This Writing Life: Tales From The Real Rocking Horse Hill

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Those of you who follow me on social media will know that I’ve recently returned from a trip to my home town of Mt Gambier, in the beautiful lower south-east of South Australia. My dad turned 80 and all the family gathered together for a lovely party at the local RSL.

Me and the birthday boy. Not looking too bad for an old fella!

Me and the birthday boy. Not looking too bad for an old fella!

While I wasn’t home for long, I managed to pack a few adventures into the few days I was there. I’ll be sharing more photos from the trip next Friday but today I have something special.

A Video!

And not just any video, this one is of Rocking Horse Hill. Actually, it’s of Mt Schank but it was this crater that provided much of the inspiration for the fictional volcanic crater Rocking Horse Hill.

Rocking Horse Hill by Cathryn HeinThose of you who have read Rocking Horse Hill and Wayward Heart will understand the enormous importance this crater holds for those stories’ characters. It’s been the site not only of heartache and tragedy, but also love and even passion. The hill is so dominant in those two books it’s almost a character itself, and I think the passages where it’s featured show how much I adored writing about it.

There’s a reason for that adoration.

Let me explain…

Wayward Heart by Cathryn HeinIt’s not that widely known, but Australia has one of the best volcanic fields in the world. The Newer Volcanic Province stretches from Melbourne through to Mt Burr, north-west of Mt Gambier and contains a whopping 400+ volcanoes. There are at least 20 eruptive sites around Mt Gambier alone.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Yet it’s true, and if you drive through the western districts of Victoria to South Australia along the Princes or Hamilton Highways and scan the landscape you’ll see them. Many are highly eroded but others, like Mt Elephant, Mt Rouse, Mt Napier, Mt Gambier and Mount Schank, stand proudly, their magnificent slopes a reminder that this lush and peaceful countryside was once violent with quakes, molten rock and flames.

Mt Schank has always had a special place in my heart. As kids, a great day out was climbing to the top of the crater and sliding all the way down again on our bums. We’d get filthy, tear clothing, occasionally hurt ourselves and have the best fun imaginable.

There was a kind of romance about the crater too. Unlike all the others, which are spent, Mt Schank is dormant and there was always this delicious fear that it might erupt again. My girlfriend Cathryn (yes, our names were exactly alike) used to live at the base of the crater and her mum would say she could feel it grumbling deep below the earth.

I loved the idea that the volcano was somehow still alive, that it was like a hibernating bear, snoring softly as it waited for the right moment to wake. Looking back at those feelings it seems inevitable that I would one day write about it. Not only write about it but develop a whole series of stories set in the shadow of Rocking Horse Hill.

On my latest trip home, it seemed only polite that I should introduce the mountain to one of the books it inspired.

And, because I thought you’d enjoy the moment too, I recorded the event.

Enjoy!

There was a quarry at Mt Schank but it’s closed now. Rocking Horse Hill’s quarry, the place that broke hero Digby Wallace-Jones’s heart and almost tore his family apart, isn’t based on this one. The inspiration for that comes from Mt Elephant near Derrinallum in western Victoria.

The northern side of Mt Elephant has a dramatic gouge where the slope was mined for railway ballast in the early 1900s, while the cut into the western side was a commercial gravel quarry that operated until the 90s. Both quarries provided ideas for Rocking Horse Hill’s.

The photos below were taken from a distance so it’s a little hard to see, but you can still get an idea of how dangerous the edge of the diggings would be. They’re like savage gashes in mountain’s face, sharp-edged and cliff-like.

The north side of Mt Elephant, western Victoria.

The north side of Mt Elephant.

Mt Elephant's western quarry.

The quarry on the west facing side of Mt Elephant.

I hope you enjoyed this insight into how Rocking Horse Hill came about and the real volcanoes it’s based on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to work on my fitness. All that puffing and panting on the video has left me seriously embarrassed!

Wayward Heart is in stores now. You can also order the paperback online from Booktopia, Angus and Robertson Bookworld and Fishpond. Or for instant gratification, download the ebook from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play and Nook.

Discover more about Wayward Heart and Rocking Horse Hill, including the story behind both books, by visiting their books page on this site.

Other books set in the Rocking Horse Hill and Levenham district include Summer and the Groomsman and Santa and the Saddler, with Chrissy and the Burroughs Boy coming (hopefully) later this year.

 

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6 thoughts on “This Writing Life: Tales From The Real Rocking Horse Hill

  1. AvatarSue Gerhardt Griffiths

    Cool video! Thanks for the heads up on how many steps there are, Cathryn, my poor legs wouldn’t cope so I’ll have to admire the view from the bottom. Lol. We too went bum sliding when we were kids on a small hill known as Mount Warrigal. So much fun. You wouldn’t be able to find our sliding tracks anymore it’s covered in a gazillion trees and houses.

    Love the pic of you and your dad. He does look great for his age and such a happy smiley face. My dad and Steven’s dad also look terrific for their age.

    1. AvatarBernie Tichbon

      Hi girlfriend, loved the video.. It was great to catch up even though soo short.. Would you believe, Col had just finished reading Rocking Horse Hill!! Thought at the time “…this writer knows a thing or two about horses…” with her being a horse whisperer and all that is a fabulous compliment, aye.. AND as well, she is currently going through Chemo.. she really enjoyed the read.. Lots of love, ’til next visit.. Bernie oxoxxo

      1. Cathryn HeinCathryn Hein Post author

        Lovely to catch up with you and Bruce too, Bernie. And yes, far to short!
        Give all my best to Col and tell her thanks so much for her kind words re Rocking Horse Hill. That’s lovely.
        Enjoy Saturday night (hope he feeds you okay!) and will see you on my next trip home.
        PS. I have some marvellous video of you post-party with some balloons…

    2. Cathryn HeinCathryn Hein Post author

      It’s the same with Mt Schank, Sue. All the old tracks are gone and now it’s covered in trees as part of a rehabilitation program. I know that’s for the better, but the big kid in me really wishes those tracks were still there. That was the BEST fun.

      Fingers crossed Dad has plenty more years in him yet!

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