Category Archives: Rural Childhood

Meet the country writers boosting a festival’s word count

“It’s like living on a writer’s retreat and I love it.”

AUSTRALIA’S rural heartlands are renowned for cultivating works of literature, and in the northern NSW region of Glen Innes the second annual High Country Writers Festival is busy fostering wordsmiths ahead of its final sessions on Saturday October 24. It’s also getting help from plenty of country-born locals who are great with words.

International travel writer and blogger Amanda Woods has had her wings (slightly) clipped by the global COVID-19 pandemic, yet this New England born-and-bred journalist will be chatting at the High Country Writers Retreat with authors Mary Moody and Mary Garden (also renowned travel and adventure writers) about capturing the world on the page, especially at this time of ‘armchair travel’.

Glen Innes-based travel writer Amanda Woods

According to Amanda, being able to live and write in the country is “a gift”.

“The simple fact that I am woken up by the sounds of magpies rather than construction work, as I used to be in the city, allows me to start the day gently and slip into my writing with ease, rather than having to fight to centre myself and block out what’s happening around me.

“It’s like living on a writer’s retreat and I love it.”

A regular contributor to popular publication Escape, Amanda has also been published in Mindfood and Australian Traveller. She creates stories for her own site, Adventures All Around, and is currently working on a piece showcasing the New England region for The Telegraph UK.

“It’s such a great feeling to be a part of something special in my home town. I love the way the festival not only brings great authors to Glen Innes but also brings local people together to bond over books,” she said.

Call To Home

Deepwater-based writer Lucy Munro

Deepwater-based writer Lucy Munro will be chatting with Mary Moody about cool-climate kitchen gardening at The Makers Shed, and finds inspiration on her 45-minute commute into Glen Innes.

“Whole paragraphs sometimes appear to me somewhere along the New England Highway,” she said.

“The smallest and most uncomplicated day-to-day moments evoke so much creative feeling within me, and I regularly leave interactions with people with a fully-formed story in mind.

“I think this is because for the most part, country people – and country life too – is genuine and meaningful. What you see is what you get, and there is no greater stimulation for writing than that.”

Published in The Planthunter, Belle Magazine, and Smith Journal, Lucy is undertaking a Masters in Writing at the University of New England, and will have an essay ‘Call to Home’ included in Trisha Dixon’s new book Spirit of the Garden. She cites isolation and poor Wi-Fi as challenges for country writers.

“But time has taught me that these are elements that are precious and needed most for my writing. It also helps that I have an expanse of paddocks to wander and animals to ‘anthropomorphise’ when the disconnect is too much.”

“There is so much creative work happening in this region and around rural Australia. Writers festivals like this provide space for this community to connect and share ideas and stories. “

Author Walk

Inverell Shire-based writer D’Arcy Lloyd

Emerging author D’Arcy Lloyd is currently working on a series of short fiction works based on the story of Waterloo Station, home of the High Country Writers Retreat.  

Raised in the Inverell Shire and drawn back to it after four decades living in cities and coastal regions, she was inspired to revive her writing output as a result of the move.

“I started dabbling with fictional writing in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until I returned a few years ago that I realised the various book concepts and a number of draft short stories that had grown out of the sites, colours, sounds and smells of the New England.  

“Cosmopolitan inner-city living is thrilling and stimulating, and I miss it, but this region nourishes me, inescapably.  It’s like a vast emptiness pregnant with whatever we allow our dreams to make it.”

D’Arcy will be launching her website at the High Country Writers Retreat during an ‘author walk’ of Waterloo Station with co-owner Deborah Anderson, complete with heritage tales that are part of her new ‘Waterloo Series’ of micro fiction.

Box Seat

Deepwater-based author Michael Burge

The support of this team of local wordsmiths is wonderful. They’ll lead conversations with our visiting authors and get to the heart of some fabulous books and storytelling now available in this region. Every one of us grew up on a New England farm, or still farms today, and we all have a connection to this landscape and its ongoing stories.

My first novel (a coming-of-age crime story to be published by MidnightSun Publishing in 2021) is set in a mythical place, although the towns, locations, buildings, streetscapes and farmlands are unmistakably the uplands between Delungra and Bingara, the country I came from.

I’ll be joining Moree-based author Nicole Alexander for a chat about breathing life into historical fiction, which I’m probably looking forward to more than just about anyone else planning to attend the session!

Since moving to Deepwater in 2017 I’ve been working on two manuscripts set in the past, one of which revolves around the 19th century railway gatekeeper’s cottage I call home.

It’s a great privilege for me to be able to sit in the box seat and hear an acclaimed author like Nicole open the door on how she creates an historical novel.

The High Country Writers Festival & Retreat continues on Saturday October 24, 2020 in the Glen Innes Highlands.

