Category Archives: This Writing Life

This Writing Life: Scone Literary Festival

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The Hunter Valley in New South Wales is one of my favourite places (and the setting for one of my most popular rural romances, Heart of the Valley), so I was thrilled to bits to when Scone Literary Festival invited me to appear on a panel.

Books in the heart of wine and horse country? How could I possibly say no?

The festival was held on the weekend of the 10th -12th November and the weather couldn’t have been more gorgeous. Not only the weather, but also the venue – Scone’s pretty Arts and Crafts Hall which has a lovely outside area and was the perfect place for al fresco lunching and the festival’s “Soiree in the gardens” on Saturday night.

Scone Arts and Crafts Hall

Scone Arts and Crafts Hall

The line-up of speakers was even more impressive, with broadcaster and columnist Phillip Adams, journalist and hugely popular non-fiction author Peter FitzSimons, acclaimed author Don Watson, Gold Walkley award-winning journalist Joanne McCarthy, and The Dressmaker author Rosalie Ham and the film’s producer Sue Maslin, along with many other excellent writers.

I was delighted to be on a panel with fellow author Kim Kelly, who read aloud the most beautiful piece of writing from her book Wild Chicory, and artist, photographer and author David Darcy. Check out David’s website for a look at his work. It’s amazing. Paula Stevenson did a stellar job facilitating our session, during which we discussed rural and regional stories from around Australia and how we develop our characters and settings. It was terrific fun.

The entire program was filled thought-provoking, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes funny talks and panels, and the Festival’s atmosphere hugely amiable. Bookseller Ian from Hunt A Book (how cool is that bookshop name!) was a joy, and the catering excellent (country cooking… my mouth waters just thinking those words).

If you love ideas and stories and talking books, a bucolic setting and country hospitality, then this festival is for you.

Keep an eye on the website, or the Festival’s Facebook or Twitter feed for updates about next year’s event.

Thanks to Jan Sinclair and her team for a truly memorable weekend.

Here are a few piccies for you to enjoy!

Scone’s gorgeous mare and foal statue

Scone’s gorgeous mare and foal statue. Naturally I had to pat it.

Peter FitzSimons was hugely entertaining, and his chat with Phillip Adams covered everything from his new release Burke and Wills to republicanism, to the way Australia celebrates its failures, along with many other topics in between.

Peter FitzSimons and Phillip Adams

Peter FitzSimons and Phillip Adams

As a fun interlude between sessions, the festival featured “pop-up poets” who charmed us by reading their own or other’s works.

Pop up Poet Richard (Rick) Wright.

Pop up Poet Richard (Rick) Wright.

Above is Rick Wright whose aunt was the distinguished Australian poet Judith Wright, and who is a talented poet and author himself. I was honoured and delighted when Rick gave me two of his books: Poemotion, which is filled with terrific bush-style poetry, and the beautiful hardcover Hold Fast: History, heritage and the challenges of life for a primary producer heading into the 21st Century.

Poemation and Hold Fast by Richard Wright

Poemotion and Hold Fast by Richard Wright

Hold Fast is fascinating!

I’ve had the notion to set a book in the New England area for quite some time (20+ years, in fact, from when I used the travel the area in my pasture seed selling days). Hold Fast makes me want to do it even more. It’s also a must-read for anyone interested in the agricultural history of this rich and stunning region, and with the trials and joys of rural life.

Hold Fast and Rick’s poetry books can be purchased direct from Rick via his Hold Fast website.

Don Watson and Phillip Adams

Don Watson and Phillip Adams

Don Watson in conversation with Phillip Adams was another excellent session. It was interesting to hear about his relationship with former Prime Minister Paul Keating, for whom he was speech writer, and also about growing up in Gippsland. I really need to read his book The Bush, although the book I’m most curious about is Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language.

Tom Thompson telling us about the photos in ‘To Beersheba 1917’

Tom Thompson telling us about the photos in ‘To Beersheba 1917’

October 31st marked the 100th anniversary of the Australian Light Horse Charge of Beersheba, during World War I. With perfect timing, Tom Thompson launched his new book To Beersheba 1917 at the festival. To Beersheba 1917 contains 100 previously unpublished photographs from the Haydon Family archive at ‘Bloomfield’, Blandford. Check out their website for more about this historic property and some excellent photos. It’s well worth a visit.

Guy Haydon famously rode his horse Midnight in the charge, during which poor Midnight was killed (a story in itself, and which you can discover more about on the website). The photos Tom showed were incredible. Although many were heartbreaking too.

Horsing around on the Hunt A Book bookstall.

Horsing around on the Hunt A Book bookstall. If you’re ever in Scone, drop in and say hi to Ian.

The “Soiree in the gardens” on Saturday evening was a sublime event, with music, local wine and nibbles, and Jan entertaining us with a song.

Soiree in the gardens

Soiree in the gardens

Soiree in the gardens, Scone Literary Festival 2017

Committee president Jan Sinclair singing for us.

The Dark Art of Writing Domestic Drama panel featured (L-R) Paul Mitchell (We. Are. Family.), Melissa Lucashenko (Mullumbimby – longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award) and Mel Jacob, and was facilitated by Joanne McCarthy.

The Dark Art of Writing Domestic Drama panel

The Dark Art of Writing Domestic Drama panel

I was lucky enough to enjoy a good chat with Mel whose book In Sickness, In Health and Jail:  What Happened When My Husband Unexpectedly Went to Prison for Two Years sounds a great read.

Scone's lovely The Thoroughbred hotel.

Scone’s lovely The Thoroughbred hotel.

That’s me done for the year with writing events. Which is just as well, because I’m veeeery behind with my writing and we have a big few months coming up with a relocation and a few other changes.

And, of course, the release of The Country Girl on December 18th. Can’t forget that!!

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This Writing Life: 2017 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering

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It’s been a while since I’ve managed a This Writing Life post. The last one was back in July (yikes!) when I shared piccies from Taronga Zoo.

It’s not that I haven’t been doing things. I’ve been out and about quite a bit this year. It’s more a matter of squeezing in the time to do up the posts. My number one priority is writing books and that sometimes means that the blog must miss out.

But not this week!

In a better-late-than-never post, today I’m sharing photos from the 2017 New South Wales Rural Women’s Gathering held in Narrandera, Friday October 27th to 29th.

What a brilliant weekend.

