SNAKES, CROCODILES AND MARRIAGE PROPOSALS
My Time in the Northern Territory and How it Turned into
The Land Beyond Goodbye
The story that became The Land Beyond Goodbye started to bubble up some years ago when I was working as a temp for a week or two in the dingy basement of a solicitorʼs office in Edinburgh. In my youth, Iʼd lived for a while in various small towns in the Northern Territory of Australia. The vibrant lifestyle had got into my consciousness and the stories, people and atmosphere of that beautiful stark landscape still had a hold on me and wouldnʼt let me go. So, to relieve the boredom of my temp job, I started typing up little snippets inspired by my time there. I still have these first attempts, badly typed on flimsy green file paper, though it was years before the book properly got going, and years more before I finally decided it was finished.
The people I met in the Northern Territory were like characters in a wild west film -- or perhaps some surrealist painting. Territorians were gutsy, eccentric, and individual. They didnʼt wait for other people to solve their problems but got on and did it themselves. This was summed up for me in the actions of Mrs Richardson, who spotted a deadly King Brown snake curling through the feet of her customers at the Mataranka Homestead one night. She went and got an axe, chopped its head off with one blow, and then continued serving drinks as if nothing much had happened.
I suppose I could have become a Territorian myself, since I received several proposals of marriage while I was there. One was from a cowpoke type who reminded me of Hoss from Bonanza. He proposed to me after Iʼd known him, ooh, a week or so. ʻYaʼd mike me real happy if yerʼd be ma woife,ʼ he said, and offered to give me a horse. I declined the horse and he offered a Labrador instead. When I told him I didnʼt want anything I had to feed, he suggested a marcasite watch. He even took me to see it in the Chinese general store that sold everything from hundredweight sacks of animal feed to, well, marcasite watches. I was touched by his offer but felt I really couldnʼt accept as I wasnʼt even going out with him at the time.
Another random proposal came from a 49 year old Italian man (I was 20). He kept assuring me (or possibly himself) that at 5'2" he was exactly the same height as Napoleon. He took me aside one day and told me quite seriously that, though he would happily divorce his German wife for me, he couldnʼt divorce his Italian wife because she was Catholic. Oddly, I found myself able to turn this offer down as well.
None of these characters found their way into The Land Beyond Goodbye but there were others who sparked off ideas for the novel. There was the man who reputedly owned a goldmine and drank rum and milk; the handsome cattle station manager who always dressed in cream denim; the hirsute hermit who lived in a shack made of packing cases; and the policeman who dressed in shorts and rubber flip-flops and and helped out at the telephone exchange; there was also the story told of a man who had killed someone in the bar.
In addition to the wild stockmen and miners who came in from far outposts every weekend, that same bar sometimes hosted horses and wallabies, and on one occasion, a crocodile. But there were also the aboriginal men and women who were not allowed to enter the bar and could only be served flagons of red biddy from a counter in the outside wall.
Though nothing in the book is true in the sense that it actually happened, all these various elements mingled together, fermented, and turned into The Land Beyond Goodbye. The title is taken from an old book about the history of Australia. I canʼt now remember which book I found this quote in and though Iʼve searched through everything Iʼve got, have been unable to track it down. If anyone knows the source, Iʼd love to hear from them.
Oh, and the sleazy lawyer isnʼt based on any of the wonderful solicitors I worked for in that dingy basement in Edinburgh, where it all started.
First published on Jo Reed's Blog
The Land Beyond Goodbye is available as an ebook from Amazon.