When I began thinking about my new novel, Wild Lands, as always I was mindful of my own rural background and the pioneering spirit required by my family when they first selected land in the northwest of New South Wales. Ive always drawn on my familys history for inspiration when it comes to writing my novels. Whether it be an anecdote or story passed down through the generations or archival material that I find when Im rummaging around through documents, there is always something which grabs me, something which screams, story.
With Wild Lands I was simply out in the paddock one day near a creek that runs through our property; the place where my family, the Alexanders first selected the land which we have now held for four generations. This is our settlement story.
When my great-grandfather first selected our property in 1893 he chose a site for the homestead near the banks of the Whalan Creek, a major waterway in our area. The men quickly pegged out a simple timber hut and built it and they then spent their days cutting timber, erecting fences and shepherding the sheep that they overlanded from the south east. As you can imagine the days and nights were equally long, the monotony probably only broken by the monthly arrival of the postal and supply rider who brought stores and mail to the remoter settlers.
One of the items that arrived in that first year was a copy of Alexander Dumas The Count of Monte Christo. The novel arrived in a saddle-bag on the back of a packhorse wrapped in brown paper and twine and I can only imagine my great-grandfathers excitement when he unwrapped the parcel. I see him reading by a flickering candle, sitting beneath a fat, lazy moon, the bush stretching out around him and this unending silence.
Sometime later some members of the local kamilaroy tribe approached him and told my great-grandfather that the area was subject to heavy flooding and so on their advices he relocated the homestead site some miles north to a high ridge. Later he began construction on a more substantial homestead. The house I grew up in.
It was this story that became the catalyst for Wild Lands because I tried to imagine what it would be like settling in an isolated frontier all those years ago and then with that idea burning in my mind, I stretched the timeline back further to the 1830s, to a time when the north-west of NSW was barely explored, when Australias first people roamed the country and the area was unknown, unnamed, untamed, a white space on a map.