I have fellow rural romance author Jane Carter (new release: Prodigal Daughter) to thank for my attendance at this event. Jane is a Narrandera local and suggested at the 2016 Romance Writers of Australia conference that we could present a writing workshop at the Gathering, and I jumped at the chance. I am so, so glad I did because I had a BALL.

Me and Jane Carter at our trade stall.

Me and Jane Carter at our trade stall.

The women I met and heard talk were amazing. There was Jane, of course, but also Narrandera’s newly elected local NSW Member of Parliament Steph Cooke, who gave a very funny opening speech (and gave me an excellent idea for a character). Plus Kate O’Callaghan, general manager of Southern Cotton, Dame Marie Bashir, former Narrandera local and second longest serving Governor of NSW (among other achievements).

Betina Walker of Whispering Pines Organics related her incredible and inspirational story at the gala dinner, and who you can learn more about in a video here. We were also entertained with talks from Rosalie Ham, author of The Dressmaker, and Sue Maslin, the producer of its hit film.

There was also Fran McLaughlin from Big River Herbs at Narrandera, Jane Sibley from Hilltops Honey at Young, and winemaker Belinda Morandin from Morandin Family Wines at Griffith, Jane’s friend Tracey Boschetti, and that’s just to name a few of the rural women at the event who demonstrated the success that can be achieved with a bit of grit and self-belief. Wonderful, wonderful.

Besides the keynote speeches and trade stalls, there were also plenty of workshops covering everything from getting friendly with your chainsaw, to estate planning, how to be fire wise, secrets to community engagement, flamenco, making mead, rural mental health and much, much more. The full program can be found here.

Next year’s gathering is at Merimbula, on NSW’s beautiful, southern Sapphire Coast, on 19th – 21st October. I’m marking my diary. For more info, check out the 2018 Gathering website.

Now here’s a few happy snaps from the weekend. Enjoy!

Nothing like a road trip, especially when there’s sweet things involved, and Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory hit the spot. But it was the truck artwork outside Gasworks Garage opposite that really put a smile on my face.

Gasworks Garage's cute truck and animal sculpure, Junee

Opening night of the Gathering was at the Fisheries Travelling Stock Reserve where we shared a variety of “bush food” prepared by local Wiradjuri Elder Michael Lyons, including kangaroo curry and witchetty grubs, along with lovely local wine.

Dame Marie Bashir at the 2017 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering,

Dame Marie Bashir. Couldn’t have asked for a more gorgeous evening for the opening.

Me, Jane Carter and Tracey Boschetti enjoyed some local wine.

Me, Jane Carter and Tracey Boschetti enjoyed some local wine.

Once darkness fell, we were treated to the Cad Factory’s open-air video, sound, light and textile artwork, Shadow Places. Sadly, the photos don’t do it justice, but it was certainly intriguing and a lovely way to end the evening.

One of the Shadowlands art installation.

This was an ever changing video projected on to large square haybales. Visually stunning.

A Shadowlands art installation.

This one was very Blair Witch Project. Remember the scary film from the late 90s?

Shadowlands art installation

This one was pretty but also a little alien. I kept thinking something was about to hatch from it.

Gathering 'ear tag' lanyard

Loved our Gathering lanyards made of cattle ear tags. And having the program attached proved a veeeeery handy thing!

2017 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering, Narrandera.

Celebratory cake cutting on the Saturday of 2017 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering, Narrandera.

gala dinner 2017 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering, Narrandera.

Gala dinner yumminess!

Rosalie Ham at the 2017 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering, Narrandera.

Rosalie Ham entertaining us with how she came to write The Dressmaker.

Table decoration, 2017 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering, Narrandera.

The tables at the gala dinner were cleverly decorated with a dressmaker theme. We were even given cute little pin cushions to take home.

2017 NSW Rural Women’s Gathering, Narrandera.

Raffle draw and thank yous at the dinner. Followed by dancing. Such fun!

I hope you enjoyed this small insight into the terrific event that is the NSW Rural Women’s Gathering. If you get the chance, come along to the next one in Merimbula. I promise you’ll leave it feeling truly inspired.

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This Writing Life: Taronga Zoo

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Welcome to the latest instalment in my This Writing Life adventures. I seem to be having a few this year, and looking at my calendar there are more to come with the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Brisbane next month, along with the New South Wales Rural Women’s Gathering in Narranderra at the end of October and Scone Literary Festival in November.

A few weeks ago, Jim and I booked ourselves in for a weekend in Sydney and a trip to Taronga Zoo, and what a wonderful time we had!

It had been 23 years since we first visited the zoo. We were living in Newcastle back then, and drove down especially. No driving this time. It was buses and trains and a ferry – a far more sensible and less stressful way to get around, and ferry rides are a great way to enjoy the harbour and public transport is excellent for people watching.

Ferry ride to the zoo

Catching the ferry to the zoo.

The zoo has changed quite a bit in the intervening years. There’s now a cable car to take you from the bottom to the top and give you an aerial view of some of the enclosures. There are also new habitats that must be so much better for the animals, but are brilliant for us humans too. My absolute favourite was the squirrel monkey enclosure where you can get up close and personal with the animals. Small groups are led through the enclosure by guides while the monkeys do their monkey thing, darting around feet, gobbling fruit, and climbing all over the place. It was magical!

We were also lucky enough to see a platypus swimming around its pond, which was very cool because they’re notoriously shy and hard to spot. All it took was a bit of patience, something a lot of people didn’t have. We lost count of the number of people who walked through that enclosure, took one glance, declared it empty and moved on. If they’d stayed for a few minutes and watched carefully, they’d have seen the platypus snorkelling around too. Sadly, none of our platypus photos turned out. It was a speedy little thing and the truth is we were too enchanted watching it to bother with much happy-snapping.

We did take lots of other photos. Here’s a few for you to enjoy.

Asian elephant

Male Asian elephant. His keeper was doing log rolling and other exercises with him to keep him entertained.

Giraffe

The giraffes at Taronga have a great view

Barbary sheep

Barbary sheep

Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon. Creepy things!

Snake - I think an inland taipan

I think this is an inland taipan or fierce snake, which is also the most venomous in the world. Also scarily big and not something I’d like to tread on.

Lizard resting

Snake

I wouldn’t like to tread on this one either.

