Fourth Hill. Part 5

Clara, Boyd and Tucker
painted wattles gold

When mining started to decline in Warrandyte, farming and fruit orchards took over much of the land that was viable and the bushland on unfarmed surrounds started to recover. Transport to the town improved and artists began moving into the area attracted by the picturesque village on the river. It is in part their legacy, along with the absence of a railway, that has thrown a protective veil over Warrandyte and saved it from over development.

In 1905 the landscape painter Clara Southern (1860-1949) married Warrandyte miner John Flinn and settled in her cottage named Blythe Bank on a hill above the river. Clara captured Warrandyte’s natural beauty and spirit in her impressionist landscape works such as The Road to Warrandyte (c 1905-10) Bush Camp (1914), Evensong (c. 1900-1914) and A Cool Corner (1928).

Warrandyte was swept by two converging fire fronts in 1939. More than two hundred residents fled to the safety of the river with nothing but the clothes on their backs as clouds of flame tinged smoke billowed overhead.

Clara’s house was spared, but much of her artwork that had been purchased by local residents was lost in the hundreds of houses that perished in the fires. Blyth Bank eventually succumbed to a later bushfire after her death.

Clara encouraged other painters to visit the area and it is believed her enticements were responsible for initiating the local artistic community. Over time Clara was joined in Warrandtye by Jo Sweatman (1872-1956), Frank Crozier (1883-1948) and Penleigh Boyd (1890-1923). Many others including Albert Tucker (1914-1999), a member of the Heidi circle, and Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) visited and painted Warrandyte.

Architects and potters were also drawn by the scenic tranquillity and drew inspiration from the town on the river. Alexa Goyder (1892-1976) developed novel design practices using local stone and recycled materials that stimulated the work of later architects such as Alastair Knox in the 1970’s.

Painter Penleigh Boyd was inspired by the wattles that bloom after the coldest months of winter. He became known for his paintings of the Warrandyte wattle with works such as Bridge and Wattle at Warrandyte (1914), Wattle Gatherers (1918), The Breath of Spring (1919) and Golden Fires of Spring (1919).

The same wattles had a calling to the Wurundjerri who believed the beautiful acacia was bad luck in the home and should never be bought inside.

Fourth Hill. Part 4

growing through history to create a wedge of green
a contested space, the cities lungs
the forest breathes life and fire
glowing with the bright and blinding light of an Australian summer

Warrandyte’s landscape changes markedly from season to season. On windless days in autumn there is an eerie silence in the parched bushland after a long summer. The baked clay floor is covered in discarded leaves as the days become shorter and the nights become cooler and the land awaits the first signs of rain.

Spider webs strung across the tracks glisten with early morning dew above empty cicada shells and sun-bleached butterfly wings scattered on the ground. When the rain arrives the perfume of eucalyptus permeates the forest and there is a flurry of growth as the plants sigh relief that they survived the summer.

After the rains in late autumn and winter when maidenhair, mosses and lichens cling to damp shady areas under tall gums, a colorful display of fungi and toadstools appear scattered through the damp undergrowth. The fungi emerge on verges and cling to rotting logs and tree trunks. On cold winter mornings when the valleys are cloaked in a swirling mist I sometimes go foraging for the edible species.

The rains that swell the river and fill the dams attract an army frogs. My favorite is the pobblebonk (Limnodynastes dumerrilii) who’s call sounds like a banjo string being plucked. Flame robins and scarlet robins flit around whilst kangaroos graze in open paddocks or laze in the grass taking advantage of sunny days.

When the days start to lengthen, the bushland areas turn golden with the wattles bursting into bloom. Green hood orchids appear from amongst the native grasses, and purple and mauve colored flowers auger the coming of spring.

Spring erupts with early morning bird choruses and the frenzied activity of nesting, mating and raising young fledglings. Reptiles like blue-tongues and snakes start to emerge from their sleepy winter abodes.

Butterflies, bees and other insects take advantage of the bountiful nectar-rich flowers. Sugar gliders hunt the abundant insects while ringtails feast on the new growth of eucalyptus trees. The forest comes alive under the watchful gaze and rhythmic groans of the tawny frogmouth, and the double note of the boobook owl calling.

