Confessions of a People Smuggler, Dawood Amiri


‘People Smuggler’ is one of those terms that the right thrust on us freighted with meaning and prejudice. Another is ‘Climate Change’ as a substitute for ‘Global Warming’ which the right as advocates for big business saw (rightly) as carrying a judgement on them and their treatment of atmospheric and ocean pollution as ‘free goods’. Although the right intended ‘Climate Change’ to carry an element of doubt, the weight of scientific evidence, experience and common sense has largely seen it over time absorb most of the meanings of ‘Global Warming’. ‘People Smuggler’ hasn’t been so lucky, though it is clear from this book that they are an essential component of large scale refugee movements.

Dawood Amiri, born in about 1990 (I can’t find a bio.), is an Hazara Muslim whose family fled Afghanistan after Taliban clerics issued a fatwa encouraging what was effectively the genocide of Hazaris – Afghanistan’s third largest ethnic group – by the Pashtun majority. They settled in Quetta, in Pakistan near the Afghan border where Amiri did well at school.

Confessions of a People Smuggler (2014) which I listened to recently is his account of his journey from becoming head of his family while still a teenager, wishing to become an accountant but forced by his family’s poverty to take menial jobs in the middle east, and deciding with his cousin to attempt the difficult journey to Australia, or at least to Christmas Island, an Australian territory off the coast of Indonesia, as a boat person – another term freighted with (adverse) meaning. It is never explained why refugees seeking protection are held in indefinite imprisonment for arriving by boat while the large numbers of visa overstayers who arrive by air are ignored.

Of course the whole boat people thing, while driven by redneck racism, is a smokescreen for big business’s extensive use of cheap foreign labour on ’47a’ visas to hold down blue collar wages while diverting attention and blame to a supposed (and by world standards non-existent) influx of refugees.

Amiri and his cousin drew down on their families’ resources and flew to Malaysia (legally) and then without visas crossed to Indonesia by boat. Some of the details from here on are a bit sketchy as I didn’t/couldn’t take notes. Amiri ends up in an Indonesian detention facility, a gaol by any other name, though one whose governor accepted the prisoners’ parole and left the gates open during the day until the privilege was abused. In fact much of the remainder of the memoir concerns Amiri’s experiences in various Indonesian gaols.

Amiri is highly sceptical of the UNHCR and their officials in BMWs with the whole official refugee process taking years and for only a small proportion of the refugee population. Amiri himself is rejected as he cannot prove he is Afghani.

Back in Jakarta he meets and marries an Indonesian woman and they have a baby. To support them he becomes an agent for a major people smuggler, Billu, assembling groups of refugees to make up a boat load.

There were other boys like me, working for the [people-smuggling] agents, trying to make money and get a free ride to Australia. I had the advantage of being able to speak Farsi, Indonesian and English as well as Urdu. I had a good friend, a Pakistani boy called Faraz, who was a good guy. He was working for an agent called Javed Mehmud Bhat, also known as “Billu”. Faraz and I had the same job – we would get the passengers contact numbers from the agents, collect $200 per person and gather 50 to 100 people in one or two villas a few days before the movement of the boats. We would also collect their mobile phones for security purposes. Confiscating the phones cut them off from communication with the outside world, preventing others from knowing or guessing the date, time or place of the “movement”. This meant [the trip] would not come to the attention of rivals or the police. It was a very important precaution.[extract published in Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Aug. 2014]

Billu puts too many people in the boat and on “22 June [2012], in the morning, the news finally flashed around the internet, destroying the last of my hopes. A boat carrying more than 200 asylum-seekers had capsized some 90 nautical miles from Christmas Island, leaving only 110 survivors. Seventeen bodies had been retrieved, and the fate of the rest was unknown.”

Amiri is soon arrested and accepts the blame for his involvement, although he believes the Australian government deliberately delayed attempts to rescue the vessel which was known to be in trouble for some days. He spends months in police custody and then in remand, still able to earn a reasonable income supporting refugee movements through his extensive phone contacts in both Indonesia and Pakistan. But eventually his phone is lost, he is convicted and sentenced to what he comes to realise is the relatively light sentence of six years.

Amiri should be released about now, though I cannot find any further info about him. I hope he is able to settle quietly in Indonesia with his wife and child and earn a modest, honest income. But I guess that is unlikely.


Dawood Amiri, Confessions of a People Smuggler, Scribe, Melbourne, 2014. Audiobook:  Queensland Narrating Service, read by Hugh Taylor


Journal: 009, An Anniversary

Milly’s Daphne a few years ago, soaking up rays

This series of journals coincides with an anniversary, one I overlooked at the time though I’m generally pretty good with birthdays and suchlike, my twentieth year back in truck driving. I drove and owned trucks for nearly ten years when I was young, acquired a family, got an accounting degree, did white collar stuff for years while the kids grew up, transport management morphing into freelance computer programming and back into transport management/ownership. Moved the family from sandy, sunny Perth to damp, muddy Melbourne early on (Milly’s sentiments), bought a house, got into the local community around the primary school.

