Where does the outback begin?

Where does the outback begin?

My second novel The View From Out Here starts with this question. As we head further away from home in our travels, I ask myself this. The outback is immense with undefined boundaries. So many towns declare “Welcome to the Outback”.

I begin to get a feeling of being outback when I see dessicated paddocks, or when planted crops peter out; when clusters of mallee or mulga hug the road, or cypress pines scratch a living on rocky outcrops.

But this year is different. Recent rains mean dams and creeks are full. Utes are covered in mud, roads are closed and … there is some green. 

I asked a woman in West Wyalong if she considered her town ‘outback’. She thought for a moment and said, ‘Not outback … isolated’. That must be how it feels when you drive four hours every few weeks for cancer treatment or to see a specialist on their rare visits to your region.

To the same question, another lady in Condobolin looked askanse and said, ‘Oh no! We don’t feel outback.’ Perhaps ‘feeling’ is the key word? I suspect the concept of being ‘outback’ is a personal thing, one’s own sense of place, for those who live there and for those of us passing through.

The true outback for me is that wonderful red dirt and spinifex… and road trains.


2020 Pros and Cons



What a year! A year of good and bad, highs and lows, of pros and cons.

THE CONS: Early in the pandemic, obsessively watching TV news — and seeing people collapse in the street in China, bodies in hospital corridors in Italy, rows of coffins. The horror of outbreaks in Sydney Aged Care facilities and medical staff having to choose who should receive treatment.

Economies faltered. Jobs and businesses were lost.

So many of us were separated from friends and loved ones. We still haven’t seen our Queensland family — it’s now been over a year. In that year, our grandsons have become young men.

We didn’t travel of course — no outback trek last year. After flying home from WA in March, just before borders closed, we didn’t dare travel interstate. Just a few local forays recently.

THE PROS: Yes, there were some. The earth’s environment recovered a little. Images of dolphins in the canals of Venice and clear skies above crowded cities were symbols of hope.

People found ways to stay in touch. We learned to zoom. Businesses re-invented themselves.

The world’s scientists co-operated in creating vaccines. Medicos and scientists gradually learned more about the virus and the best ways to treat it.

Here in Canberra, we felt relatively safe. Everyone in the small community in which we live was mindful of the need to protect each other.

The enforced time-at-home allowed for calmness and creativity — for music, for writing. There was time to finalise my second novel and nurture it to publication. I was able to organise new typesetting and a brand-new cover for my first novel. This website had its genesis during that period.

Despite our eagerness to be rid of 2020, there is growing realisation that the new year won’t fix everything. Much will remain the same for some time; a vaccine won’t be the cure-all we may have hoped for, economic recovery will take time. The thousands of grieving families of COVID victims will still be living with their pain. The impact on mental health will have far-reaching effects.

But what we have learned is resilience, to know we have the ability to adapt and to care for others beyond our immediate circle. There is hope.


Season for Writing?

Season for Writing? Autumn is my season. I am a May Baby. The air is crisp and clean. Autumn colours are spectacular. My brain comes alive then after the lassitude of Summer and before Winter’s hibernation. Autumn is when I write. But there is something about this Spring that’s got the creative juices flowing. The urge to write is strong. My third novel has been languishing with uncooperative characters who won’t let me get to know them. But come Spring, they’ve opened up, let me in and are starting to come to life.

I suspect it’s not just Spring. It’s the sense of the world beginning to heal and recover. I think it’s called hope.

Outback Travel

This Time Last Year

This Time Last Year.

Last year we were in outback New South Wales and Queensland. Most years during the winter months we take off to someplace other than Canberra. This is not, as people assume, to escape Canberra’s cold, (although it is partly) but because the only time to enjoy outback travel is in cooler weather.

Way back, we tented, then for many years we travelled in our camper trailer. Now we are more comfortable and have a little more space in our off-road caravan, tiny though it is. So, by this time last year, we had visited the quirky outback town of Lightning Ridge with its artworks and opals and thermal pool. Then in Queensland, there was a visit to the amazing cattle saleyards at Roma and on to Carnarvon Gorge with its towering cliffs and rainforest.

After visiting precious family in Brisbane we flew to Mackay to spend time with special friends there. Then we headed homeward via Lamington National Park and down the coast to Iluka and Forster.

Along the way, there were so many little rural towns, each with something special to share with visitors.

With travel restrictions due to Corona Virus, this would not have been possible this year. Certainly we could not travel to Queensland and it is doubtful whether many of the other places where we stayed would have been open.

But next year will be different! The planning is already underway for some very remote travel, some of it to places where the caravan won’t be able to go. (That means a swag.) I cannot wait!

Reading books

Do I have to finish reading this book?

Do I have to finish reading this book?

I’m halfway through reading a book which shall remain nameless. The book was a gift, and I want to discuss it with the giver. Written by a highly regarded author, it is cleverly constructed and beautifully crafted. However, after reading Girl Woman Other and vicariously living the fraught lives of a multitude of amazing women, I am finding my current read equally exhausting and frustrating. I have just shared a character’s rape, abortion, her teetering on the edge of alcoholism, and now her abusive marriage. There have been the deaths of babies and of children, wartime death and maiming, and the vulnerability of women. It is heartbreaking. When I put the book down, I feel sad and depressed, especially as the nightly news brings us hatred and savagery and the killing of women by their partners.

Instead, I think I will re-read Who We Were by B R Carroll, with its scrumptious cover. There is darkness there too, but it is a delight to see how the author has created a cast of characters – former classmates – with their differing experiences and memories of school days.

Another book which has been sitting on my desk trying to catch my attention is Favel Parrett’s There Was Still Love. There is war behind this story too, but I have heard Favel talk about her book with love and warmth. It will be a welcome relief.

The time to go back and finish the unnamed book may be when life assumes its ‘new normal’.