At this time of year tiny floral beauties burst forth to brighten up the landscapes harsh façade. The bush is ablaze with orange-yellow and red blooms of bush peas, prolific showy white petals of prickly tea-tree, sprays of pink bells and blue pincushions, and the chocolate and vanilla perfume of the chocolate lily. It becomes evident why Warrandyte has, and continues to be such an inspiration to artists.

When summer arrives the brilliance of spring fades and the bush becomes tinder dry. Plants start to set seed, their feathery plumes dispersed by the wind or carried away by insects and birds. The predominantly white Christmas bush and Burgan that flower during summer court butterflies to a background orchestra of cicadas, grasshoppers and crickets.

On warm days skinks and blue-tongues sun themselves on rocks. People flock to the river seeking a quiet corner to cool off, until the gusty north winds send them scurrying from the bush like ants in search of cooler, safer places, away from the threat of bushfire.

Fire has been an integral part of the landscape since the Wurundjeri used it as part of their hunting techniques. Since European settlement numerous fires have swept through the area including one on Black Thursday in 1851 that would have cleared much of the bush in which gold miners were searching for gold, leaving it black and scorched. Parts of Warrandyte were also devastated by fires in 1939, 1962, 1969 and 1991. On most of these occasions the river provided refuge from the smoke and flames for residents who fled there to escape the advancing fronts.

I watched the red orb over Kinglake from my balcony when the Kilmore fires burnt on the evening of 7 February 2009. The heat had been oppressive that day. The wind roared like a high-speed train driving heat from the depths of hell before it. The fire sucked oxygen from the air and ripped tree trunks from the earth. It melted paint from doors and flesh from bones without mercy or discrimination. Many perished that day, but Warrandyte was spared by a wind change that came through earlier than predicted.

Fourth Hill. Part 3

I see their ghosts running through the forest
that consumes the evidence of their passing
as mines and sheds and steel
succumb to natures endeavours

In the late 70’s, around fifteen year after the Monument mine closed, I used to ride my horse through the bushland around Fourth Hill and swim bareback in the Yarra at Warrandyte. I would often tether my horse at the front of a shop so I could go in and buy ice cream to eat sitting in the shade of the willows by the running waters of the river.

About twenty years ago I moved to Warrandyte. Now I go jogging through the forest on the trails I used to gallop along.

The earth’s wounds of the past have grown over with grasses, creepers, orchids and wildflowers that spread their carpet beneath the eucalypts and wattles. The kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas and lizards that scurry around are warned of my approach by the kookaburras, cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets squawking at my intrusion.

I pass abandoned mine shafts sprouting native grasses and the rusted corrugate dwellings falling back into natures embrace. The miners abandoned mullock heaps are cloaked in lichen and mosses and riddled with ant colonies.

I imagine the heart break of the Wurundjeri who cared for this country that sustained them, their culture and language, when their land was taken by those whose eyes only saw land as a commodity. An asset to profit from.

As my feet carry me through the bushland the only gold I see now are the golden wattles that brighten my winter run. Their yellow blooms under the stringybark trees dust the river’s surface with pollen.

Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of the ghosts of those who went before me on the shady banks of the river and around the the deserted mine shafts. I am enamored by how this ancient land has taken back its birthright under Bunjil’s watchful gaze.

Fourth Hill. Part 2

gold bought them in
and broke them
the micks, the chinks, the poms

In early 1851 Victorians’ started leaving the colony to seek their fortune in the new gold fields near Bathurst in New South Wales. The Melbourne Mayor and local business owners formed the Gold Committee because they feared a mass exodus interstate. They offered a two hundred guinea reward for payable gold found within 100 miles of Melbourne.

Melbourne publican of the Rainbow Hotel in Swanston Street, Louis Michel, despairing at the loss of his customers to the northern goldfields went in search of gold with his companion William Habberlin. In the depths of winter in June 1851 the men found ten pieces in the bed of Andersons Creek at Warrandyte and a fever of gold erupted.