Meerkats

Meerkats are cool.

Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkey. They were adorable.

Lemurs

The lemurs were all huddled under their heat lamps, keeping warm and bonding.

Pretty duck

The mandarin ducks were stunningly coloured.

Electus parrots

Eclectus parrots. Loved how close you could get to some of the animals. This little girl could nearly touch them.

Seal talk

The seal talk was great fun.

Jumping seal

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil. We caught the last of the keeper talk and it was wonderful to learn that they’re making progress on conserving these animals after being so badly hit by Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

Royal Spoonbill

Royal Spoonbill

Sydney view

As you can see from the view, it was a cracking winter’s day for visiting the zoo.

For more information about Taronga Zoo, check out the website. Or better still, go visit!

Hmm. This makes me think we should trip out Dubbo way and visit Western Plains Zoo again. We’ve been a few times before and it’s brilliant. Maybe on the way back from Narranderra. Ooh, now there’s a plan…

 

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This Writing Life: The Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft 2017

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At long last, the much-awaited Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft photo essay is here!

This is up there with one of the best book research trips I’ve done. There’s nothing quite like heading out into the country, getting coated in dust and people watching. All excellent food for the writerly soul. I went a bit trigger-happy with the camera, taking well over 500 shots, which is why they took me a while to work through. That and the fact I’m currently madly editing CHRISSY AND THE BURROUGHS BOY. My guess is you’d much rather have a new book than a few photos, no matter how fun they are.

The Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft started over 130 years ago, and is held next to the Bowen River Hotel on (obviously) the Bowen River, north Queensland, 110 kilometres south-west of Bowen and 35 kilometres west of Collinsville. The event attracts people from all over Australia, most of whom camp at the grounds. The campdrafting competitions run over all three days with the rodeo on Saturday and Sunday, and junior bush sports on Sunday.

There’s also live entertainment and a bar operating into the night, bush poetry, stalls selling clothing, rural paraphernalia and other goodies, and plenty of country fare to keep visitors sustained. It’s dusty, sprawling, packed with drama overlaid with country music, and set in a fantastic historic location. Definitely one for your bucket lists.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m doing research at a rodeo in north Queensland in the first place? It’s for a book I’m in the throes of plotting out, the climax of which occurs at an event similar to the Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft. But the story doesn’t involve rodeo riding. It’s about something else which you’ll find aaaaall about in the future. I’ll leave you to speculate!

Except for a few photos where I felt a caption was needed to give context, I’ve left the rest to speak for themselves, otherwise it’d be endless quips like “man takes nose-dive off bull” or “drool-worthy man in hat ‘n chaps on horsey, looking sexy”, of which there seem to be many. Funny that.

Now enjoy!

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bush poetry

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Excited to be here!

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

River Rodeo and Campdraft

River Rodeo and Campdraft

River Rodeo and CampdraftRiver Rodeo and Campdraft

River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

River Rodeo and Campdraft

River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Miss Rodeo Australia

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Hard to find a park at the campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Mini campdrafting for under 8 years. Too cute!

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

With a bar, food and entertainment running into the nights, pretty much everyone camped.

Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft

Sorry, Mum and Dad-in-law, we dirtied your car again.

If you’d like to find out more about the Bowen River Rodeo and Campdraft and put it on your bucket list (which you should do), check out their website or Facebook Page where you’ll find plenty of info and photos.

Back to editing I go!

 

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This Writing Life: Vivid Sydney 2017

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I know you’re eagerly anticipating a This Writing Life photo essay about my trip to the Bowen River Rodeo but I went a bit click-happy while I was there, resulting in a bazillion images go through. I figure you’d much prefer me to be working on another rural romance instead of poring over photos, even if they are juicy ones of Aussie cowboys being all sexy and manly as they wrestle steers and ride bulls and gallop about and tip their hats and offer up laconic winks and make me want to… *clears throat* Sorry, got a bit drooly for a moment.

The post is coming though, I promise!

In the meantime, please enjoy these snaps from Vivid Sydney, the annual light, music and ideas festival that brightens the city for around 3 weeks each winter, which Jim and I managed to sneak a look at the night we flew back from Townsville.

We would have loved to have seen the whole thing but were too knackered from travelling to visit all the sites, and there are a LOT of them, along with night markets and other festivities. With the festival closing in a few days there was no chance of a return visit either, so we made the most of the time and energy we had and took a harbour cruise. Cold, but oh so wonderful.

I should probably have taken more photos but we’d parked ourselves on the prow and I was terrified of dropping my phone in the water, and quite honestly I couldn’t be stuffed. I wanted to experience the beauty of Vivid without whipping out my phone every two minutes.

I hope this small selection brightens you up. Vivid certainly brought Sydney harbour to life.

Vivid Sydney Circular Quay

Circular Quay and the Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Looking back at the Opera House and Bridge

Sydney Opera House

The colours on the Opera House were glorious, like the colours of the Great Barrier Reef.

Sydney Opera House

So pretty. Almost makes you wish the Opera House looked like this all the time.

Botanic Gardens Vivid 2017

The Botanic Gardens had a display of sunflowers that followed the light. So cute.

Barangaroo - Vivid Sydney 2017

Barangaroo was like opening your eyes underwater. Just beautiful.

If you’re ever in Sydney in May-June then make sure you take in Vivid. These pictures don’t do it a shred of justice – between not understanding the new settings on my phone and the wobbly boat it was hard to take decent shots. We only scratched the surface of the festival, but what we did experience was STUNNING!

 

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This Writing Life: An Outback Queensland Adventure

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Welcome to this delayed edition of This Writing Life: A. Outback Queensland Adventure. I’ve been trying to organise this post for a while but the first round of edits for THE COUNTRY GIRL landed while I was away and that meant it was straight down to business on my arrival home, with no time to spare for travelogues. Or house cleaning for that matter, but any excuse to get out of that.

Anyway, better late than never!

For those of you who missed my adventures on social media, in mid March Jim and I had to fly up to Townsville for some appointments. Because Murphy’s Law dictated that nothing matched up (actually, it was probably more our disorganisation that caused this but Murphy is so much easier to blame), we ended up with a few days to spare. This also coincided with my globe-trotting parents-in-law leaving their four-wheel-drive parked in Townsville.

Four-wheel-drive…

Queensland outback practically on the doorstep…

At a loose end…

Never look a gift horse and all that I say. So we pinched the car and hit the road.