Mid-life crisis. Left Milly, Psyche age 15 leaving too, getting us all into family therapy and back together again, left again, Milly’s decision this time, Psyche and Lou leaving school, leaving home, Gee at a posh girls school living alternately with Milly and me (because I lived on the more convenient train line). Then Milly buying a house near Gee’s school, my transport management/ownership thing falling in a hole, Gee okaying a return to truck driving. And that was 20 years ago last month.

I had debt, no house, we’d sold the family home to pay an earlier lot of my debts. Bad, the guy who’d sold us – we were four partners – shares in his business had played fast and loose with my Diners Club card one time when I was away, and after the receivers came in it turned out he didn’t own the trucks he’d sold into the new business, and wasn’t going to be repaying any debts.

Keith, a transport guy I knew, said I could drive for him and every day I would drive across Melbourne to sit in his lunchroom and sometimes I would get a few hours local work and sometimes I wouldn’t. Turns out his interstate trucks were all b-doubles, for which the states were introducing a new class of ‘Multi-Combination’ licence. Luckily NSW were still in the transition phase, so I got a letter saying I was experienced and had been offered work, hitched a lift to Sydney, went to Liverpool, the nearest DoT. They required proof I was a NSW resident. Caught a train into the city, #2 brother gave me an electricity bill, caught the train back, transferred my drivers licence to NSW, upgraded it using the aforesaid letter and commenced full time employment running Sydney-Melbourne-Adelaide-Brisbane (The guy I came up from Melbourne with, totally pissed off because he had gone down the $750 week-long driver training course route for his MC and I had got mine in a day for free).

The downside was that even after I transferred my licence back to Victoria and then to WA, the ‘system’ in NSW assumed I was still living with my brother and would send my fines (log book offences) there, which was ok until he and then his by then former girlfriend moved away. What happened to any subsequent notices I have no idea.

Keith was good enough to pay Gee’s school fees each term and take it out of my pay. Diners Club progressed slowly through the courts. Bad had put his assets back into his father’s business so was able to go bankrupt as should have I. I scraped by for years, leaving Keith for road train work to North Queensland on lower pay, then falling out with that employer, interestingly an Assyrian who had been a scientist in Iran, but who in Australia ran a small fleet of trucks, underpaying his drivers, frankly admitting he couldn’t afford super, long gaps between trips, but always interesting destinations – I did that Tibooburra trip for him – until one weekend I had a date with Milly and a trip came up late and I refused it.

After that I had other jobs, interstate, Keith again until he went broke, another road train operator who also went broke, then back with the Assyrian. Mum and Dad paid the last year of Gee’s school fees. Gee went away to uni, Milly went to Perth to live with her sister, and the other kids and I took on her house, making the payments and painting the rooms.

Gee’s uni didn’t work out, she tried RMIT for a while, went up north, came back, meeting me in Emerald for the ride home, then heading off again. Psyche did one or two trips with me, and Lou came on a trip to Cairns, hitching a lift with a fridge truck across the Atherton tablelands to see Gee in Normanton. Milly came home a couple of times, making the trip across the Nullarbor in her little Daewoo with her deaf but not mute dog, Daphne, now departed these last two years. Once I went back with her to keep her company, hitching a lift home, and the second time, the house sold, Gee went with her, a few months later I followed, and we were West Australians again. Sam and Dragan snapped me up to run WA – North Qld, Milly began her career in mining admin with a job in Newman, and Gee progressed from Rottnest Is to Broome to Derby to Darwin and eventually home again to motherhood and university.

Lou stayed in Victoria, an almost perpetual student, but eventually a teacher, and Psyche went off overseas, came back, worked in tourism in North Qld, and across northern Australia.

I started a relationship with newly divorced family friend, the Bosomy Beauty, 16 and a schoolfriend of Milly’s youngest sister when I first met her and for a while our babysitter and typist for my commercial traveller business in the old milk run days. We married, I lifted my head, for the first time in years, above the debt parapets to put my name to a housing mortgage, only for the Diners Club debt to reappear, compounded outrageously by legal fees and usury. I was just getting into bulk tanker work and consistently decent pay, so had no option but to reach an ‘arrangement’ with the firm who had purchased the debt for cents in the dollar. A few years of increasingly longer distance work and exciting homecomings, then …

It’s ten years now since BB left, took off interstate with her druggie toyboy. I spent the whole of 2008 angry at work, always on a last warning from one customer or another, crying on the phone to Milly, my kids, anyone who would listen, BB refusing to talk, texting nonsense, assuring me she was on the way home, taking off again as soon as she got home, driving furiously backwards and forwards across the Nullabor, all of this spelled out in detail in the card and phone bills she left me to pay, out of her own money I hasten to add, we were never at financial loggerheads.

