More precious than gold

My grandparents lived in a tent like this in Kalgoorlie in 1905/6

Historical Fiction, Reimagined History, Faction? No matter which of the many labels you choose, the same two dilemmas confront the author.

After you have gathered your facts there is the problem of telling them in a fictional way, shaping them into a compelling story that people will actually be interested to read.

Then there is the problem of the plot. The history on which your story is based is already out there. It’s just as available to everyone else in the world as it is to you. They already know how the story ends but you, the author, has to somehow keep them reading, turning those pages right to the end of the book.

In my case I had been thinking about goldfields stories for some time. My grandparents, who came from market gardening families in Victoria, spent the first year of their marriage living in a tent in Kalgoorlie in 1905/6. It would be unthinkable today, but they survived. Then it occurred to me that the story of a significant part of my own childhood is not dissimilar. We lived on the north eastern edge of the wheatbelt, not far from the Yilgarn goldfields, at a time when rain was our only source of water. I grew up knowing that water is precious. In some cases more precious than gold. But I still needed a new angle. So much has already been written about the goldfields – its colourful characters, its culture of hardship, mate-ship, greed, violence and death. I wanted to write a different story.

Then I discovered Clara Saunders. At 14 years of age she volunteered to leave her family behind in Southern Cross and go out into the desert to work in the fledgeling Exchange Hotel. She made the torturous three day journey over bush tracks in Snell’s Coach and became one of only two females on the new diggings at Bayley’s Reward. Men kept flocking in from all over the world, but it was another six months before Coolgardie was declared a town. Even then there were less than a dozen women among six thousand men. But Clara saw it as a big adventure. She wanted to be an independent woman and saw this as her opportunity.

After many drafts and two major re-writes Clara’s story is nearly ready to emerge. Keep watching this space.

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