Nick with the Right Honorable Kate Ellis, Federal Member for Adelaide
Nick's Speech For Hollywood, Amarroo Book Launch
I'm elated to see so many of my friends and colleagues here.
I wish we could have a party like this one every week but I can't write that
Many friends asked me why did you write a book about Aborigines. You have a classical education and a science background they reminded me, why write a story about Aborigines? The short answer is that the stories pick the writer it's not the other way around. This is almost a Zen answer but the shorter answer is Humanism. I grew up believing and still believe that if someone hurts we all hurt. If someone dies in Iraq or in Palm Island we all mourn because our humanity is diminished. Writing about Aborigines was therefore natural for me because they suffered a lot over a long period.
Having an emotional connection with a group of people is not enough to write a novel. In the seventies I was a member of a group of scientists and engineers who constructed a Giant Radio Telescope in the outback - away from the static interference associated with large cities. In the bush I noted where Aborigines lived and heard of their pain and suffering. That is when I knew then that one day I'll write one of their stories. So I had the emotional connection and the first hand knowledge of our indigenous people.
When my love affair with science ended in 2001 I was ready to write my book but didn't. I revisited the bush instead, talked to the locals and had extensive discussions with one of the country GPs who treated Aborigines. Lastly I researched my topic and studied the works of Aboriginal writers before I started writing. During that time many of my friends didn't believe that we have serious Aboriginal writers. Other doubted that I'll finish writing my book. Today I have a book to launch.
The heroes of my story are Peter and Allison. Born in Adelaide they fell in love while Peter studied Law and Allison Arts. Young and idealistic they ignored the prejudices of the sixties to defend Rosalie an Aboriginal mother accused of manslaughter. The trial takes place in Amarroo, a prosperous Queensland country town bordering a reserve where two hundred Aborigines live in lamentable poverty. As a joke the locals refer to the reserve as Hollywood. During the trial Allison chronicles the lives and times of the Aborigines who endure poverty, diseases and the ever present fears of the disposed.
My book therefore is a disturbing reminder that nothing has changed for our indigenous people. This is not my take on recent history. Last November, Dr Ken Henry, the Treasury Secretary, admitted that past policies to solve the problems of 'dysfunctional and disintegrating' Aboriginal communities, have failed. He then reminded us that 'Aboriginal communities are not sheltered workshops for the permanently handicapped.'
Apart from the impeccable credentials as an eminent economist, Dr Henry touched my heart when he declared that 'indigenous disadvantage diminishes all of Australia.' A sentiment that nicely resonates with my belief that if someone hurts everyone hurts.
I dedicated the book to my mother who gave me the eyes to recognize the genius in others.
A quotation follows.
The opposite of love, is not hate, it's indifference.
The opposite of Art is not ugliness, it's indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.
That is a quotation from Elie Wiesel the 1986 Nobel prize winner for Peace
What follows is a succinct preface to my story.
Nested in the heart of Queesland Amarroo was a prosperous town in the sixties. The locals had every reason to be proud of their achievements, but didn't give a damn if their Aboriginal neighbours lived or died in lamentable poverty.
A few pages later, Murri, the Aboriginal elder, paints the canvas of early colonial history for Peter.
"My people," he says, "were very religious. Everything they touched was sacred, everything and the spirits that unite the dead with the living roamed about the land. When the white men came they brought with them guns, chains, flogging whips and strychnine. They shot my people and poisoned our water holes."
Peter interrupted. "Strychnine? Did I hear you right?"
"Yes! I grew up in Maryborough only because the white men poisoned our waterhole in Fraser Island. My folks shot through after they buried our rellies. They did, Pete. Like thieves in the night. In other parts of Australia the white man offered us poisoned flour. There was so much hatred in the land, the spirits took off."
Percy a leading light of Amarroo describes the Aborigines to Peter.
"Every fortnight we witness the Pension Day Ceremony. The boongs pick up their pension cheques from the Post Office and wait under the gum trees for the pub to open. At ten they rush in the hotel and hours later they crawl out pissed and broke. Once you get to know the boongs, you will realize that they are good for nothing bludgers. They have babies out of wedlock; not one or two, but five or ten. And they all finish up in our hospital because their parents don't feed them properly"
Nifty Nev, an Amarroo young man asks Peter to describe Allison.
"She looks like Mary Travers"
"You lucky bugger, can she sing too? Nev asked but Peter dismissed the question with a polite smile.
"She lives in jeans and has blonde shoulder length hair. At parties she always attracts mates around her. We are all for the underdog but she is passionate. It's true what they say about the eyes."
"You are hooked mate. What do you see in her eyes?'
"Passion and more passion,' Peter said grasping the air with his hand. "She wants nothing less but to destroy the world and re-create it stone by stone according to the rules of the heart." Reading Peter's body language, Nev sensed the strong bonds between them. "We hit the hay a week after the debate but our relationship bloomed because we are idealists. She and her family believe the privileged should help the underprivileged and I believe in equity for all. I'll always love her."
A few pages later Allison remembers her first night with Peter. "He kissed my eyes, lips and neck and when he reached my nipples I was in ruptures. Even when our bodies merged, our lips were never too far for another hungry kiss. He knew what he was doing.
After I loosened my hold, I kissed his neck many times. Gasping for air, he wanted to split but I held him. He was mine for a little longer before he rolled over. Flat on his back he didn't have the strength to do anything else but caress my sweaty thigh. When I turned on my side, he turned too. His right arm arched over and held my breasts. I felt his warm breath on my neck before his tongue discovered the back of my ear. I wriggled impulsively and that was heaven because his tongue tickled different parts of my ear after every wriggle.
We spent nights in Burnside too but the Willunga weekends were special. Meters away from the beach, the south westerlies fanned our desires. And the roar of the sea transmuted my screams of lust into ballads of love.
These segments give you a taste of what I have written.
I now would like to thank those who contributed to the realization of the book.
Maureen Prichard drew the stunning book cover. Can you please raise your arm, Maureen? Shy and unassuming she drew the book covers of all my books. My thanks also go to Tom Glouftsis who organized the digital form of the cover. The Bureau or Digital Print Australia printed the book which can be purchased on line. And today we are honoured to have Mr Lewis the CEO of Digital printers with today.
Before I finish I would like to say a few words to the writers among us. There would always be a demand for commercial books. So you too can write The Gin and Tonic Dialogues. All you have to do is to write about the yarns you hear in wine bars / hotels. And you'd become rich and famous because there is a demand for commercial books.
My book I'd like to declare with pride is not commercial it's written from the heart and I enjoyed writing it. I hope that you'd enjoy reading my book
Above all I thank you all for your support. I love you all.