I feel so blessed and incredibly lucky. Why? I am 62 and feel as though I am aging backwards – most of the time. The main reason for my feelings is that I have found something that I am hugely passionate about – and I am acting on it. This epiphany that I experienced about six years ago was a turning point for me. It was a birthday and I woke up with the most amazing feeling – I suddenly found myself with a window of opportunity. To do something I have always wanted to do, but never known how to. Write a book. And have it published and get it ‘out there’. To combine two of my life long passions – writing and the outback of Australia.
I originate from such a background – a sheep station in South Australia. My primary education was provided by School of the Air and the now-defunct Correspondence School. At the ripe old age of 11 years, I followed my three older brothers down to boarding school in our capital city. While I have never returned to the station to live, I have always remained passionate about that way of life – and going through life, have found the lack of understanding and knowledge shown by many city and urban folk in my own nation, very frustrating.
This in itself probably is not such a big deal, but to me it was. I was into my 50s at the time – many of our friends were looking at retirement but that word was not even in my vocabulary.
To go back some years – my late father had been writing his book about a couple of our ancestors for the last 20 or so years of his life. He finished the actual writing within weeks of his death in 1993. For the following 17 or so years, that manuscript, along with piles of documents and images, passed between my three older brothers and me. Round and round it went until that day, when the epiphany ‘struck’. I woke up knowing I had to get the book published and out there before my mother passed on. She was in her late 80s – health was pretty good but wouldn’t last forever. So I eventually found a self-publisher and between us, we ‘worked’ feverishly to get this book out before Mum also left us. We almost did it – but missed – by one week. I was devastated but have been constantly reassured that Mum knew something was about to happen and died a happy woman – or as happy as someone can be when facing the end of life as we know it.
One book out and I felt pretty proud, even though Mum never saw it. I then looked at getting another book out – which was largely forgettable. Then I found myself faced with that amazing window of opportunity. I now knew how to write a book and have it published. I was in the perfect position to finally be able to combine two of my passions, as mentioned above. And so I did.
I didn’t have a book plan. I should have – but I didn’t. At least, not a written one. It was in my head – that’s the only way I can think about it. I turned to google once I had decided I would do this. And over the following years, everything just seemed to fall into place. But this is something that I would not advise for anyone who might try to follow ‘my lead’. DO write a book plan (and a marketing plan if you are doing your own). While I did not have either, I do honestly feel that it was my sheer dedication, determination and passion that kept me going.
At first, I wasn’t sure about telling my family and friends about this grand new venture that I was embarking on. I figured they would all think it was just another idea and it would soon be pushed aside for the next new ‘thing’. I eventually realised I did need to tell them, particularly as the research for the book would take me traveling throughout the outback of Australia and I would be away for a couple of weeks, up to three times a year for about two years. I decided they might miss me during some of that time, so I needed to be upfront. Once I did open up, and while no-one actually mentioned it, I suspect that they all did think that I would tire of this and move on.
But, it never happened. I kept at it.
My passion was too strong not to. At the ripe old age of 57, in 2012 I began the research trips. Many things have changed as I have travelled this road, faced many challenges and learned many new things. The only aspect that I have remained absolutely faithful to – and always will – was the main goal from the outset – to focus on the domestic side of life on our pastoral stations. I have always based this on my own life, growing up on a sheep station as mentioned above, as well as the daily lives/routines of my parents.
I travelled far and wide across the outback. Going from participating pastoral station, staying with each family for two nights and one day, I met, chatted with, observed and photographed them all, including outback education (the amazing School of the Air) when I was on a station with children who were young enough to be at school. It actually only happened on one station – most of the children had completed their education and had moved on, some remaining on the family property, others moved elsewhere to pursue other careers altogether. I was thrilled when I did find that one station where children were still being taught – in a station classroom. I was allowed to film School of the Air in action from that end. My gosh, what an eye opener. Technology has certainly come ahead in the years since I was a student – but then that was about 40 years ago!