If you ever get the chance to go driving around outback Queensland, I highly recommend you take it. As you’ll see from the following photos, we had a BALL!

To put things in perspective, this map shows where we headed to: Townsville, through Charters Towers and then out to WInton and surrounds.

Outback Queensland Map

From Townsville we headed out past Charters Towers and then down to Winton, approximately 600kms.

The drive out was fun. The humour in outback Australia can be as dry as the landscape, as demonstrated by this laugh outside of Charters Towers.

Grounded! The writing on the boat reads: Lake Wanted, Boat Grumpy. Cracks me up.

Grounded! The writing on the boat reads: Lake Wanted, Boat Grumpy. I’ve seen this a few times now and it never fails to crack me up.

There’s a tiny little town called Corfield, population 10, on the Winton to Hughenden road, which has nothing much more than a pub come shop, a couple of other buildings, and a bit of a camping ground. But each year they hold the “real” Corfield Cup, a play on Melbourne’s famous Caulfield Cup horse race, and the population swells to more than 1000.

Sounds right up my alley. One for the bucket list!

Corfield, Queensland. Home of the "real" Corfield Cup. I'd love to go to this event. One for the bucket list.

Corfield, Queensland. Home of the “real” Corfield Cup.

There’s a lot of flat country out there…

Heading to Winton. It's flat and a bit empty.

The seemingly endless mitchell grass downs that dominate the road to Winton.

Another tiny town was Prairie, population 50, and once a main horse change for Cobb and Co. coaches. The pub is a blast and a must-stop.

The Prairie Hotel, complete with horse on the roof.

The Prairie Hotel, complete with horse on the roof, saddlery draping the front rails and very friendly locals.

Inside the Prairie Hotel. A treasure trove!

Inside the Prairie Hotel. A treasure trove! There was even an old barber’s chair.

Deciding to make Winton our base and travel outwards from there, we booked a room at the North Gregory Hotel. First opening it doors in 1879, the hotel has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. This is the 4th North Gregory Hotel which opened in 1955 (and was owned by the local council!) and it’s a fantastic building.

There’s so much history in this hotel alone. It was the location of the first public performance of iconic song Waltzing Matilda in 1895. Lyndon Johnson, who would go on to become the 36th President of the United States, stayed here as a Navy Lt Commander after his plane crash landed at Carisbrooke Station in 1942. It was also where locals held secret meetings as they formed the airline Qantas.

North Gregory Hotel

Such a great looking hotel, and a gorgeous morning for adventuring.

This made me smile each time I passed. Near the location of the first public performance of Waltzing Matilda.

This made me smile each time I passed. Near the location of the first public performance of Waltzing Matilda.

Artist Daphne Mayo (1895-1982) created these etched glass panels for the dining room at the North Gregory Hotel. These are a tribute to Waltzing Matilda. Another set was to Qantas.

Artist Daphne Mayo (1895-1982) created these etched glass panels for the dining room at the North Gregory Hotel. These are a tribute to Waltzing Matilda. Another set was to Qantas.

This cute little fellow was in the beer garden of the North Gregory Hotel.

This cute little fellow was in the beer garden of the North Gregory Hotel.

We were up the next morning early for a stroll around town. First stop was Arno’s Wall, a work of art and architecture by local identity and opal miner Arno Grotjahn. It has all sorts of things embedded in it, including a kitchen sink.

Sunrise hitting some motorbikes embedded in Arno's Wall.

Sunrise hitting some motorbikes embedded in Arno’s Wall.

It was so quiet in Winton that morning, there were brolgas wandering the street.

Brolgas in Winton

Brolgas in Winton

Winton town centre features lovely whimsical artwork, wonderful sculptures and commemorative statues. They even have cool dinosaur themed bin covers. Such a nice place to wander around, full of humour and history.

Cute sculpture in Winton main street.

One of the cute pieces of art in Winton’s main street.

dinosaur foot wheelie bin covers.

Love these dinosaur foot wheelie bin covers.

Banjo Paterson sculpture

Banjo Parterson and Waltzing Matilda commemorative statue.

Winton Wagon

This horse drawn wagon carried the last load of wool to the Winton rail head in 1936. The wagon could carry a load of 9 tonnes when yoked with 19 horses.

Corfield and Fitzmaurice building

The historic Corfield and Fitzmaurice building in Winton’s main street. There’s a museum inside and a shop selling local hand-made crafts. I bought a gorgeous bracelet from there.

Swagman statue

This lovely statue is a tribute to Banjo Paterson and to the many swagmen who lie in unmarked graves throughout the country.

There’s nothing so dry as outback Aussie humour and the Tattersalls Hotel outdid itself with these quotes they’d hung on the outside walls.

Tattersalls Hotel

Tattersalls Hotel

From Winton we took a drive 110kms south to Lark Quarry and the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument, which was seriously cool. There’s something about seeing 95 million-year-old dinosaur tracks that brings out the excited kid in me.

I love how science has determined that, all that time ago, hundreds of small dinosaurs were wandering near the edge of a lake when a large, meat-eating theropod attacked. Blocked by the lake, the little dinosaurs had nowhere to go, and in a mad panic were forced to run like crazy past the predator to safety. Even more exciting, the event was preserved in the mud and then turned to stone for us to see today.

Though occasionally rough, the drive to Lark Quarry was enjoyable too. Fantastic landscape and just look at that sky!

Emergency airstrip

This section of road in the middle of nowhere is designated no stopping so emergency aircraft like the Flying Doctor can land.

Arriving at Lark Quarry

Arriving at Lark Quarry

The scenery around Lark Quarry was stunning.

The scenery around Lark Quarry was stunning. The colours are incredible. So vivid they almost look created instead of natural.

Below you can see some of the footprints, preserved under cover (a necessity, not just to protect them from the elements but from people who have damaged and/or tried to nick them over the years). The largest of the theropod prints is 64cm, which extrapolates into a predator approximately 2.5 metres tall at the hips. The other dinosaurs ranged from chicken sized to half the size of an emu. Just enough for a nice snack.

inosaur footprints

Dinosaur footprints! And the only known preserved dinosaur stampede in the world. Fantastic.