By August the gold epidemic had attracted one hundred and fifty miners. They swarmed around Andersons Creek scouring the gullies for alluvial gold, slipping and slid through the steep surrounding hills of stingy bark searching for finds. The sounds of the men as they dug and washed, dug and washed, would have echoed through the bush as they sifted for the precious metal.

The activity resulted in a series of proclamations being issued that established Victoria’s first ever goldfields regulations. By the end of the year many prospectors had left due to floods, or were lured by the whisper of rich gold deposits at Clunes and Ballarat.

The Wurundjerri were no longer free to move around their ancestral lands. They wanted to have a place that gave them access to their traditional country and managed to gain a reserve of about 782 hectares on the Yarra near what is now known as Pound Bend.

Alluvial miners took a renewed interest in the Andersons Creek area in 1854. A sense of adventure, dreams of prosperity and being your own boss led to a new search for gold. Stories of gold nuggets that promised a quick fortune were plentiful.

Before the introduction of big machinery, prospecting was one of the few pursuits that offered an equal chance of success to both rich and poor. By September 1854, around two hundred people lived in tents and crude shacks, and dug at Andersons Creek using the water in the Yarra for their sluicing and puddling operations.

In 1855 quartz reefs were discovered in the area around Fourth Hill, one of the highest points in Warrandyte. The mining population swelled to around six hundred and the river was soon lined by tents.

A miners life was tough with long hours of physical labour in harsh conditions, often with only damper and mutton to sustain them. The camp-followers who sold food, drink and stores at inflated prices arrived in the wake of the miners, and Victoria’s first goldfield, and the town of Warrandyte was born.

The area would be poked and prodded and pillaged over the next one hundred and sixteen years. Fourth Hill was denuded of tree cover for structural timber and firewood to drive steam engines that worked the mines pockmarking the hill.

In 1856 it became apparent that the area needed policing and the first police magistrate and goldfields warden, W.C. Brackenbury, after whom the street I live in was named, was appointed to resolve mining disputes and other problems. The same year the first school was opened for the miners children, and a year later a postal service commenced.

The remaining Wurundjeri became an annoyance to prospectors who wanted to work Pound Bend. New resident Gold Warden and magistrate, Warburton Carr, was appointed in 1858. His attitude toward the presence of the declining Wurundjeri was that they were a problem, evidenced by the fact that his judicial decisions towards whites were more lenient when Aboriginals were involved.

The acceleration of gold mining hastened the demise of the Warrandyte Aboriginal Reserve at Pound Bend as prospecting claims intruded. By 1859 the Aboriginal population had fallen by an estimated eighty-three percent from 1836. The remaining twenty-two members of the Wurundjeri clan were eventually moved to Coranderrk, established by the government as an Aboriginal reserve on Badgers Creek at Healesville in 1863.

Over a period of about seven months from mid 1859, Patrick Geraghty, the local innkeeper began an ambitious project with William Moore to dig a tunnel into Fourth to intersect the gold veins believed to be hidden there. They built a tramway to carry rock away and dug one hundred and twenty-two metres into the hill through solid rock. It would have been back-breaking, monotonous work digging and lifting heavy loads in the confined space of the mine. The pursuit of what was believed to be a line-of-reef in the hill proved frustrating and elusive for the miners and when they failed to find what they was looking for, the endeavor was abandoned.

Large-scale machinery gradually took over from individual prospectors. Massive earthworks were undertaken to manipulate and dominate the environment in search of the elusive, precious yellow metal.

A sluicing company set out to divert the Yarra River and create an island to enable the bed of the main course to be dried out and worked for alluvial gold. It was one of the biggest engineering feats attempted in gold mining.

Another significant engineering project was tackled by the Evelyn Tunnel Gold Mining Company in 1870. It involved blasting a tunnel 195 metres through the isthmus where the Yarra completes a hairpin bend at Pound Bend near where the Wurundjeri used to live. This enabled about five kilometres of the riverbed to be dried and dredged for alluvial gold. The tunnel was completed but a plethora of setbacks and poor yields resulted in the company being wound up in 1872.

