De­but novel has roots in WA his­tory

Links to WA’s Mid-West in­spired Kali Napier’s de­but novel, writes An­nelies Gart­ner.

Geraldton Guardian - - News -

The say­ing “home is where the heart is” could not ring more true for Kali Napier.

“I’m a West Aus­tralian def­i­nitely,” says the au­thor, who grew up in Scar­bor­ough and Kar­rinyup but for the past 10 years has lived in Bris­bane.

Napier set her de­but novel in the 1930s around the mid-west towns Don­gara, Ger­ald­ton and Peren­jori.

“I thought by writ­ing The Se­crets at Ocean’s Edge, set in WA that I’d fi­nally be able to purge WA out of my life,” Napier ex­plains on the phone from Bris­bane.

“It ac­tu­ally had the op­po­site ef­fect and it made me more mil­i­tantly West Aussie.”

An ar­ti­cle Napier read about the Great Emu War in 1932 in Cam­pion in the Wheat­belt be­came the cat­a­lyst for her set­ting a novel in her home State.

“The Aus­tralian ar­tillery was de­ployed to cull emus for the farm­ers be­cause they were de­stroy­ing the crops,” she says.

“When I read that I loved the idea of it be­cause emus beat the Aus­tralian Army.”

A few years ear­lier, re­search into her fa­ther’s ma­ter­nal side of the fam­ily re­vealed her great-grand­fa­ther was from around Peren­jori and had lived briefly in Don­gara in the de­pres­sion.

News­pa­per ar­ti­cles she read on her great-grand­fa­ther be­came the in­spi­ra­tion for the book’s char­ac­ter, Ernie, who up­roots his fam­ily to open a beach­side shop and ac­com­mo­da­tion in Don­gara.

“He was a bank­rupt and he moved to Don­gara to start a new busi­ness af­ter he be­came bank­rupt,” she says of her great-grand­fa­ther.

“I saw an­other ar­ti­cle where there was a sus­pi­cious fire at his place in Peren­jori and on those scant facts I wrote more of a fic­tional story.” Be­fore Napier re­alised she had fam­ily con­nec­tions to the area, she lived in Ger­ald­ton for five years work­ing as a na­tive ti­tle an­thro­pol­o­gist for the Ya­matji Marlpa Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion.

“I had to piece to­gether all of th­ese dif­fer­ent records and work out the story of how a fam­ily be­came sep­a­rated and then trac­ing it back to where they came from and try­ing to de­ter­mine rea­sons for cer­tain events,” she re­calls.

“It was like I had to tell a story and I was telling a story to their de­scen­dants and that’s where I know I started say­ing aloud to peo­ple ‘I have to write a book’.

“I hadn’t re­ally said that be­fore but of course those are Abo­rig­i­nal sto­ries, I’m not indige­nous, so they weren’t my sto­ries to tell.”

But Napier has in­cluded Abo­rig­i­nal char­ac­ters in her his­tor­i­cal fic­tion novel to ac­cu­rately re­flect the area at the time.

“I couldn’t have nonindige­nous char­ac­ters work­ing on a wheat farm in that area with­out Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple around be­cause they were used as do­mes­tic ser­vants, pas­toral sta­tion hands,” she says.

“I didn’t want to have too much of a fo­cus on Abo­rig­i­nal sto­ries, I think there is a line in the sand in the book where the Abo­rig­i­nal char­ac­ters say ‘don’t tell those sto­ries be­cause they’re our sto­ries’.

“I was con­scious of the line, of how much I was able to tell my­self of their ex­pe­ri­ences.”

But there is one indige­nous char­ac­ter that came to have a spe­cial

place in her heart. “My daugh­ter’s name is Ruby and I didn’t re­alise un­til I’d fin­ished that I’d named the Abo­rig­i­nal girl Ruby,” she says.

“Af­ter­wards I was like ‘oh, no that’s my daugh­ter’s name I’ve got to change it’ but then I thought no, be­cause Ruby is one of my favourite char­ac­ters in the book and that is re­ally fit­ting.”

So she can at last put down roots in Bris­bane.

Napier’s next book and part of her third is set in Queens­land but her fourth novel re­turns to WA with a story based in Porongu­rup.

“There’s al­ways hope to go back to WA,” she says.

Ar­ti­cles she read on her great-grand­fa­ther be­came the in­spi­ra­tion for the book’s char­ac­ter, Ernie.

Writer Kali Napier

The Se­crets at Ocean’s Edge is pub­lished by Ha­chette Aus­tralia.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.