From Lark Quarry I made Jim take a detour to Old Cork Station. The road deteriorated so badly we thought we’d taken a wrong turn, it wasn’t on the GPS and don’t even think about internet access. Earlier there’d been another track heading off in a different direction, so we u-turned back to try that, only for it to dead end at a gypsum quarry. So around we went again… with much swearing and muttering from the driver about people who get excited and soppy about things that are nothing but lines in a forgotten song. But we found it in the end and I ticked Old Cork Station off my bucket list. Jim, however, was completely underwhelmed and still hasn’t let me forget it.

For those of you who have never heard of Old Cork Station, take a listen to Australian folk band Redgum’s “Diamantina Drover“.

I defy you not to feel romantic about it!

Old Cork Station

The sandstone ruins of Old Cork Station near the Diamantina River, one of the shire’s original properties. Old Cork was first settled in the 1860s and the homestead built in 1880-85.

After Old Cork (yes, there’s still a Cork Station, if you’re wondering – we drove past the ‘new’ homestead on the way) we journeyed back to Winton, where Jim got chatting to a local who’d called into the tourist office for a natter. Apparently the local had been up to Combo Waterhole the day before and it was running, something he’d never seen before.

Naturally, being his father’s son, Jim decided to take a drive cos, you know, we clearly hadn’t done enough already that day. *rolls eyes*

Combo Waterhole is iconic in Australian bush culture. It lies 132km north-west of Winton off the Landsborough Highway and is believed to be the setting of, or at least the inspiration for, AB (Banjo) Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda which he wrote while visiting Dagworth Station (which Combo Waterhole was once a part of) in 1895.

You know how it goes…

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Combo is, so the story goes, the billabong in question. It’s also of importance to Jim’s family because across the other side of the waterhole is a Cobb and Co staging post where Jim’s great grandfather worked and where his great-uncle Les was born.

Sign indicating the turn-off to Combo Waterhole

Sign indicating the turn-off to Combo Waterhole. The waterhole is on the horizon somewhere.

Combo Waterhole

Standing at Combo Waterhole, which is actually a series of waterholes. As you can see it was flowing quite quickly so we didn’t try to cross to visit the Cobb and Co post.

The local also told us that if we could catch sunset at the 4-mile windmill (four miles from Winton, funnily enough) it’d make for some spectacular photos. We did and they were!

Windmill sunset

The peace of watching this sunset was quite incredible.

The following day we headed 24 kms out of Winton to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, which was also excellent. The museum holds the world’s largest collection of unique Australian dinosaur fossils.

Age of dinosaurs - Banjo statue

Perfectly normal thing to do, stick your head in a dinsosaur’s mouth. This is “Banjo”.

Age of dinosaurs lab.

Volunteers working to clean a dinosaur bone in the lab.

Age of dinosaurs

Love what’s written on the outside of this preserved pack of bones: “One BIG Dinosaur!!!”

Close to Winton is the Bladensburg National Park, which was once Bladensburg Station but was designated a National Park in 1994. There’s a half day drive you can do around it called the Route of the River Gum. We had a four-wheel-drive so we did it, and had a great time.

Bladensburg National Park - kangaroos

Kangaroos sheltering from the heat in one of the claypans at Bladensburg. The claypans allow water to run off so freely that it only takes half an inch of rain to fill the waterholes. Drovers used to follow the storms, knowing that even a small one would produce enough runoff to provide water for themselves and their livestock.

Richard Cragg's lonely grave in Bladensburg

Richard Cragg’s lonely grave in Bladensburg. Cragg was a mail contractor who died in December 1888 aged 46, apparently from “poison.”

The 1894 shearer's strike memorial

The 1894 shearer’s strike memorial. It was here that 500 shearers camped during the strike of 1891 and 1894, when Winton was under martial law. It’s also of historical political significance as these events played a role in the founding of the Australian Labour Party.

Engine Hole, a waterhole in the park.

Engine Hole, a waterhole in the park. Even a simple ham, cheese and tomato sandwich tastes like gourmet food when you eat it somewhere like this.

Bladensburg Homestead and shearing shed is open for visitors. This shed was built in the 1960s after the original shearing burnt down, and has only 6 stands, reflecting stocking rates of the time. Sheep numbers on Bladnesburg ranged from 30,000 in 1915, to 600,000 (!!) in the 1920s, declining to 14,000 in the 1950s.

The change in numbers is amazing. In 1965 in Queensland’s Flinders Shire alone there were nearly 1.3 million sheep. By 2006 there were only 156,000. Cattle are now the primary stock that’s run.

Bladenburg's old shearing shed.

Bladenburg’s old shearing shed.

Before we left Winton, I had to play on its musical fence. It made me laugh, even if Jim thought I was a twit.

musical fence

Can’t say my efforts on the musical fence were very tuneful.

Musical Fence - drums

I did feel, however, that I played the drums quite marvellously.

We called into Hughenden on the trip back and had a terrific time visiting the museum and checking out the sculptures.

Mutt the Muttaburrasaurus

Mutt the Muttaburrasaurus, a fibreglass replica. These dinosaurs grew up to 7 metres in length and were 2.2 metres at the hip. Behind, the gorgeous old Grand Hotel, sadly closed.

Windmill sculpture, Hughenden

This windmill sculpture/rotunda in Hughenden’s main street was erected in 2001 to celebrate the centenary of Federation and features two 20 foot blade windmills. It’s practical as well as interesting and, thanks to interpretive panels inside, educational. Danny from Santa and the Saddler would have loved it!

dinosaur metalwork sculpture

One of the dinosaur metalwork sculptures that dot the centre of town.

dinosaur metalwork sculpture

Another metalwork sculpture in Hughenden. Clever!

Hughie, the 7 metre tall muttaburrasaurus

Hughie, the 7 metre tall muttaburrasaurus in the Flinders Discovery Centre.

Danny, windmill engineer and hero of my rural romance Santa and the Saddler, would have gone nuts over this gigantic Comet windmill in Hughenden.

The Comet windmill Hughenden

The Wirilla Station windmill, now in Hughenden, stands on the banks of the Flinders River and is one of only fifteen 35 foot mills ever manufactured. This one is number 11 and it could pump a million litres of water a day with an average wind. Danny would have wet his pants!

From there we drove back to Charters Towers, a famed gold rush town, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch at Centenary Park and this commemorative sculpture.