 

 

The greening of Deepwater Country

“Artists sometimes whisper to one another about the new palette that emerges when the rains stay away”

I TEND to blend into the landscape wherever I am living. The hues of the Blue Mountains were wrought on my vision for three decades, and I lived on Moreton Bay long enough for its marine palette to become second nature; but I was born in the New England, this vast cluster of upland valleys known as ‘tablelands’ after the plateaus and mesas that rise in their midst.

The Blue Mountains are draped with scrub and fern. Moreton Bay might be at sea level, but its islands are the leftover pinnacles of ridges and peaks that once rose above river valleys, their crowns layered with red earth and sand. The New England’s surface is blanketed with remnant wood- and grass-lands, now tucked in by pastures as varied as patchwork quilts.

DELUNGRA DAZE: The head of the driveway where I waited for the school bus

My first view from our settler’s homestead was of the distant chalky-blue hills running north from Bingara to Warialda, sometimes lit like rich strips of indigo against the gold of crops. The shapes of these tree-studded hills, mottled with dusty greens, came leaping out of me in a series of works I executed within months of returning to live in the Deepwater region in 2017.

The green ridges of Tenterfield, stooped under mist, became a theme in early 2018. By the time I was throwing paint around on canvas regularly, some of the high country around Glen Innes had started to brown off. We assumed it was the usual wintering of grass crisped by frosts, but when the spring rain drizzled instead of pelted, the ‘D-word’ crept into conversation.

It is harsh, there’s no arguing with the reality, but even drought doesn’t dampen the creative spirit. Artists sometimes whisper to one another about the new palette that emerges when the rains stay away… the pinks, yellows and apricots keep the landscape alive while the crops and cattle fail.

It’s not something to crow about, but as my brush kept at it though 2018, I noticed how the perennial blue of the sky started to offset land gilded by drought. 

The result was a small collection of works that told the story of local woman Ada Bezzant, who drowned herself in the Deepwater River in 1927.

The Choices of Ada Bezzant

Her reasons seemed as clear as Virginia Woolf’s, to me: a decade of loss that started with a young son blown apart on the Western Front, and ended with an ailing husband dead in faraway Newcastle.

Ada and her family ran a sawmill further along the road that still bears their name, situated just metres from the river she chose to end her life in.

CHOICES: ‘Ada and the Dam’ (oil on canvas by Michael Burge, 2018. Private collection)

Creating art about suicide encouraged me to make works of sufficient beauty that the pain of loss runs seamlessly into the landscape, so it was gratifying when a judge at the 2018 Frost Over Barraba Art Show commented in his notes that awarded ‘Ada and the Dam’ a painting prize, that the bittersweet feeling of loss and regret shone through.

DROUGHT: ‘Drowning Without Water’ (oil on canvas by Michael Burge, 2018. Private collection)

‘Drowning Without Water’ is the work that told me I was capturing the colours of a parched landscape. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to express the presence of water in the title and the blatant droplets of paint? Here is Ada, her clothes rightly just out of style for 1927, walking to an unseen river.

I spent a year thinking of her, even found her grave off to the to the side at Deepwater’s cemetery. I understand the challenges of country living, how they can wreak havoc on families when death makes its inevitable call. With apologies to Ada’s surviving relatives, some of whom we have met since moving here, I borrowed her tale for a while for this series of ‘New England Gothic’.

Creative Juices

By 2019 even my brushed dried up… bushfires are hardly inspiring, and adrenalin drains creative juices almost completely.

GREENING: ‘Torrington Plateau from Deepwater’ (pastel on paper by Michael Burge, 2020)

Almost… when the green tinge returned I could barely contain my desire to capture it, and a series of works emerged with greens so impossible that no-one would believe such bright hues, captured not with liquid paint but dirt-dry chalk pastels.

The drought is not over for everyone, but the rains have stayed for us, and the Deepwater River is flowing again. I saw the plain of Dundee so water-soaked the pools reflected rays of light. I saw hillsides with verdant green at their feet, while the seed heads of the grasslands tinged the sloped with a new dry gold. I saw weather where for so long there had really been nothing but dry skies. I saw change that seemed like it was never going to come again.

GOLD: ‘Hill above Yoongan Creek, Deepwater’ (oil on canvas by Michael Burge, 2020)

The Deepwater Country collection bleeds from greens and greys, to a fool’s gold, and then back to a surreal burst of colour that I’ve heard some locals confess to being desperate for. I know I was.

Deepwater Country runs until the end of August at The Makers Shed.

Cultivating storytellers in the rural heartland

LOCAL FANS OF good writing have every reason to celebrate, with a season of literary initiatives and acclaimed broadcaster Mary Moody — coming to the New England region between October 25th and December 1st for the High Country Writers Festival. As an author and journalist who learned to use the written word at Delungra Public School, I’m thrilled to be bringing wordsmiths together in a region that has always fostered storytellers.