The discovery of gold in the late 1890’s near Blacks Flat, and the Victory mine which penetrated Third and Fourth Hills, led to the brightest spot in the history of Warrandyte’s goldfields. Both mines achieving sizable yields.

Mining activity started to decline after 1910. The last mines to be sunk between 1953 and 1965 were the Monument shafts on Fourth Hill. The lessees of lease number 9188 who dug the shafts laboured whilst they lived in a tin shed built using a stringy bark tree for support. They found no gold and the dig closed in 1965. The shed and mine slowly being reclaimed by nature can still be seen on a walk along a steep narrow goat track.

The output from the Warrandyte goldfields was modest compared to larger fields, but the cost to the Wurundjerri, the local landscape and many of those who came seeking their fortune was high. With perseverance, some got lucky, but many succumbed to poverty, illness, violence or despair.

Fourth Hill. Part 1

I often go jogging or cycling through the state parks scattered around the area where I live and encounter remnants of history in one form or another. A year or so ago I did a research project to discover more about the local history and ended up writing an essay. I used a poem I wrote a few years earlier after one of my soujourns as inspiration. Over the next six weeks I am going to share this piece with you through my blog. I have divided up using the verse called Fourth Hill. Here is part 1.

Bunjil created this dreaming.

A crash of thunder and a hurling star

threw a landscape of beauty and plenty

that would stand for millions of years

Bunjil, the all-powerful great eagle hawk carved images of people out of bark and breathed life into the Wurundjeri. He shaped the surface of the land and the waterways that run through it and made it bountiful with animals, birds, and trees. Bunjil gave the people a code for living and he gave them tools, fishing sticks and spears, and taught them how to hunt and gather.

The spirits of the dreamtime have dwelt in this place since the earth began. The name Wurundjeri comes from the Woiwurrung language. ‘Wurun’ means manna gum, the Eucalyptus viminalis, which grows along the Yarra River, and ‘djeri’, the grub found in or near the tree. The Wurundjeri are the ‘Witchetty Grub People’.

I am a mere speck in the passing of time.

The river has always been beautiful to me, but when I step onto the land at Pound Bend, a peninsular created where the Yarra River turns back on itself at Warrandyte, I am on country steeped in the rich culture and spirits of the Wurundjeri. They held ceremonies there and welcomed visitors through smoke made by smothering a fire with young manna gum leaves. The river of mist, the Birrarung, now the Yarra River, was the centre of Wurundjeri Country and fell along the Yarra Valley songline route.

I close my eyes and try to imagine their sounds as they hunted and danced and cared for this place before Europeans came. The river was wider then and prone to flood after heavy rain. The Wurundjeri’s interaction with it ebbed and flowed with its rhythms. Children cascaded through the scrub beneath the manna gums to drink directly from the river. Bush tucker and medicine were abundant in the orchids, lilies, shrubs ferns and trees, and the Wurundjeri’s scars on the trees were fresh, before the scars on their culture were made.

Europeans arrived with seductive food and artefacts, invisible viruses and bacteria, and a lust for land and settled in Victoria in the 1830’s. As settlers claimed large tracts of land around Melbourne, Aboriginal people must have struggled to explain the intensifying changes. Soon, despite efforts at resistance, traditional Aboriginal culture was forced into decline.

Now a million people have stomped on this ground. Soils have been turned, waters churned, and the landscape changed to bend to our will.

Men re-shaped Bunjil’s creation with fences, roads and buildings. They bought animals that trampled the Wurundjeri’s native plant foods and guns that stripped the forests of wildlife.

I wonder how many tears must have fallen as the first people’s lives were changed irrevocably by the white ghosts who spoke in tongues they did not understand. I imagine the sadness that must have lingered when the last inter-clan Gayip (corroboree) lasting fourteen days and nights was held by the Wurundjeri in Warrandyte in 1851.

Soon after, those who did not succumb to disease were driven from this place.