Gold Discovery Monument

The Gold Discovery Monument by Queensland artist Hugh Anderson

I was sad to leave the area. We’d had such a great adventure, experiencing outback Queensland and visiting locations so iconic and significant in Australia’s history.

Next time we’re up in Townsville with time to spare, I’m hoping to take a (longish) drive north-west to the Undara Volcanic National Park to check out the lava tubes. My parents-in-law tell me they’re spectacular.

Hope you enjoyed this post from This Writing Life. Don’t expect too many other adventures for a while. No time for fun in the Hein house, it’s book writing time and I have an idea for a beeeoooooty!

 

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This Writing Life: The Australian Romance Readers Convention 2017

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Ooh, I do love a good get-together and the recent Australian Romance Readers Convention in Melbourne didn’t disappoint. It was a weekend packed with panels, gala events, keynote speakers and socialising. Everyone had a ball, from authors to readers to industry.

Hanging with your tribe… honestly, there’s nothing quite so affirming and though I came home absolutely stuffed I’m still on a high. ARRA events are loaded with positivity and warmth, but that should come as no surprise. We’re romance fans!

I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to the organising committee: Debbie Phillips, Heather Kopp, Diane Robson, Pamela Diaz and Juliette Arthur. You created an amazing event that I hope you’re very proud of.

The ARRC 2017 organising committee.

My heartfelt thanks to the ARRC organising committee. Three cheers, huge applause and a big champagne toast to you all.

My sincere thanks also to the ARRA committee and to all the volunteers involved in the running of ARRC 2017.

I have so many highlights I don’t know where to start but I enjoyed the screening of the Love Between the Covers documentary about the billion dollar romance fiction industry hugely. I think I’m going to have to buy a copy so I can watch it again.

Keynote speakers Courtney Milan, Kylie Scott and Kristen Callihan were also wonderful to listen to. I love hearing about other writers’ lives and journeys, and how they approach their books. It’s endlessly fascinating.

Hot Choc Mark IIThe booksigning was a hoot, as always, and it was great to chat to so many readers, some of whom were new to me and some who now feel like old friends. Everyone laughed at the new, improved Hot Chocolate and he didn’t break down once. I think we might be on a winner with this little-but-loud horsey mascot.

The Australian Romance Reader Awards dinner was a wonderful night, and I was so thrilled for Anne Gracie who pretty much swept the pool. The Summer Bride and the Chance Sisters series were truly gorgeous and her wins were well deserved. You can find a full list of the finalists here and all the winners here.

I was even more thrilled when Wayward Heart won favourite cover. That was so cool! I love that cover to bits and it was such a rush to find others love it too. Thanks to everyone who voted for it. Enormous thanks also to editor Rachael Donovan for going with the idea and the Harlequin designers for their outstanding layout. If you missed the blog post where Wayward Heart’s cover model Kate Swan reveals all about the shoot and her sexy partner Jack, you’ll find it here. It’s great fun.

I was a bit slack on the photo taking front this time – too busy talking! But I managed to snap a few on my phone. Not the best of quality (sorry) but one thing all the photos show is what a brilliant event this was and the terrific time everyone had.

Enjoy!

Melbourne put on a lovely sunny welcome for us!

Melbourne put on a lovely sunny welcome for us!

Keynote Speakers

Courtney Milan's keynote address at ARRC was excellent.

Courtney Milan’s keynote address at ARRC was excellent. I particularly enjoyed her comments about issues such as cultural appropriation and diversity in romance.

Keynote speaker at ARRC17 Kylie Scott

Kylie Scott knows what kind of images turn romance readers on!

Keynote speaker Kristen Callihan entertained us all on the final afternoon.

Keynote speaker Kristen Callihan entertained us all on the final afternoon.

Booksigning

Amy Andrews and Keri Arthur at ARRC 17

Amy Andrews and Keri Arthur

Ebony McKenna and Bec McMaster at ARRC17

Ebony McKenna and Bec McMaster

Emily Madden at ARRC17

Emily Madden

Fiona Lowe at ARRC17

Fiona Lowe

Kandy Shepherd and Alli Sinclair at ARRC17

Kandy Shepherd and Alli Sinclair

Kylie Scott at ARRC17

Kylie Scott

Lisa Ireland at ARRC17

Lisa Ireland

Sandy Curtis, Anne Gracie and Donna Maree Hanson at ARRC17

Sandy Curtis, Anne Gracie and Donna Maree Hanson

Sarah Barrie and Amy Rose Bennet at ARRC17

Sarah Barrie and Amy Rose Bennet

Tea Cooper and Sandy Curtis at ARRC17

Tea Cooper and Sandy Curtis

TM Clark at ARRC17

TM Clark

Victoria Purman and MJ Scott/Melanie Scott at ARRC17

Victoria Purman and MJ Scott/Melanie Scott

Harlequin Author Drinks

Me, Rachael Johns and Alison Stuart at the Harlequin author welcome drinks.

Me, Rachael Johns and Alison Stuart at the Harlequin author welcome drinks.

Australian Romance Reader Awards Dinner

The ARR Awards dinner crowd.

The ARR Awards dinner crowd.

Rachael Johns did an excellent job as MC for the night.

Rachael Johns did an excellent job as MC for the night.

Anne Gracie collecting one of her many awards. ARRC17

Anne Gracie collecting one of her many awards. Love those cowboy boots!

Meeting reader Deb Bray at the ARR Awards dinner.

I was delighted to meet fan Deb Bray at the ARR Awards dinner. That was a great moment.

Wayward Heart's Favourite Cover Award.

Wayward Heart’s Favourite Cover Award. Wheee!

Panels and Other Miscellany

The Rise of Rural Romance panel featuring Pamela Cook, Charlotte Nash, Sarah Barrie and Nicole Hurley-Moore, with Victoria Purman moderating.

The Rise of Rural Romance panel featuring Pamela Cook, Charlotte Nash, Sarah Barrie and Nicole Hurley-Moore, with Victoria Purman moderating. I enjoyed this a lot. Everyone had insightful comments and I was fascinated by Pamela’s mention of the controversy around her Hendra virus themed book Close To Home. I was also lucky enough to win a copy of Charlotte’s The Horseman. Rah!

Amy Andrews, Christine Wells and me in the bar. Surprise, surprise!

Amy Andrews, Christine Wells and me in the bar. Surprise, surprise!

Loved this sculpture in the nearby Southern Cross Tower.