All through 2009 and 2010 I would remember each day where she was that corresponding day in 2008 a habit I’ve long since given up I think, though I might remember in a few months on Melbourne Cup day that its ten years since we last spoke.


Recent audiobooks

John Sandford (M, USA), Field of Prey (2014)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (F, Nigeria), Americanah (2013)
David Berlinski (M, USA), The Advent of the Algorithm (2000)

Currently reading

Miles Franklin, All That Swagger

Prior Prize Winners, All That Swagger


Samuel Henry Prior (1869-1933) was a financial journalist and editor with The Bulletin from 1903. He purchased founder, JF Archibald’s shares in 1914, and by 1927 all the remaining shares. While responsible for the strong emphasis on finance which was to sustain The Bulletin into the 1970s, he was also conscious of its early role in promoting Australian literature, and in 1928 inaugurated The Bulletin Novel Competition which was renamed after his death the S. H. Prior Memorial Prize. The prize was for a work of Australian literature, presumably unpublished, as the winner would receive a cash prize (initially £100), publication, and serialization in The Bulletin. The first Prior was won by Kylie Tennant with Tiburon in 1935, and the second, the following year, from 230 entries, by Miles Franklin with All That Swagger.

The first Bulletin prize, in 1929, was won jointly by M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built and KS Prichard, Coonardoo. I couldn’t find any lists of prize winners on the net, the Oxford Companion gave me The Battlers (Kylie Tennant) and Joseph Furphy: The Legend and the Man (Miles Franklin) for 1941 and 44, Annals of Aust.Lit., nothing. Searching on Trove I found Eve Langley’s The Pea Pickers (“its literary merits are of a somewhat mediocre description.” West Australian, 30/05/42) for 1940 (with two others, not named in Langley’s recreated memoir Wilde Eve). And in another story, that Dymphna Cusack’s Jungfrau was the runner up to All That Swagger. After a couple of pages, ‘prior’ and ‘bulletin’ and even ‘prize’ being so common in war-time dispatches, I gave up searching for more. Do you guys know any others?

Searching Trove for reaction at the time of publication of All That Swagger, I came across this in the Wilcannia Western Grazier of Sat 19 Sep 1936:

Wotoao Wiiter’a SacooW.
A Sp’«ndid Auirfttlion Bloty.

I Alt Thnt Swagger, tho oor …

I’ve corrected it (if you’re not aware, Trove is a database of all Australia’s newspapers digitised and awaiting amateur proof-readers), and the full copy reads as follows:

Literary Prize Winner
Woman Writer’s Success.
A Splendid Australian Story.
All That Swagger, the novel that has won this year’s Prior Memorial Prize and which will appear as a serial in The Bulletin in ten page installments, commencing September 16, is all Aus-tralian, in every word and line.Though it spans four generations and a hundred of time, it is true to period and takes no liberties with history. Only an Australia could have written it, and there has been nothing written like it except the Brent of Bin bin novels, the style and writing of which it resembles.
The writer, Stella Miles Franklin, was born at Talbingo, at the foot of the steep descent from the hills of Monaro into the Tumut Valley.
She was still a girl when she found herself on a holding near Goulburn, and, departing from the traditions of her forebears, she wrote a novel. The manuscript was sent to THE BULLETIN in Archibald’s time, and was returned with some kindly comment and en-couraging advice. She revised her story and sent it to Henry Lawson.
The novel had the ironical title My Brilliant Career, and created quite a literary sensation when it arrived in Australia, and its publication definitely determined Miss Franklin to pursue a literary career.
Her second book, Some Everyday Folk – and Dawn, had been published in 1909. Then came Old Blastus [of] Bandicoot, a full-bodied portrayal of a roaring old bull of a settler whose voice would split the granite in the Monaro ranges and send the wallabies scam-pering up the gorges for the risk of their lives.
Other books have been written by Stella Miles Franklin, but of her writings All That Swagger is easily her greatest effort, and is probably the finest Australian story ever written. That is, of course, saying a great deal, but those people privileged to have read the novel unanimously agree that it is remarkably Australian and is a cavalcade of progress over 100 years in this great continent, for the story covers a century, ending in 1933, and is espe-cially strong in characters: one at least of its people— Danny Delacy—seems certain to take a leading place in Australian literary tradition, Other characters— notably Danny’s “brave Johanna”— are admirably projected people that readers will enjoy.
All That Swagger is such a great story that THE BULLETIN has decided to publish it in large instalments of 10 pages, making each a miniature novel. In these generous instalments the reader will appreciate the continuity of the story and the true significance of All That Swagger.

