Of Daydreams, Cairns and Rainbows’ Ends
During the 90’s I was a sales representative for a pasture seed company. I spent my days driving around New South Wales doing seed deals, discussing innovations in plant breeding with agricultural retailers, hanging out at field days, visiting farms, and chatting with agronomists. At one point I was covering coastal NSW from Bega in the south to Brisbane in the north, and west out to Moree.
That’s a lot of kilometres and a whole lot of daydreaming time.
With the car’s tape deck loaded with music to help wile away the hours (there were no iPods in those days), it was easy to drift into fantasy. Throw in Australia’s sometimes harsh, sometimes heavenly, but always inspiring landscape, along with a passion for writing and the hypnotic monotony of the road, and it’s little wonder I came up with hundreds of stories. Some stayed with me for only a trip or two, others lingered a season and even longer, but there were two truly powerful stories that returned year after year, and have never left my mind since.
The first of those was April’s Rainbow. The second… well, let’s just say all will be revealed some time in the future.
Although April’s Rainbow is set in the lush, rolling landscape of far western Victoria, when I think of its origins now, all I can picture is Cassilis, a small town on the Golden Highway in NSW between Merriwa at the top of the Hunter Valley and Dunedoo in the west. I think it was somewhere near there that the idea of a woman creating vibrant art in a lonely landscape first popped into my head and never disappeared.
Hours of driving and loosed imagination fleshed the story out and gave it a potency that remains as strong now as it was at inception. Such was its power that when I finally sat down to write the book, over twenty years later, the words poured out fast and perfect. The April of my daydreams is the April found in the book. Shy, kind Tristan is the same, with the exception that in the book I’ve given him friends and a large family, whereas initially I had him as a loner. It’s the fastest book I’ve ever written but the truth is it was composed years ago in my head. All I had to do was type it out.
From conception the setting was far western Victoria, in the windswept hills that roll dramatically upwards out of Casterton. The titular (fictional) property of Rainbow lies on the slope of one of those, opposite an also fictional cairn commemorating the explorer Major Mitchell, with the Glenelg Highway cutting between them.
The idea of the cairn came from a real one located at the top of Muntham Hill, between Casterton and Coleraine. I’d always thought it commemorated Mitchell. In fact I was so certain that’s who it celebrated I pinched it for the book. Imagine my bemusement when, on a trip to see my family in Mount Gambier, I stopped to take photos of the cairn and discovered it had nothing to do with Major Mitchell. It was for Edward Henty, Victoria’s first permanent settler, and a member of the Henty clan who’d arrived in Portland in November 1834 and quickly set about claiming land for themselves.
That’s not to say that this isn’t Mitchell country. The explorer certainly came through this way, but imagine Mitchell’s surprise when he trekked his way out of what I guess would have been some pretty inhospitable bush, believing he was the first white person in the area, only to stumble across the Henty family already making themselves at home. According to records, their meeting was all very cordial but I can’t help thinking that Mitchell might have been a bit put out. He’d done the hard yards after all, only to find he’d been beaten to the punch by an upstart family who’d sailed over the quick way from Tasmania. (For more on this check out Glenelg Libraries page on their meeting.)
But back to the cairn. The other thing I found was that my Muntham cairn wasn’t actually one. It was more a squat obelisk. How these things get into my head I have no idea. I must have travelled past that memorial a hundred times, yet my daydreams had it as something else. Which is not a necessarily bad thing. It saved me having to invent a fictional cairn because mine already was!
Rainbow’s name comes from across the border in South Australia. Mum and Dad had a shack at a tiny fishing village called Nene Valley, about 35 kilometres from Mount Gambier. At one point the old road to there used to take a sharp right turn, and the property directly on the turn was called Rainbow. As a child I thought that wonderfully romantic. It’s a word that speaks of hope and happiness, beauty and nature, and seemed the perfect name to use in this story.
Because if I can promise you one thing about April’s Rainbow, it’s that there’s gold at its end.