In 1839, James Anderson was the first white settler with hungry eyes to come to Warrandyte . He erected a hut and stockyard near where Andersons Creek joins the Yarra river and established a cattle station just west of the current township. The name Andersons Creek was given to the district in his honour. James Dawson soon followed in 1841 and set up east of where the township now stands. In the same year the area south of the river was surveyed and divided up into parcels and named the ‘Parish of Warran-Dyte, County of Bourke’.

It is thought that the name Warrandyte translates into ‘that which is thrown.’ One dreamtime story says that a long time ago Bunjil gazed down upon his people from the bright star Altair and saw that they neglected his creations and were in conflict. For their misdeeds, with a crash of thunder, Bunjil hurled down a star to destroy them. The star struck the earth and created the gorge which was later called Warrandyte.

Lockdown Thrills

Melbourne is filling up with bandits, bushrangers and bankrobbers this week after the Premier made mask wearing mandatory.

Bruce Springsteen says the writing life is a mix of high anxiety and grandeur

When I can’t take the thrill of lockdown life any more, I’ve been tuning into ThrillerFest, and it’s a hoot. Usually held in New York, the event was forced online this year by the pandemic. I bought tickets to the CraftFest and CareerFest parts of the program.

CraftFest is a thrilling feast of thriller writers.When I logged into the online site with my secret password I discovered about one hundred author video discussions brimming with ideas, hints, tips and motivation for writing.

I’m a pantser until I need to be a plotter and a plotter until I need to be a pantser

CareerFest contains five additional videos that take you behind the scenes to advice from top authors and publishing experts about pitching, publishing and brand.

The best news is you can still get tickets and access the videos for at least six months. It’s one activity you can do without wearing a mask, and I think it will see me through lockdown. My favourite piece of advice so far is:

How do you get that shit done when you work full time …. Because I’m sitting here writing on my phone, not playing angry birds.

Book review: The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner

When I mentioned to a friend I had just read a great Helen Garner novella, they said they were conflicted because they love her writing, but couldn’t stand the person. Tongue in cheek, I said I didn’t know her personally so couldn’t comment on her character but thought her writing was beautiful. It was an interaction that sums Garner up quite well…both the woman and her work seem to attract controversy and elicit strong feelings.

‘Course I care. I always care. But there’s no point in making a song and dance about it, like that night he stayed here. Know something? There’s only one thing that’ll bring ’em back, and that’s indifference. The one thing you can’t fake.’
‘But you are faking it.’
‘At the moment I might be. But as soon as it stops being faked and starts being real, he’ll turn up. Rule number one of modern life.’

Beyond the personal satisfaction gained through the creative process of writing, we write with the hope that we will entertain, inspire, broaden horizons, challenge, or provoke, all outcomes which require the elicitation of emotions. It lends me to wonder then, whether Garner is not the personification of success if both the woman and her work can excite such polarised views.

The Children’s Bach (1984), Garners third published work, invites us into the 1980’s Melbourne suburban household of loving middle aged couple Athena and Dexter Fox who are united by their children, Billy who has autism and their a bright articulate son called Arthur. At its heart it is the story of a stable and caring couple’s life being interrupted by a the introduction of a disruptive influence. For Anthea (who is a bit suffocated by her own domesticity) and Dexter, it is the introduction into their orbit of Dexter’s old friend Elizabeth, her bohemian lover Philip and sister Vicki that fuel unrest.

‘She’s a frump,’ thought Elizabeth with relief; but Athena stepped forward and held out her hand, and Elizabeth saw the cleverly mended sleeve of her jumper and was suddenly not so sure.

Among the turmoil of relations between the adult characters, it is Billy who represents the manifestation of the parts of ourselves that are inaccessibility to others.

‘I used to be romantic about him,’ said Athena. ‘I used to think there was some kind of wild, good little creature trapped inside him, and I tried to communicate with that. But now I know there’s . . .’ (she knocked her forehead with her knuckles) ‘ . . .nobody home.’

Family, morals, ideals, and naivety are pitted against hedonism, freedom and independence. The Children’s Bach has been mooted as one of the best novels of the twentieth century and Garner is certainly a master of domestic drama, of female desire and the complexity of love and relationships. The point of view moves rapidly between the characters, and music, in which each of the actors finds a kind of solace, echoes through the book and lends a rhythm to Garners exquisite, precise, efficiently crafted, intimate and lyrical prose.