Wilcannia was then and is now a very small desert town on the Darling in far western NSW so it’s unlikely the Western Grazier had a dedicated book reviewer. Further, some of the lines used in the article are those of the judges, so I’m guessing the story was provided by The Bulletin (though it sounds very Colin Roderick).

All That Swagger is not “the greatest Australian story ever written” though it may have been at the pinnacle of novels in the Bulletin (Gen II) school of pioneer realism still favoured by conservatives today. By 1936, better contenders for Great Australian Novel would have included For the Term of His Natural Life (Marcus Clarke), Such is Life (Joseph Furphy), The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney (HH Richardson) and Seven Poor Men of Sydney (Christina Stead).

I couldn’t see how long the Prior Prize ran on for, only a few years probably, as in 1946 the Sydney Morning Herald began its own prize, £2,000 for an unpublished novel, won by Ruth Park with The Harp in the South. And did you notice that all the prize winners I mentioned, which was all the prize winners I could find, were women. That was a great generation, from WWI to the 1950s.

All this is by way of saying that as soon as I finish reading All That Swagger I will publish a review. And after all this, I’ll try and keep it short!

Miles Franklin, All That Swagger, first published (slightly abridged) in serial form in The Bulletin, Sydney, 1936 and then in book form.

I’m pretty sure both Tiburon in the previous year and All That Swagger were published by Angus & Robertson so they must have had an arrangement with The Bulletin, which had published books in the past – Steele Rudd for example – and had its own imprint, Endeavour Press.

For all Miles Franklin reviews and other posts on her see my Miles Franklin page.

Apology. As usual, importing newspaper text has destroyed all my formatting. I could (and did) try deleting some of the HTML, but any un-pairing of instructions just makes things worse.

Journal: 008, How I live


When I’m home, which these days is just two or three days a fortnight, I get to go home to my flat in Rivervale (Perth, WA) looking out as you can see over lower units in the complex to the Swan River and a park and lake beyond (map) which is why I bought it, at the top of a falling market as it turns out. I have a spare bedroom, and a study lined with books so I’m pretty happy, though Milly says I’m an idiot to have bought a flat at my age up two flights of stairs. She lives a couple of suburbs south in a little cottage, 20 minutes by pushbike straight down the Armadale rail line, and Gee and the kids who used to live close by now have a rambling 60s brick house in the suburbs south of Fremantle, coincidentally just a few minutes from my trucking depot.

But of course, I’m mostly away.

Last trip, I didn’t get out of Sydney as easily as I’d expected and as I wrote this post had been waiting around days for ‘top loading’ to go onto the 30 tonnes of stainless steel tubing I’d loaded on the first day. ‘Waiting around’ for out of town truck drivers generally means parking up at a crowded BP truck stop – why BP I don’t know, I guess it has the biggest truck stops and sells the most diesel fuel – snoozing, sitting in the truck, in the tv lounge, or in my case at the counter with power connections (but no free wifi) to write on my laptop, and eating overpriced mass-produced meals. As you can imagine there is very little I can eat – eggs, toast, baked beans for breakfast, roast vegies or battered fish and salad for tea.

I eat better when I’m on the move – coffee, porridge for breakfast, salad, tuna, egg for lunch, nothing for tea or maybe salad sticks and hommus, and fruit all through the day, 2 or 3 sliced cheese on rice biscuits for snacks. I’ve been a vego for nearly 30 years now. Milly was always thoughtful about food and in the ’80s we tried different diets – she cooked, I ate – Scarsdale which gave me headaches, more headaches, I was already losing a day a week from migraines, and then Pritikin, which was hard work (for her) but excellent food. From there it was a short and seemingly inevitable step to vegetarianism, taking up swimming again, and other familiar symptoms of “mid-life crisis”.

During this time I visited Dr Gruber, a real doctor specialising in “natural” solutions. He thought my aura was too blue (or insufficiently blue, ask Milly, she’ll remember) but also found my blood pressure much too high and started me on (conventional) medication which continues to this day and which has the not inconsequential side effect of eliminating both migraines and hangovers.

I didn’t get out of Sydney straight away so went exploring, found the Minchinbury Fruit Market and bought a bag of oranges, 2 containers of fruit juice (guava and pink grapefruit, a treat, I mostly drink filtered water), 2 packets of ‘nuts’ (trail mix and overland mix), a bag of mandrines, 4 pink lady apples, a kilo of grapes, no plums, they’re finally out of season. That’ll get me home (3-4 days) though the grapes might not make it to tea time.

