Ten years after the disappearance of her best friend, and the death of her mother, Cassandra Noble escapes her country childhood in the Flinders Ranges to pursue life as an artist in the city. On the threshold of a promising career as a painter, her creativity suddenly abandons her. Soon after, she finds herself with a lover who wishes to control her just as her father once did. While her last painting just might hold the key to why she can no longer create, what will happen when she discovers the two tragic events of her childhood are linked in ways she could never have imagined?
The book explores consequences of unaccountable and corrupt uses of cultural, legislative and personal power in the intersecting spheres of the state, the community and the domestic. Because we are born into already established cultures of power, and they are renewed and re-enforced in education, religion and by the state and community, we develop psychological blind spots or scotomas that distort our vision of what is real and what is truth.
Do you always write in this genre or do you like to break out of the box?
This is my debut novel. My first book was a collection of poetry.
What themes guided your book, and were you aware of them from the start?
From the time I started writing poetry and then short stories at the age of 6, I have written about violence towards the Australian landscape, and male violence towards women and girls. In 1984, in my first year as an ABC Radio broadcaster, I wanted to make a documentary about domestic violence in country South Australia, because no one had done anything like that before in SA. I took my tape recorder into a women’s shelter and listened to the women’s stories about their broken bones and broken hearts. Two years later, I started this novel. As a current affairs broadcaster, (over many years) I covered terrible stories of male violence against women and children. And of course the violence against the Australian landscape never stopped either. I hadn’t planned to write about racism, but the deeper I explored these themes, the more I had to confront my racist upbringing. It is impossible to explore the destruction of the Australian landscape without confronting the power of colonisation over Aboriginal people.
As the years passed, my determination to work on this book never waivered. What waivered was the time available to do it. My radio career had to come first.
What other creative activities do you do when not writing?
In the life-long and ongoing journey to learn about my landscape, I have become a fine art nature photographer. When I started this book in 1986, I had never heard of Kangaroo Grass. Now, my photograph of Kangaroo Grass is on the front cover of my novel, and my little sketch of it introduces each chapter. Throughout the book, my tiny photograph of a native sedge is used to separate paragraphs, and of course because the novel references galahs, the back cover features my photograph of galahs in flight. I am very grateful my publisher Wakefield Press supported my vision for this book beyond just the text.
I needed a song for characters in my novel to sing. It needed to be a song about longing and separation with a deep Irish feel to it. I didn’t want to bother with copyright applications and paperwork, so I wrote the lyrics myself. It is called Tobar Bride, which is the sacred well of St Brigid.
Several months ago, I had an idea that it would be fun if a songwriter put it to music. I approached Anna O’Neil in Perth who records as Anna O, and she took my lyrics into the studio and, along with Sam Wylde, created the song. It now has worldwide release on Spotify, iTunes etc.
How do you feel about the ‘write what you know’ mantra?
I always wanted to write about my home landscape (the Southern Flinders Ranges in South Australia) because I thought I knew it. As I started to write and compare my knowledge with the way other writers (English mostly) write about their landscapes, I soon realised I knew very little. I couldn’t identify the species of eucalyptus or distinguish between the European weeds and native grasses. I didn’t know about the interactions between the native plants and birds either. So I spent years living in this landscape with my notebook (and later a camera) watching and learning. It was a labour of love. I describe my novel now as my lovesong to the Australian landscape, the Southern Flinders Ranges.
As for the narrative itself, it is fiction. But I drew on the energy of a million experiences and stories I’ve heard, voices that I remember when I was a child, and these things have been enlarged, reduced, dyed and turned inside out. In short, I’ve combined the untidiness of life and my imagination to create both the characters and the story.
Were there times you felt like giving up?
I felt so ablaze – enraged by the themes I was exploring I never once thought of giving up.
My rage kept me going on this project for over 30 years. I wanted to show people the impacts of everyday cruelty. I wanted to show them how we can change the way as non-Aboriginal people to fall in love with this landscape. How we can change the way we talk to it and be in it.
Every hour I had to work on this book felt like a privilege. Never a chore. I loved every minute of it even when it was hard.
What’s next for your writing?
I am working on a very long poem about connecting and communicating with the Australian landscape. I am also working on a collection of black and white photographs to accompany the text.
Dr Annette Marner is an award-winning writer and fine art nature photographer.
In 2018, she won the Art SA/Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature for A New Name for the Colour Blue.
Her first book Women With Their Faces on Fire won the Unpublished Manuscript Award for Poetry for Friendly Street/Wakefield Press and was on the reading list at Flinders University.
She has exhibited collections of her photography in galleries, won several awards, and is an Associate Member of the Royal South Australian Society for Arts.
Annette has a Ph.D in Creative Writing.