The novella was turned into an opera by Andrew Schultz as part of the Canberra International Music Festival in 2008. If we still have an arts sector post COVID-19 and the show is ever re-staged, I’ll definitely go and see it.

Lockdown life, the new world order

I adapted quickly to the new world order, and confess that other than missing my family and dearest friends, I have been quite content living the homebody arrangement the COVID crisis invited (though I would prefer the lifestyle without the crisis). The biggest challenge during lockdown has been that my writing time has been haphazard. When I physically go to work, the commute provides a perfect window of structured time for writing and instilling a new routine has presented some challenges around work commitments and life chores.

I have been working on my writing, if not my manuscript. You might call it legitimate procrastination activities. Everybody is online now, and there has been a plethora of offerings for writers. Here’s a few I’ve participated in to stay in touch with creativity during lockdown:

  • Sisters In Crime set up a YouTube channel and have been running a regular Murder Mondays discussion with crime writers as well as moving their other offerings online.
  • Yarra Valley Writers Festival is a new event local to me this year that didn’t let a little lockdown hold it back. They went online and presented some terrific session with a range of Australian writers.
  • I have continued to enjoy write club with crime writer extraordinaire Candice Fox on Facebook. While I haven’t taken part in her live Wednesday morning sessions due to work commitments, I have been replaying write club during my free time each week for some inspiration, to hear what she has to say, and do a bit of writing to the sound of Candice tapping away on her computer. I’ve always liked Candice’s writing – big bold characters and a unique Australian voice, and write club has been a lovely way to get to know the person a bit. I’m now quite taken with both the woman and her writing and she’s very generous with her time and knowledge. This week a comment that really resonated was: ‘Sometimes you don’t feel like it…just set yourself up to do it and try, and don’t give yourself a hard time if it doesn’t happen…’ (her advice worked, I wrote this post whilst watching a replay of her write club this week).
The Tempest, Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery
  • I’m a bit of a writing workshop junkie, and have been doing the Australian Writers Centre Crime and Thriller Writing with LA Larkin via Zoom for the last four weeks. AWC has a solid track record of producing excellent writers course and this one has not disappointed. Courses are a great way to keep your brain connected to your creative projects when you are struggling to actually write – particularly when they set homework as this course does.
  • Despite the global COVID tragedy, lockdown has resulted in some terrific creative opportunities for writers, including ones we may not have had access to otherwise. Newcastle Noir went on line this year and I also bought a ticket to Thriller Fest in New York City, which would not have been possible if they were not forced to go online.

As the world slowly reverts back to something more like it was before COVID, I hope that the online writing opportunities continue to some degree, particularly for those we might not get to otherwise.

Main image: Lockdown, Clunes, Victoria

Seminal moments

There are seminal moments in life – those experiences that leave indelible impressions on our psyche. They can be positive or negative but they impact us in ways that mobilise us emotionally, spiritually or physically, cause us to sit up and take notice, inject a sense of urgency, and they can reverberate throughout our lives. Such experiences can pop up unexpectedly and may provide inspiration for our writing practice. Recently I was reminded of a couple of such moments from many years ago. This time of isolation lends itself to a bit of reflection, so I thought I’d write them down…

When you’re eighteen, with all the attitude that the age embodies – you’ve just finished high school, the thing you love most is horses, you find people perplexing, you’re itchin’ to move out of home and someone you know calls you and offers the opportunity of a lifetime, you jump right? Right. So I did.

I packed up all my stuff and moved. Two hundred and thirty kilometres from Melbourne, the last five up a deserted dirt road into the foothills of the Avon Wilderness. Our electricity was generated by the sun, or an old diesel generator that often needed to be started by winding an oily crank handle until your shoulders ached. Warmth was throw from wood fires glowing with timber you chopped yourself. Cooking relied on a wood heated slow combustion oven that meant if you wanted a roast you had to put it on at two in the afternoon to be ready for dinner. When water ran out – it ran out.