20180601_101347                    20180601_101244

When I bought this truck my criteria were a 600 HP engine, a wide bed (king single), a high roof so I could stand up, and plenty of storage. I started out looking at American/Australian bonneted trucks but the Volvo I’ve ended up with suits my needs pretty well. The cab is wider, and it’s 2m (inside) from the floor to the roof so I can walk around between the seats. As well as the lockers at each side accessible from outside, there are lots of overhead lockers inside for clothes, spare bedding, books and dry food. Between the seats 2 drawers slide forward from under the bed, one of them a 20L fridge – smaller than I wanted but it is such a convenient fit that I am happy to work round it.

I have had fitted an inverter which supplies 240v power to my kettle, to recharge my laptop and potentially to run a sandwich maker or microwave (I don’t think I need a microwave. Or a TV.) and may fit a lithium battery powered airconditioner to keep the cab cool overnight – this is new. To date sleeper cab airconditioners, ‘icepacks’, have typically been diesel powered and bloody noisy.

The problem with truckstops is people wanting to talk, not strangers so much, though there’s often some gabby guy at the next table, but fellow workers unable to keep themselves entertained. I can do truck talk in small doses, but mostly keep to myself. That said, I’m grateful to Dave, another old-timer, aren’t we all – the average age of long distance truck drivers is well over 50, just one cohort of us starting at the end of the 1960s and when we’re gone, we’ll all be gone and then who will drive the trucks – who went with me to yesterday’s pickup to keep me company, keep me heading along the right roads, to introduce me to the staff at the steel place, and we spent a good part of the remainder of the morning ‘making a mile’ through the outback, both of us, amazingly, having braved the track from Broken Hill through Tibooburra, up and down following wheel tracks over endless sandhills from Cameron Corner (NSW, SA and Qld) to Moomba, the only landmark one ancient signpost to Merty Merty Station (YouTube).

When, if I ever, leave this place – you could write a JG Ballard story about truck drivers trapped in the wastelands of concrete and stationary juggernauts at a truckstop – I will drive till 9 or 10 pm, sleep 7-8 hours then for three full days drive for 14 hours in 3-5 hour blocks until I get home. On interstate I have a mandated 24 hour break every seven days, not as flexible as WA which allows 15 hours driving a day for up to 12 days straight a fortnight. Listening to books as I go, not taking notes (not unless I get a Dictaphone), generally not bothering to search the radio for Radio National, nor for football while Hawthorn is doing so poorly, and reading Comments and Posts during my half hour breaks.

That top loading never did turn up and after three full days I took my b double out past Newcastle (no b-double route directly over the Blue Mountains) to Dubbo, spent half of Saturday night swapping trailers around in the dark and set off home with a b-triple (map).

Recent audiobooks

Anne Rivers Sidons (F, USA), The Girls of August (2014)
Jack Schaeffer (M, USA), Shane (1949)
Caroline Mitchell (F, Eng), Silent Victim (2017)
Liane Moriarty (F, Aust/NSW), The Husband’s Secret (2013)
Monica McInerney (F, Aust/Vic), At Home with the Templetons (2010)

Currently reading

Miles Franklin, All That Swagger



Border Districts, Gerald Murnane

Murnane Border Districts

Border Districts (2017) is a meditation on remembering by an imaginary author clearly representing Murnane himself who has moved from the capital city where he grew up to a little town which he has long imagined, out on the western plains of the state in which he has always lived, so that one of the meanings of ‘border districts’ is this area of his home state which borders an adjacent state.

It is possible that Murnane intends at least partly an homage to Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Times Lost (1871-1922) which he mentions and which I haven’t read. He repeatedly brings up as memories not things he has seen but memories of the images retained from seeing these things and further, memories of images, scenes, transactions he in his childhood and youth imagined.

This work is a fiction, but a fiction which the fictional protagonist insists is factual, an accurate account of his real memories of both real and imagined landscapes and events. I am reminded that in the only other of his works that I have read, Landscape with Landscape (review), Murnane describes his personal ‘landscape’ as “the space between myself and the nearest woman or man who seemed real to me”. Here, 30 years later, ‘real’ has almost disappeared, leaving only a landscape of retained images of past realities and past imaginings, both equally valid, imperfectly recalled.

For a geography minded reader like me the book is interesting not least for its complete absence of place names. So, the fictional author grew up in the outer suburbs of the capital city (Melbourne) of a state in the southern part of the country, lived as a child for a while in a provincial city (Bendigo), and now lives in a little country town out on the plains of the Western District, which he moved to because he had imagined it.

(Whenever I recall, here in this quiet district near the border, my mostly aimless activity during my fifty and more years in the capital city, I begin to envy the sort of man who might have been paid a modest wage during most of his adult life in return for feeding and watering and grooming and exercising a half-dozen thoroughbred horses in a certain few sheds and paddocks behind a plantation of cypresses on the far side of an assortment of outbuildings in the vicinity of an immense garden surrounding a sprawling homestead out of sight of the nearest road, which would have appeared as one of the faintly coloured least of roads if ever I had seen it on some or another map of some or another of the mostly level grassy landscapes that seem often to lie in some or another far western district of my mind.)