Loved this sculpture in the nearby Southern Cross Tower by husband and wife team Gillie and Marc. They also created the pit pony at Collinsville, some of the sculptures at Finger Wharf that I also featured on the blog, and the wonderful buried rhino at last year’s Sculpture by the Sea.

Lunch at Thai food guru David Thompson's new restaurant Long Chim at Crown.

The leftovers of lunch at Thai food guru David Thompson’s new restaurant Long Chim at Crown. Amaaaaazing. The Sydney version in Angel Place is now in my sights cos as we all know, a girl can never indulge in enough lunches!

I hope you enjoyed this look at the weekend. If you’d like to join the Australian Romance Readers Association and have opportunities like this to hang with friendly, like-minded people then please check out the ARRA website.

 

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This Writing Life: Hot Chocolate Rides Again. Well, almost.

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It’s Friiiiiidaaaay, and that means I’m in Melbourne for the 2017 Australian Romance Readers Convention. Rah!

Registrations for the convention have closed but you can still come to the book signing at Bobby McGees at Rydges Melbourne on Saturday afternoon, between 4 and 6 pm where you can chat with all your favourite authors, get your books signed, buy latest releases or just mingle and enjoy the buzz.

Breaking News

And in breaking news, if you drop by my table you’ll be able to meet the new, improved, all singing, all-dancing cousin to the late and sadly missed, blow-up wonder horse Hot Chocolate!

Eh hem.

Perhaps I should clarify.

In March 2015, I travelled to Canberra for the Australian Romance Readers Convention, arriving a day early because I wanted to take in the Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia.

The exhibition was in its final days and the gift shop was offering great discounts on their stock items. One of these happened to be an inflatable horse. I was on my way back to my room via the bar when I was waylaid by some author friends (eyeballing you, Anne Gracie and Kelly Hunter) and on discovering I’d bought a blow-up horse, they insisted it be inflated (see piccies here and here). Kylie Scott then christened the horse Hot Chocolate.

Since then, Hot Chocolate has followed me to every book signing event, packed flat in my suitcase and then inflated back to gorgeousness when needed. It wasn’t long before a book signing didn’t feel like a proper book signing without Hot Choc perched on my table.

Cathryn Hein and her blow-up horse at the ARRC 2015 booksigning

Me and Hot Chocolate the blow-up wonderhorse.

Alas, Hot Chocolate wasn’t a hardy soul. Besides some serious conformation issues, he was rather thin skinned, and at the ARR Awards in Sydney in 2016 he sprang a major leak.

Naturally I pulled out all stops in my efforts to save him – as was outlined in this blog post: The Great Hot Chocolate Emergency – but on arrival at the ARRA booksigning in Adelaide August last year, it was obvious that Hot Chocolate’s injuries were catastrophic. Sadly, the decision was made to humanely dispatch him to that great horsey heaven in the sky.

Since then, I’ve been scouring the world for a replacement and discovered some mighty beasts (did you know you can get life-sized inflatable horses? I want one soooooo badly!) but none captured my heart until I discovered this little fellow.

He may be small, but what he lacks in height he sure makes up for in entertainment value.

Take a look!

Isn’t he the coolest?

So, if you’re in Melbourne this Saturday and can make it to the ARRC booksigning, please drop by my table and say hello. We’d love to see you!

 

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This Writing Life: Home Town Homage

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As many of you will know from last week’s This Writing Life post, Tales from the Real Rocking Horse Hill, I recently ventured to my home town of Mount Gambier in the lower south-east of South Australia to help celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday.

I was also fortunate enough to be interviewed on ABC South-East radio by Selina Green, which was enormous fun, and by Amelia Pepe from local paper The Border Watch. Amelia wrote a wonderful piece about my long connection to and love for to the area and included a great photo of me with Wayward Heart at the top of Mount Schank.

The Border Watch article

The Border Watch article. Such a thrill to appear on a page in my home town paper!

In case you missed it, there’s a video of me climbing the volcanic crater here, along with more on the inspiration behind the fictional Rocking Horse Hill of my stories.

Besides the 80th birthday bash, I had a wonderful time playing tourist. I adore doing this because of the creative energy it provides, and no matter how well you think you know an area, there are always new and amazing things to see and experience.

Here are some photos from a few of the adventures I had, as well as places that have inspired elements in my stories. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Mount Gambier’s biggest tourist attraction is the stunning Blue Lake. In the winter the lake is a dull grey but from December until March it turns an exquisite cobalt blue. To really appreciate the extraordinary colour it needs to be seen live, but you can get a bit of an idea from this photo.

Besides being beautiful and excellent exercise to walk around, the lake also supplies the town’s water. And no, it doesn’t come out of the tap that colour!

Mount Gambier's famous Blue Lake.

Mount Gambier’s famous Blue Lake.

Once upon a time, we used to have a railway. I can still remember, as a kid, catching the train to a school camp, but the railway closed back in the mid 90s and left a large expanse of land in the centre of town derelict. After a great deal of community consultation, work started on a redevelopment in late 2013. The Railway Lands project was finished in 2015 and it’s brilliant!

I love the “green lungs” concept, the sculptures and interesting playgrounds, and hope the area continues to develop and becomes a community hub.

One of the playground areas at the railway lands.

One of the playground areas at the railway lands.

frog sculpture at the Railway Lands.

Loved this frog sculpture at the Railway Lands.

Shingleback lizard sculpture

Tooling around on a carved shinglenack lizard, as you do.

Mount Gambier also boasts some fine buildings and gardens. This is Jens Hotel in the heart of the town. It’s still a lovely hotel but it must have been an amazing place to stay in its heyday. The main building dates from 1884 but extensions were added in 1904 and 1927, The annex was constructed in 1902 originally as a (rather grand) coffee palace.

The western face of Jens Hotel, Mt Gambier.

The western face of Jens Hotel, Mt Gambier.

Jens Hotel staircase.

Jens Hotel’s grand staircase.

Some of the roses in the Cave Garden in the heart of town.

Some of the roses in the Cave Garden in the heart of town, and which is built around a large sinkhole.

For those of you who have ever wondered what the Australian Arms looks like – the hotel mentioned in Rocking Horse Hill, Wayward Heart, Summer and the Groomsman and where Danny Burroughs works so hard in Santa and the Saddler – then the Gambier Hotel, pictured below and situated on Mount Gambier’s main corner and established in 1862 (although its license originates from 1847), will give you a fair idea.

