, and last year, another, Bill Green’s Small town rising.

But, topping it all, is that this week, Bill has finally put fingers to keyboard and written a post on touring the Mallee which he has generously said I can post here too … He starts:

Sue/Whispering Gums a year or so BC set me the task of devising a literary tour of the Mallee – the northwest corner of Victoria, a triangle bounded by the Murray River to the north and northeast, the South Australia border to the west and let’s say to the south the 36th parallel, so a line from a bit north of Route A8 to the Murray north of Echuca. To read the rest of the tour, please check out his post. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you hitched a ride and took the tour too!

Thanks so much Bill … there’s a possibility we might even do a bit of this trip this month. It all depends … no glamping in Little Desert is a bit of a worry!

Monday musings on Australian literature: Kimberley dreaming

Waterhole in the Kimberleys

Waterhole in the Kimberleys

The Kimberley region of Australia is a place of dreams. The most enduring and significant of these are, of course, those belonging to its indigenous inhabitants who have been there, it is believed, for around 40,000 years. Jump forward to recent centuries and we find new dreamers – the pearlers, the gold prospectors, the pastoralists,, the farmers (with their ambitious Ord River Scheme), the miners and, most recently, the tourists.

It is a huge region occupying an area that is about three times the size of England and it is beautiful, with its beaches, gorges, waterfalls, rivers, lakes and stunning sandstone and limestone rock formations. It has a long and rich indigenous culture and a fascinating, if not always admirable, colonial history. In other words, it’s a region that is of much interest, historically, culturally, socially and geologically.

The most famous book about the region is, surprisingly, a history,  Mary Durack‘s Kings in grass castles (1959), which chronicles her family’s story from their migration from Ireland in the mid-19th century to their life as Kimberley pastoralists in the mid-20th century. Durack wrote other histories, as well as novels, children’s books, and articles. She wrote sympathetically about the indigenous inhabitants and provided practical help and support to indigenous writers and artists.

Many Australian writers, including some I’ve mentioned in recent Monday Musings like Ion Idriess and Henrietta Drake-Brockman, have set writings in the area. Novelist Dora Birtles describes the town of Wyndham:

Wyndham lay flat under the moonlight, its main street, its corrugated iron roofs, its mud flats by the mangrove edges, drawn into main relief, in highlight and dark shadow like the strong, rough contrast in a lino-cut, white and black. The salt pans glittered sharp as ice. It was not without beauty in its starkness…

Other writers who have written about the area include Leslie Rees and Randolph Stow, who worked at a mission for several months and used this experience in his novel To the islands.

A more recent Australian writer who has set writing here is Tim Winton, in Dirt Music. In an interview he said:

Lu gets to see something of the endurance and power of Aboriginal wisdom. For someone like him, a southerner if you like, with farming connections, he’s mostly been exposed to indigenes as victims, and being in the remote parts of the Kimberley he sees more power, more confidence, more evident, extant culture that resonates, educates him in an oblique way.

But I’ll conclude with a poet I don’t know, because his description conveys a wonderful sense of the region, some of which reflects my own, admittedly brief, experience:

Fire-red mountains, fissured and caverned,
lilac-hazed ranges, red-purple ravines,
have reared round, receded, and reappeared
all  day through my vision. This is the region
of baobab trees, of monstrous obese
baobabs squatting in chaos of sun-fired,
sun-blackened boulders in the ranges’ ravines.

— Ronald Robinson, “Kimberley Drovers”

Thanks to Peter Pierce’s The Oxford Literary Guide to Australia, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983, for the bulk of the literary background in this post.