To briefly step back to my very first research trip – after visiting the very first station in the book, I had a couple of nights in Port Augusta. This town is where my own old School of the Air is based. I decided to visit them – but since I had not previously arranged this, I was ready for them not to be able to see or talk to me. However, I was in luck. Now, please bear in mind that this was the first time that I had been near a base for 40 years, as mentioned above. I was quite stunned by the technology used now. All done on computer (I think telephone is also involved somehow). I was watching a lesson in progress – and, at the time of my visit, found it all rather hard to believe. There on the screen in front of each teacher was the lesson as well as a little window showing the particular student/s being spoken with at the time. It was absolutely amazing. Back in ‘my day’, from our station classroom, we had an old radio, with a grey microphone on which was a silver button – obviously we pressed this button to talk and let it go for the teacher to respond. Looking back, I am not sure that we actually ever saw the inner workings of the School of the Air base in Port Augusta when we made that annual visit at the end of the year. So I do not know what it was like – but do know it would have been nothing like that of today. School of the Air – an Australian icon. And one the country people could not do without – nor should they be expected to.
One thing that never really occurred to me throughout the research trips and other things that were involved – what was going to happen when I finished it all? I had honestly never thought about it. But suddenly I was there – at the end. Publication? Naaaah. But obviously that was the next step. My problem was that I was just enjoying myself too much. In the early days, several of the stations people did say to me that I would never finish the book and have it published. I didn’t admit, nor did I deny. I just didn’t think about it at all.
However, ‘Red Dust Dreams’ was duly published in May 2018. At that stage, I was so glad that I had decided to try and make the documentary – it gave me something to continue with on this journey. The marketing for the book is keeping me extremely busy – and while some of it has been more than challenging, again it is something that I continue to thrive on. And now we have the two online fashion sites for which I am one of the many designers. With these, I submit some of the thousands of images I took for the book and these in turn, decorate the clothing and accessories featured on the sites and which are then all prepared for sale world wide. I am also a member of a couple of photographic sites, where again I submit images of the outback. And then there is our YouTube channel, which I am hoping to launch in the new year but still needs considerable work done. I am also learning my way on this. It is all a mammoth learning curve.
I am contacting and being contacted by various people and groups almost on a weekly basis, now. All asking me to write articles about our mighty outback, or, like this one, about the day I turned my life around. As well people asking to collaborate, somehow – and many other things. Let’s just say that doors are opening for me – doors that, in the past, I would not have even looked at, let alone approached and knocked.
And I am loving every minute of it. Yes, there have been set backs – early in the piece, I faced one very nasty challenge which very nearly stopped me completely. I certainly sat back and wondered how I could convince certain people why I was doing this – and not for the reasons they were thinking. And then thought that perhaps I should not continue. But then I received a huge barrage of support from others and this spurred me on. I was also reassured that the reasons the former acted the way they did was simply because they have been hurt in the past and they did not do their homework on me before lashing out. Other challenges have included having communications breakdowns and finding myself in strange towns in the middle of the night, with nowhere to go. Not a pleasant feeling.
But the big picture shows an extremely happy and excited me. I have been nominated for several awards since starting this – have yet to actually win one but just being nominated has been huge for me. Just not used to it. My book also made the finals in the 2017 International Book Awards in the ‘Non-Fiction: Narrative’ category, which was amazing – and I admit I did not believe it when I received the congratulatory email. Another huge ‘thing’ that seems to have happened since I started this is that many of the people I have met along the way have been inspired to write their memoirs or just write that book they have been wanting to write all their lives. And that’s terrific.
I have also started doing presentations and talks to various groups, as requested. One is to my old school in Adelaide – my boarding school, which I attended for my secondary education. They have invited me to talk to some of their students, while being filmed (when we continue making the documentary in 2018, my filmmaker friend will be covering everything like this) and we will also be capturing some of the grounds and history of the school. I will also be offering this to other schools throughout Western and South Australia and then further afield, during 2018. I have already done two talks with several under consideration.
Life is good.