He mentions a number of times a “place-name I have never been able to find in any gazeteer of the British Isles” a place name which he notices on his rare long journeys across the largely treeless plain to the capital city, and which I think is a name I too have seen and indeed look out for along the Melbourne-Adelaide highway, Ercildoun, a ‘Mt’ (prominent hill) north of Trawalla, and with an ‘e’ one of the large (tens of thousands of acres) grazing properties into which Victoria was first divided, and also, though he does not say, a fine old bank building in Footscray. “I learned from my reading that the place name is a much earlier version of the present-day name of a small town in the border district of Scotland”.

If Border Districts has a theme it is stained glass, or to be more accurate, the fictional author’s memory of the quality of light filtered through stained glass, the description of which he constantly refines. The book begins with the fictional author visiting a small church in the town in which he now lives, belonging “to one of the Protestant denominations I pitied as a schoolboy for the drabness of their services”, and which have windows with stained glass representations of leaves and stems and petals.

He remembers (Catholic) churches he attended as a boy and as a trainee priest and their representations in stained glass of Jesus, of Mary, and of the ‘Sacrament’. And an older house in the capital city in which he sometimes stays has stained glass in some of the windows which he photographs to study more closely at home.

This older house which I mentioned in the previous paragraph (which is a phrase Murnane, or his fictional author, use a lot) is the family home of a friend from his schooldays where the friend grew up, after his mother’s death, in the care of his father and his father’s maiden cousin whom he, the friend, calls Aunt. And the fictional author imagines for the Aunt a life in which she marries the man who wrote to her before his death at Gallipoli, a life in which the man comes home home from the War and lives the life mentioned in an earlier paragraph, as a groom on one of the great Western District estates, and they late in life have a daughter and that daughter is of an age with the fictional author and they become friends.

There is much more: coloured glass marbles; a kaliedoscope which works by rotating a marble at the end of a short tube; school Readers (which Victorians of a certain age will remember) which both he and the Aunt’s imaginary daughter read right through at the beginning of the school year and then must suffer through the remainder of the year readings out loud by their less progressed classmates; race meetings followed mostly on the radio and the owners who have the old estates in Western Victoria and their racing colours; an interview on the radio with a women author who catches his attention when she states that she has imagined a house which is situated in that part of the adjacent state nearest the home of the fictional author, and that she will locate and buy this house, which she is certain exists, and turn it into a retreat for authors of fiction, but not for poets or biographers. The fictional author writes to this woman author but she does not reply.

Murnane’s concerns are the border between mind and brain, the border between object and perception, the border which separates the past and our memory of the past. But ‘border’ also denotes a place away from the centre, a place on the outer –

As a young man, I was often driven to search … not only for writers but for painters sculptors and composers of music who lived in isolation from their kind, far from the putative centres of culture. Even in my youth, I seem to have been seeking evidence that the mind is a place best viewed from the borderlands.

Border Districts is one of those works, and probably one of those few great works, where the writing is more important than the subject matter. Where we are carried along, bemused, in a great writer’s train of thought.


Gerald Murnane, Border Districts, Giramondo, Melbourne, 2017

see also:
Lisa at ANZLL’s review of Border Districts (here)
Lisa’s other Murnane reviews (here)
My review of Murnane’s Landscape with Landscape (here)

Journal: 007, Wrong Turns

My old job, a couple of years ago: Where’d the road go?

In January 2011 Anthony Bradanovich, 35, in a triple road train, missed the turnoff to Jundee gold mine outside (very) remote Wiluna, 540 km north of Kalgoorlie and continued on out into the desert, realised after maybe an hour that he had made a mistake and became bogged in the sand attempting to turn around. Not having much water in his cab or any means of communication he began walking back to Wiluna. He was found the next day, dead of heat stroke, 30 km from his truck.

On my first trip in this truck I went to do a pickup from Yandi, an iron ore mine in the Pilbara (the desert region 1,200 to 2,000 km north of Perth), missed the turnoff from the access road to the main gate and kept driving as the road deteriorated into a dirt track. Until I found somewhere safe to turn around my, thankfully empty, triple road train, my next stop looked like being Roy Hill, once a cattle station now Gina’s iron ore mine, 100 km away, cross country.

The wrong turns I have made in trucks are legion. Each time I have to follow directions to somewhere I don’t know, or make my way in the dark to somewhere I have only been in the day, my heart is in my mouth. Towing more than one trailer makes it worse, as each trailer makes both reversing and turning more difficult. In my old job my biggest fear was getting lost on mine sites, and I’ve rung for a grader more than once to tow me out of an impossible situation, or just for a ute to lead me out, though I’ve never actually turned down into a pit.