Autumn Sunrise

At the time, the place was considered so isolated that when we kept having trouble with the phone line, the Telstra repair guy showed us how to fix the problem ourselves and left us spare parts so he didn’t have to come back again. When an intruder came in the night banging on windows we got the rifle out and fired into the night to frighten them off.

We were two teenage women with drive, a can do outlook, a protective guard dog, and an endless wilderness to play in. It was magical, spectacular, dangerous country that offered boundless adventures that we embraced it with the zest of youth. I learnt to wrangle cattle, fix fences, shoe horses, run a business, farm, fight fires and engage with people from all walks of life.

The property was my friends family farm, in one of the most beautiful places in the country, with mountains as far as you could see. We ran a business taking tourists trekking on horseback though the mountains. Our guests were all sorts – from over confident schools kids, to families, to an unusual wealthy men’s group who left their wives at home and came away with their sons and one lone woman in a caravan, who they referred to as the ‘company secretary’. Her secretarial duties seemed to be in demand at all times of day and night.

My girls own adventure gave me a love of the Australian bush and carried me into young adulthood. I fell in love with the place where I now live, and have done for twenty years because something about it reminded me of that farm. The location provided inspiration for my second manuscript, which I’m about 15,000 words into now. Here’s the logline:

In denial that her past is holding her back, a private investigator goes to a closed small-town community to investigate the death of an environmental activist in a logging coup. She uncovers more than she bargained for and is forced to confront her own long buried grief to uncover the truth about what really happened.

Curiously living in this remote place in eastern Victoria provided the launching pad for an early career as a horse trainer and after a couple of years in the bush I ended up on the other side of the world in Portugal as a student of one of the worlds greatest horse trainers in the art of classical dressage, but more on that another time…

Main image: Late night stroll

Book review: Gathering Dark by Candice Fox

Candice Fox’s latest novel Gathering Dark, in its second print run already, is a page turning romp of a thriller set in Los Angeles and spilling over with larger than life characters.

Recently released from jail, Blair Harbour was a well respected paediatric surgeon leading a privileged life and about to become a mother, then she shot and killed her next door neighbour, went to jail and had her child taken from her. Now she works the graveyard shift at a cartel owned gas station while she tries to get her life back together. When she is held up one night by the daughter of the woman she’d shared a cell with, and her cell mate, Sneak, turns up looking for help to track down her daughter who has disappeared, Blair agrees.

Screaming would have been a terrible idea. If I startled her, that slippery finger was going to jerk on the trigger and blow my brains all over the cigarette cabinet behind me. I didn’t want to be wasted in my stupid uniform, my hat emblazoned with a big pink kangaroo and the badge on my chest that truthfully read ‘Blair’ but lied ‘I love to serve!’

Gathering Dark

Jessica Sanchez is a detective who doesn’t quite fit the force and is being ostracised by her colleagues because an old man left his fortune to her after she solved the murder case of his daughter. The mansion he bequeathed her is next door to the house where the son of Blair, who Sanchez put away for murder, now lives.

But then she saw the blood on his hands, all over his face, her neck. Jessica thought of vampires and zombies, of magical, impossible things, and had to steady herself against a pool table. Her mind split as the full force of terror hit, half of it wailing and screaming at her to flee, the other half assessing what this was: a vicious assault in progress. Assailant likely under the influence of drugs. Bath salts–they’d been hitting the streets hard in the past few weeks, making kids do crazy things: gouge their own eyes out, kill animals, ride their bikes off cliffs. She was watching a man eat a woman alive.

Gathering Dark

What unfolds is a complex web of lies, crime and deception, packaged in a tight plot, with well crafted dialogue, rolling prose and a good dose of black humour. I loved the tough female characters, the bad ass baddies, oh, and the gopher, got to love the gopher.

Candice Fox has been running a regular Wednesday Facebook Live write club of late. You can logon and write with her for an hour, then take part in a half hour Q&A where she answers all your writing questions. She’s an incredibly generous, funny and talented writer. I have enjoyed her writing since picking up her first novel Hades, but am now a lifetime fan, so if you are a crime reader and haven’t yet devoured any of her work – get onto it.