Isn’t it a great looking pub? My grandmother worked here as a maid in days gone by. As with Jens Hotel, imagine the stories these places could tell.

The Gambier Hotel

The Gambier Hotel on Mount Gambier’s main corner.

We also took a drive down to Nelson, for no other reason than I hadn’t been there for ages. Nelson is a sleepy little town just up from where the Glenelg River meets the sea. It’s a pretty spot, tranquil and with sandy beaches and calm waters, which makes it an excellent place to take the family for a paddle. My dad used to take us night-time fishing on the river estuary when we were kids. Family lore tells that my grandfather ran boxing tournaments here too.

The sandy beach inside the estuary at Nelson.

The sandy beach inside the estuary at Nelson.

Speaking of Santa and the Saddler, every time I see a windmill I think of that book and big-hearted, romantic Danny. For those who haven’t read this story, Danny is a metal fabricator and windmill technician. Despite technological advances, windmills are still used thanks to, among other things, their reliability and endurance.

This windmill was on the road between Nelson and Port MacDonnell, in a major dairy farming area.

Windmill

At Port MacDonnell, a local fishing village, I was delighted to discover this new sculpture by Mount Gambier artist Ivo Tadic. Isn’t it the cutest thing? I’ve since discovered that there’s another limestone sculpture called The Bay Wave at the other end of the port which weighs 50 tonnes, but I missed seeing it. So annoyed! Ah well, another excuse to come back.

The Penguins by Ivo Tadic

The Penguins by Ivo Tadic

Until very recently nearby Cape Northumberland boasted a little (fairy) penguin colony but, sadly, it has been decimated by predators. The hunt is now on to find surviving penguins. And hopefully devise a way to protect them. We need an Oddball!

After a very pleasant stroll about, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at the hugely popular Periwinkles Cafe, where I bumped into one of my old high school teachers, ate boar fish for the first time – delish! – and slurped some very tasty local wines which then needed to be worn off. And what better way than to explore the Port MacDonnell and District Maritime Museum. I’d visited not long after it opened, when I did a talk at the community centre, and it was wonderful to go back. This area has such a rich maritime and agricultural history, and the number of shipwrecks along this coast is astonishing – the SS Admella being being the most famous and one of Australia’s most tragic maritime disasters.

Some of you might recognise the name Admella. It’s the name of the beach outside of Port Andrews where Jasmine from Wayward Heart lives, and where she and her friends Em (from Rocking Horse Hill) and Teagan (from The Falls) love to gallop their horses.

A model of the steamship Admella in the Port MacDonnell and District Maritime Museum.

A model of the steamship Admella in the Port MacDonnell and District Maritime Museum.

This gave me a laugh!!

The donation box at the Port MacDonnell and District Maritime Museum.

The donation box at the Port MacDonnell and District Maritime Museum.

This is Port MacDonnell’s beautiful customs house built in 1863. It’s currently a private residence but a B&B operates as well. It was a multipurpose building, containing the police station and residence, cells, court room, post and telegraph station and school teacher’s residence. Must book a stay here one night. It’d be grand!

Port MacDonnell's lovely customs house.

Port MacDonnell’s lovely customs house.

Here’s me on the foreshore at Port MacDonnell. This is where Danny first kisses Beth in Santa and the Saddler!

Me with Santa and the Saddler on the foreshore at Port MacDonnell

Casterton, across the border in Victoria, is about 70 km from Mount Gambier and famous for its annual Kelpie Muster and a lovely place to visit. The Albion Hotel has recently had a new lease on life and I can’t recommend it enough. Besides being a magnificent old building, the bistro serves fantastic food. The bistro walls are also decorated with old photographs of the district and kept our little group fascinated for ages. And the loos have toilet roll holders made out of old rabbit traps.

Seriously, this place is a must visit!

The Albion Hotel, Casterton, Victoria.

The Albion Hotel, Casterton, Victoria. You need to come here!

A sample of the wonderful photos on the walls of the Albion Hotel.

A sample of the wonderful photos on the walls of the Albion Hotel. They were fascinating. Such a rich history.

One of the loo roll holders made from old rabbit traps.

One of the loo roll holders made from old rabbit traps. So cool!

Casterton is also home to some wonderful artwork celebrating the kelpie and the region’s history.

'On the Sheep's Back' by artist Annette Taylor.

‘On the Sheep’s Back’ by artist Annette Taylor.

'Jack Gleeson' by artist Barb Dobson.

‘Jack Gleeson’ by artist Barb Dobson. Gleeson ‘s kelpie was the start of the breed. Or so the tale goes.

As regular readers will know, my mum has Alzheimer’s Disease and is now in care in a wonderful facility. They were celebrating Australia Day when I went to visit, with a barbecue lunch, a singer and lots of decorations. She looked happy and healthy, which was great to see. Sadly, Mum has no idea who I am anymore, but that’s the progression of the disease. In the meantime, I’ll take what I can, even if it’s a chat that makes no sense at all and a confused smile. She’s my mum and I love her come what may.

Cathryn and her mum

Me and Mum, Australia Day 2017

For those of you who’ve read April’s Rainbow, which is set in Victoria’s far western districts, this is what the landscape around Rainbow looks like. Sigh. I love it here. Think I might have to write another story located in the area. This is on the Glenelg Highway at the start of the drop into Coleraine.

The stunning country around Coleraine.

Beautiful April’s Rainbow country.

Back in Mount Gambier, I called into the tourist office to pick up some maps to use for research later and spotted this chappie in the pond. Cute!

Tourist office tortoise

The cute little tourist office tortoise. He looks quite small here but he was around 20 cm or so in shell length.

The tourist office also has a great discovery centre and a replica of the Lady Nelson, the survey vessel from which Mt Gambier and Mt Schank were spotted and named by its commander Lieutenant James Grant.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the special area where I grew up and which continues to provide inspiration for my stories.

If you’re ever in far western Victoria or in south-east South Australia, or simply considering holiday destinations, then please put this too unheralded area on your list. There are natural wonders galore, rich and fascinating histories, gorgeous art and architecture, and produce of a quality you wouldn’t believe. For more information and ideas, contact the Mount Gambier tourist office. You won’t regret it I promise!

 

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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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