In this new job unsigned dirt roads aren’t the problem so much as the number of places where the b-double or road train route is a series of left and right turns – Pt Augusta to Renmark (for Sydney) or Broken Hill (for Brisbane), and Bourke to Goondiwindi are examples. But my big problem is negotiating my way around cities. This trip I had deliveries in Adelaide, Bendigo, Melbourne and Sydney. Adelaide and Sydney were ok, the deliveries were only short distances from the main BP truckstops. ‘Bendigo’ turned out to be Fosterville mine, 20 km and a very convoluted route out of town.

I phoned no.3 brother (counting myself as no.1) who has a little farm nearby, from South Australia initially, drove across from Dimboola on the Adel-Melb highway to Marong near Bendigo on bitumen roads so rough I was restricted to 80 kph, didn’t actually miss a turn in St Arnaud but thought I had. I parked for the night at Marong and he took me home for tea and a shower and my sister in law printed out the directions which, next morning I followed successfully (with lots of stops to check), through bush and outer suburbs. Though when I finally got to what proved to be the mine turnoff there was of course no actual sign. Unloaded and another couple of phone calls to #3 I managed to follow (I think!) the b-double route back through Bendigo and on to Melbourne: Dandenong, Carrum Downs and Croydon, suburbs in the outer reaches of the far side of town, involving lots of narrow streets and a peak hour trip back across the city to the freeway north.

Tomorrow (as I write) I have to pick up my trailers which are being loaded nearby in Eastern Creek and top up in Villawood (both in Sydney, if I haven’t made myself clear). How I will get to Villawood or from there back out onto the highway home I had better start researching. (The Horsley Drive goes most of the way but the middle part is not a b-double route).

You might say plug it into Google maps. But I won’t. I won’t switch on GPS, Google already know far too much about me, all my search history for ten years or more, and now I have an Android phone they are no doubt reading and storing my emails – and if you have any doubt about that, mention a product name in an email and see how quickly ‘relevant’ ads appear. Also, I find Maps gives a very poor overview of where you are, and in highlighting your route make it difficult to make out major and minor roads you are crossing. I’m firmly in the hard copy map camp.

The other ‘wrong turns’ I have taken, and buying trucks springs to lots of people’s minds, and leaving Milly to mine, I will leave to another day.


Another back of a woman’s head book cover. Obviously someone thinks it sells books. As you might see below, I’ve listened to a lot of books in the time it took me to drive from Brisbane to Perth and back to Sydney. Lots of crime, Numero Zero, another of Eco’s well written conspiracy stories, a ‘Regency’ (actually William IV) romance, and a couple of “women’s issues” – though the Salyers was more YA teenage angst. I thought The Book Club, which deals with woman in their 40s and 50s, might qualify for GTL’s Fat Fiction as one of the women comes to terms with her ‘matronly’ size.

I should really, and might if I find a paper copy, review Alex Miller’s Lovesong. I had Miller whom I don’t think I’ve read before pigeonholed as outback lit. so the theme of this one was unexpected. It contained a bit of Miller himself – I see he has moved on to fictionalised memoir in The Passage of Love (2017) – as a retired author listens to and rewrites the story of a childless Tunisan woman living in Paris. All stories fill in the time, but they have to reflect the author’s experience for me to find them meaningful, and though a woman reader might say ‘I agree with how that woman feels about being childless’, it didn’t do it for me.

Recent audiobooks

MJ Salyers (F, USA), Appalachian Daughter (2014)
Alex Kava (F, USA), Black Friday (2009)
Mons Kallentoft (M, Swe), Midwinter Sacrifice (2007, Eng. 2011)
Umberto Eco (M, Ital), Numero Zero (2015)
Julia London (F, Eng), The Ruthless Charmer (2000)
Faye Kellerman (F, USA), Blindman’s Bluff (2009)
Peter Grainger (M, Eng), An Accidental Death (2013)
Ruth Rendell (F, Eng), The Veiled One (1988)
Mary Alice Monroe (F, USA), The Book Club (1999)
Alex Miller (M, Aust/Vic), Lovesong (2009)

Currently reading

Gerald Murnane, Border Districts
Miles Franklin, All That Swagger (Actually, I’m carrying it around with me in the vain hope of stopping long enough to get time to make a start on it.)

Elizabeth Jolley, Tony Hughes-d’Aeth

ANZLitLovers Elizabeth Jolley Week June 4-11 2018

Image result for Elizabeth jolley images
Wikipedia: date, photographer not stated

Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007) gets a chapter in Hughes-d’Aeth’s account of Western Australian Wheatbelt writers, Like Nothing on this Earth (2017) mostly on the strength of her most famous novel, The Well (1986). I wrote an essay on The Well for my degree, maybe 12 years ago, but it has been lost in moving house and at least two computer upgrades. Disappointing. I like to reuse my material and I had spent a season carting grain in the area where the book is set just a few years earlier.