RURAL HEARTLAND: Waterloo Station, Glen Innes.

Writers will have a unique opportunity to prime their skills and draw inspiration at iconic Waterloo Station between Glen Innes and Inverell when the festival kicks off at the High Country Writers Retreat from October 25th to 27th. Inverell resident Virginia Eddy (the force behind Boorama, her business strategy outfit, pictured above) is partnering with The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, to assist writers in adopting a micro-business approach.

Returning to the region after four decades has been huge for Virginia. “When I left my Melbourne world, a friend told me: ‘Don’t ever forget that there is a reason you are returning. Look and listen for it’,” she says. “Even though I’ve been here for six years, every time I drive out the Yetman Road north of Inverell, I’m imbued with the deep sense that I’m going home. Our family left the region when I was ten.”

Virginia believes that being a writer and being in business can be a comfortable coexistence. “Regardless of whether writers are published independently or by traditional means, business knowledge and acumen underpins their capacity for independence,” she says. “Micro-businesses should be built on the same primary foundations and frameworks as major corporations, except scaled accordingly”.

“I urge writers to imagine they are weaving potent little miracles of business around their output. These don’t happen with templates, or overnight. They’re a lifelong practice.”

TOUCH OF LUXURY: Waterloo Station Shearers Lodgings.

Despite one of the worst droughts we’ve seen in the New England, Virginia encourages writers to share Waterloo Station as a home-away-from-home during the retreat. “Whether they’re from the bush, the city, or both, it’s a chance to pause, absorb the landscape, the built environment, the past and evolving social history,” she says. “I believe the Station’s restorations (under the stewardship of Deborah and Don Anderson) will speak for themselves; but as a writer working on one of my own manuscripts, I look forward to hearing others’ perspectives.”

Being a regional-returner myself, I know what it’s like to seek a sense of place in a rural community. Growing up on a property out of Delungra prepared me for the profound tranquility of rural life, but living and working across the world has allowed me to bring home a host of skills.

I began mentoring writers after my independently-published memoir Questionable Deeds was selected for the Brisbane Writers Festival. I was so swamped by queries about how I managed it that I wrote the process into a short, accessible guidebook. Participants at the High Country Writers Retreat will be mentored on adapting these principles to their writing and publishing practices.

But there’ll also be plenty of writing time, one-to-one sessions and inspirational experiences at Waterloo Station. Virginia is well underway with transitioning into a literary writer, and I am always up for fresh insights into business and marketing, so we’ll be attending each other’s sessions at the retreat. Come and join us!

From the heart

The High Country Writers Festival continues on Saturday November 30th and Sunday December 1st at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, when Mary Moody, one of Australia’s most beloved and bestselling authors, launches her first book in a decade: The Accidental Tour Guide. She spoke with me about what inspired her to return to autobiography.

Mary Moody

“Memoir forces people to reflect on the events of their lives and to gain an understanding of how they reacted to those moments,” she says. “I have found that writing down difficult events somehow crystallizes them. The Accidental Tour Guide contrasts the highs of exploration and adventure against the lows of death and loss.”

Since the publication of a string of bestselling memoirs, bridging her life in rural France and regional Australia, Mary has relocated from the farm she shared with her late husband, filmmaker David Hannay.

“I now live with my youngest son and his family in the Blue Mountains. This supportive environment makes it possible for me to continue my adventure travels, knowing I have a safe haven to return to, every time,” she says.

Mary will also hold her popular ‘Writing from the Heart’ workshop at The Makers Shed during the festival. “I never cease to be amazed and delighted at the stories people tell me of their amazing lives. It’s just knowing where to start and how to keep those stories flowing. Often people want to write the stories of their parents or grandparents and these are equally as inspiring. I believe we will never tire of reading about other people’s lives. It helps us to make sense of our own.”

The tussle between nesting and migrating is a constant theme in Mary’s work, giving insights into the fortunes of regional communities in many countries. “It’s always the people that create a community, and it makes me sad to see regions where failing economics makes it impossible for people to live where they were born,” she says. “We need to encourage more young families to live in rural areas – the benefits of this lifestyle are many and varied.”

Described as Eat, Pray, Love meets The Year of Magical Thinking, Mary’s new memoir is an inner and outer journey through uncharted territory. “I’m really looking forward to touring with this new book. I particularly love small independent bookshops and places where there are active and enthusiastic book clubs. Australians are great readers – they devour good books and it’s wonderful to know that here we have such a vibrant and viable publishing industry. At the end of the day I just love meeting people and talking.”

The High Country Writers Festival is an initiative of The Makers Shed. This article was first published in New England Living magazine.