The Picture

The picture that heads up my webpage was taken on the Murray River in Swan Reach, just down from my father’s shack. There’s something magical about that place for me. I used to go there for holidays when I was growing up. We’d have bon-fires and rip-roaring conversations, sing-a-longs and laughs. A lot of empty beer bottles were lined up beside the back door each night. During the day we’d go water skiing and boarding. We’d get the barbie smoking on dusk and watch the sun go down orange and shining across the cliffs opposite the river. Or we’d get the camp oven warmed up on the fire. Thousands of cocatoos would screetch across the sky like white rockets on sunset to nest in holes in the cliff and the water would sparkle like diamonds. Back then there was enough water in the river to hook up a sprinker and green up the grass. And fish. My brothers liked looking out for topless sunbakers on the small scrap of beach around the corer from our shack at a place called ‘Big Bend’.

big-bendriver

I could sit and watch the river and all her secrets and moods all day and well into the night. No matter what time of day it is, nature is alive with birds and insects and her private, soulful movements. 

These memories are the stuff of stories and characters. Sometimes they form the backbones for a specific story in that place and time, and sometimes they’re just the incense to take me into worlds beyond those I have ever lived. Life is sensual and words can take an experience of life, a moment in time, and make it last for a thousand years. When I write, that’s the dream. 

My novel, Big River Little Fish is set here, in Swan Reach on the Murray River river in the Nineteen fifties. I’ll leave you with an exerpt.

 

There’s a place along the Murray River called Big Bend, down stream from the town of Swan Reach, halfway to Nildottie. And there in the middle, the river is hemmed in on one side by sandstone cliffs where Old Mother Murray decided to change direction one day, bending sharply around to the right instead of carving straight through. The cliffs stand tall in sections all along the water’s edge, but there’s nowhere else Old Mother Murray had to make a turn as sharp as that one.

            Tom’s Pa had turned off the main road, after crossing on the Swan Reach ferry, into Big Bend Road. The FJ Holden blew up sandstone dust like a smoke haze behind them, and Tom, sitting in the front seat next to his Pa, watched as the river appeared below them, ducking and weaving through the mallee scrub like a snake.

The Holden meandered along the makeshift road and, at times, depending on where the bends and curves took them, the river disappeared. Tom sat up straighter in his seat then, straining to catch another glimpse of her, his heart racing for fear she was gone altogether. And then the car turned and she was there again.

 Tom had never seen water before. His Pa said, ‘we’ll have to fix that, Son.’  He called Tom that from the beginning. Well, their beginning. Age seven beginning. ‘Ain’t nothing better than the Murray, neither. She’s like the blood in your veins. Can’t live without her, I reckon.’

Tom’s Pa was a man of few words, but the words he spoke meant something.  Tom liked to think he could remember them all and write them down one day so his Pa could be something permanent.

‘I ain’t always been someone you’d want to know, Son.’ He said that straight away in the car the day Tom left his mother. ‘I don’t reckon your Mum would think there was much of me worth having from those days neither. But I’m changed, Son. And I mean to make amends.’ And Tom, looking straight at him, knew it was true.

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2 Responses to “The Picture”

  1. Michael Jeffrey Says:

    you have such a way with words. you must get a lot of help from your husband!!!

  2. Yes, you definitely have a way with words, Belinda. And a feel for the land too – not too many people have that special thing.
    I enjoyed reading the story extract – It felt like I was in the car riding along with Tom and his Pa.

    I see you’ve got a funny husband like I’ve got! 🙂

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