Jolley, who had grown up in “the Black Country of the English Midlands”, moved to Western Australia with her husband and three small children in 1959. Hughes-d’Aeth says that although she had been working on stories and novels all her adult life, her formal career as a writer dates from the late 1960s – her mid 40s – when she began to have stories published in Westerly and Quadrant. Her first novel came out in 1980, her second, The Newspaper of Claremont Street – which draws on the author’s own life in Claremont and her search for a patch of land in the country to call her own – in 1981. The Well, 5 years later, was her seventh.

The Jolleys purchased their 5 acre hobby farm in 1970, at Wooroloo, 60 kms out of Perth in the Darling ranges. Hilly and well treed country in the main, on the Great Eastern Highway out of town, and still 50 km short of Wheatbelt country. Her account of the purchase and her feelings for the land are in Diary of a Weekend Farmer (1993).

Jolley first became acquainted with the Wheatbelt in the 1970s when she was roped into supporting an initiative for the Fremantle Arts Centre where she was giving classes in creative writing, which involved her in sending out books and supporting material to discussion groups in the country then in meeting with the groups as a travelling tutor. Jolley was obviously fascinated by her long, lonely drives

All the miles of wheat in all directions, folded and mended in places, are pulled together as if seamed, by little dark lines of trees, as if they are embroidered with rich green wool or silk on a golden background. In the design of the embroidery are some silent houses and sheds. Narrow places, fenced off and watered sparingly, produce a little more of the dark green effect. At the intervals, there are unsupervised windmills, turning and clicking with a kind of solemn and honest obedience. [Jolley, A Small Fragment of the Earth]

Jolley referenced her little farm in her first collection of (linked) short stories, Five Acre Virgin (1976). The first story to have a recognisable Wheatbelt setting was “The Long Distance Lecture” which appeared in 1979 in her second collection.

The road is well made and the wheat is standing in that golden stillness just before the harvest

contrasts with

… the township at dusk seemed to be a desolate scattered poverty; a shabbiness of blistered little houses, stacks of poles and empty drums gathered near a closed petrol station, and a wheat silo alongside a deserted overgrown railway line.

The paddocks and the townships it seems standing respectively for life and death. Jolley always seemed to see the Wheatbelt in gothic terms, beauty underlain by isolation and death, and overtly models this story on Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” (1907) in which a man travelling in arctic wilderness waits too long to stop and build the fire which might save his life.

She expanded on the literary lecturer in the Wheatbelt theme in the novel Foxybaby (1985) but it is in The Well that she brings the Wheatbelt to life.

Hester Harper has grown old on her father’s wheat sheep farm outside an unnamed town which is probably based on Brookton on the edge of the Wheatbelt closest to Perth. The Harper property is one of the larger farms in the district and Hester has proved a competent manager. But when she takes on a young woman, Katherine, as a servant/companion and her father dies, she abandons her roles as farm manger and pillar of local society in her infatuation for Katherine, gives up her homestead to the Bordens and their brood of sons, and takes up a little cottage on the edge of the property.

Coming home late from a dance, Kathy driving, they hit a shape in the dark, a man, a man who has broken into the cottage and stolen it later turns out Hester’s wad of cash. Hester dumps his body in the disused well they use for rubbish and from there it gets very gothic indeed.

For Jolley the endless fields of wheat are both isolating and lawless, providing a space, as in many of her works, in which women may operate free of men, free of authority. Veronic Brady, nun, writer, and ABC Commissioner points out “the tension in [Jolley’s] characters between the wish to exclude masculine agency from their lives, on the one hand, and a need, on the other, to find something of themselves in this masculine agency.” [Brady, Elizabeth Jolley, New Critical Essays]

Let me finish with a quote from Jolley, who despite drawing so heavily on her own experience insists, like Miles Franklin after My Brilliant Career, and countless others, that her work is fiction:

My fiction is not autobiographical but, like all fiction, it springs from moments of truth and awareness, from observation and experience. I try to develop the moment of truth with the magic of the imagination. I try to be loyal to this moment of truth and to the landscape of my own region or the specific region in which the novel or story is set. I have always felt that the best fiction is regional. [Jolley, Learning to Dance]

I know not everyone agrees with me, but “loyal to this moment of truth and to the landscape” (and good writing!) is what I most look for in a novel and it is what Jolley delivers in spades.


Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, Like Nothing on this Earth, UWA Press, Perth, 2017

see also:
Hughes-d’Aeth on the Wheatbelt (here)
Hughes-d’Aeth on Jack Davis (here)
my review of The Newspaper of Claremont Street (here)
ANZLitLovers Elizabeth Jolley page (here)