Over the last few days, while vacationing at a tranquil seaside cottage in East Bali, I have begun planning my next book. It will be quite different in scope, and style and genre from the collection of historical papers that I and others have been putting together. Plunging into this new realm has been a little like leaving the bright sunlight and venturing into a sub-tropical vine forest.
Some remnants of these habitats still survive here and there in Queensland. Although the cable-like lianas can impede progress, and there are wriggling leeches, scrub ticks and occasional snakes to contend with, these forest havens can be restorative places for walkers, thinkers, writers and imaginative children.
Actually, such a forest also serves as a useful metaphor for the thinking process I have been engaged in the last few days, for what I could visualise were a number of ideas, which were as straight and tall as white booyong, cedar and blackbut trees.
The trigger for the book was the decision by a mining company to close down its alumina refinery in three stages and progressively retrench 1400 workers. This was achieved by June 1, 2014. Up until that fateful decision, and since, there have been meetings held, protests, letters sent, visits by chief ministers, and appeals to gas producers to provide a guaranteed supply—all to no avail. There have been assistance packages of one sort or another, but these have only dulled the pain for those staying on. No ready alternative, apart from increased tourism, has seemed to offer a possible solution. This then has been the reality until now.
Investigating such a story is the domain of journalists, scholars and documentary film makers, and important work this is too. But to fire the imagination of a novelist, something else is needed. For me that something else is the notion of grafting a fictional future onto a realistic present and past. What enters the picture, and allows the possibility of unfettered novelistic treatment, is the imagined arrival of a philanthropic couple, the setting up of a new institute, and the transformation of the town from one the Indigenous people never wanted in the first place to one they might feel proud to call their own.