The Story Behind Heartland

heartlandA Memory Story

In my younger days I used to belong to the Nelson Trail Horse Riders’ Club. We’d spend a day, sometimes a weekend, riding the trails and forest tracks to the south of Mount Gambier, around the South Australian – Victorian border.

The rides sometimes took us to a broad sweep of beach several kilometres east of Port MacDonnell, where we’d gallop across the sand and let the horses splash happily in the sea. We rode to mysterious locations such as Hell’s Hole, an eerie sinkhole hidden among thick scrub that opens without warning and plunges toward deep, cold water, the thought of which still gives me the heebie-jeebies. We even did occasional night rides, spotting forest animals and playing horseback hide and seek in the dark.

It’s the memory of those trail rides that led to the development of Heartland’s setting. These places and adventures are locked so vividly in my mind there was never any question that one day write I’d about them. Not in their exact form, but their essence.

Callie’s property Glenmore doesn’t exist, nor does MacLeans Bay or Dargate. However, it’s fair to say that these locations owe of their elements from real places. MacLean’s Bay is a mix of Brown’s Bay and another beach that sweeps eastward from Nene Valley, the tiny seaside village where my family spent most summer weekends and nearly every holiday of my childhood. The river in the story looks a lot like the Glenelg River, which separates South Australia and Victoria near the coast. Beckett’s Landing is a re-imagined Donovans. The forests are those from the trails I rode as a child.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe characters, though, are pure fiction and developed from long hours day-dreaming. I wanted a modern heroine, someone damaged but still strong. A girl who copes with her past by never settling, who keeps people at arms’ length. To match her, I needed an equally strong hero, someone who knows what he wants and goes for it. A man whose dream is to settle down with a woman he loves and create a family he can nurture and protect. Then I thought what could bring these two together as well as force them apart, and so Heartland’s plot developed from there.

There is, however, a little bit of my own life story in the character Lyndall, the young girl Callie tries to help in Heartland.

When I first started to ride, Dad would hop on Mysty first to tire her out a bit and I’d enthusiastically pedal after them on my pushbike, anxious for my turn. We’d head down Wireless Road toward the local golf course, behind which was a pine plantation, where shady, needle-softened breaks formed perfect riding trails.

One day, we decided I’d ride first. Unfortunately, this was also the day a gate was left open at one of the houses along the way. As we passed, a loose German Shepherd exploded out of the drive, barking hysterically as it charged for us. Terrified, Mysty skittered onto the road, her steel horseshoes offering no grip on the bitumen. She slipped and came down heavily, rolling around as she attempted to scramble back to her feet, unaware I was trapped beneath, concerned only with escape.

Bar some impressive bruises I was unharmed, but the fall left me terrified of my darling horse, to the point where I couldn’t touch her or any other horse, and had to keep at least a metre distance. My fear was so intense and lasted for so long that Mum and Dad began to discuss selling Mysty, the very thought of which left eleven-year-old me distraught and panicked that my horsey dreams were over.

Fortunately a friend came to the rescue, or, rather her tiny Shetland pony did, and after a series of rehabilitation sessions I regained my confidence and with it a future of equine fun.

Nene Valley