Elaine Forrestal

Internet Breadcrumbs

Jim Warner’s radio in the back cabin of the South­ern Cross looks prim­i­tive by today’s standards.

This week, as part of my ongo­ing research for On Wings of Steel, I have been look­ing at the effect that mod­ern tech­nolo­gies have had on the way sto­ries are told, and re-told, begin­ning with the devel­op­ment of radio broad­cast­ing tech­nol­ogy in the late 1920s.

It was due to the increas­ing avail­abil­ity of radios, or crys­tal sets, in people’s homes that the human sto­ries of the epic first flight across the Pacific could be told, in real time, to ordi­nary peo­ple sit­ting in their lounge rooms. The heroic exploits of Ulm and Smithy (Kings­ford Smith) were made much more real and imme­di­ate than had ever been pos­si­ble before. One man who lis­tened through the night said, ‘I felt as if I was right up there with them, all the way.’ The ups and downs of the jour­ney, the moments of exhil­a­ra­tion, the moments of fear and deep despair, were writ­ten down by Ulm in the cock­pit, on scraps of paper, and trans­ferred to Jim Warner, the radio oper­a­tor in the back cabin of the South­ern Cross. Jim would then send them, in Morse code, out to La Per­ouse radio receiv­ing sta­tion. They were then trans­lated into nor­mal speech and sent to radio announc­ers in their stu­dios, who would read them out to the world.

Today we have inter­net bread­crumbs used in a re-telling of Hansel and Gre­tel, and a mobile phone on which the Tooth Fairy, April Under­hill, receives instruc­tions about a boy who has lost a tooth in her neigh­bour­hood. Not only are April and her sis­ter Esme able to access the address where they will find this tooth and exchange it for a gold coin, but their mother, anx­iously wait­ing at home for them to return, can also be con­tacted for advice — should the two novice fairies need it. ‘Send me a text,’ she tells them as they leave, obvi­ously con­scious to avoid the sound of voices and a ring­ing phone on this secret mis­sion into a sleep­ing household.

What fas­ci­nat­ing times we live in! And what a rich seam of ideas to be mined by today’s writ­ers, sto­ry­tellers and illustrators.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

From Home Island, look­ing across the lagoon.

Together the Cocos (Keel­ing) Islands form the clas­sic cir­cu­lar shape of an atoll. The coral islands are the remains of an extinct vol­cano which has either been sub­merged, or has risen over mil­lions of years, from the ocean floor. Only the eroded rim of the vent is now above sea level. Its coral islands form a pro­tec­tive cir­cle around the tran­quil lagoon while the con­stant surf, rolling in from the Indian Ocean, pounds their outer beaches.

Dur­ing the 1860s the Islands were owned by suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of the Cluneys Ross fam­ily. The patri­arch, George Cluneys Ross, brought Malaysian work­ers over from the Main­land to work his copra-producing plan­ta­tion. By the 1960s the plan­ta­tion had ceased to be com­mer­cially viable. The Cluneys Ross fam­ily even­tu­ally handed it over to the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment who now con­trol the Islands as part of their Indian Ocean Ter­ri­to­ries. The work­ers, who by then had lived there for four gen­er­a­tions and had become vir­tu­ally cut off from the out­side world, stayed on.

Today the Cocos Malays are a unique com­mu­nity with their own lan­guage, tra­di­tions and val­ues. Always hard­work­ing, devout and loyal, they have man­aged to  sur­vive, mostly in iso­la­tion, for eight  gen­er­a­tions. They have devel­oped their own qui­nine, mainly based on the abun­dant seafood that the islands pro­duce with the addi­tion of veg­eta­bles they can grow and the chick­ens that range freely around the settlement.

I feel priv­i­leged to have been invited in to the Pri­mary School on Home Island, where the bulk of the Cocos Malay pop­u­la­tion live, and to have swapped sto­ries with the lively, smil­ing, black-eyed chil­dren and their charm­ing par­ents, many of whom work as assis­tants in the school. Oth­ers come with food each day and sit with their chil­dren while they eat at recess and lunch time.

On West Island, which has a more mixed pop­u­la­tion and a Dis­trict High School, I was based in the

Dis­play set up by the stu­dents of Cocos Islands Dis­trict High School for Elaine Forrestal’s visit

Library each day, doing work­shops with all of the classes. Halfway through the first day I was sur­prised to see an enor­mous lion star­ing bale­fully at me from one of the pin-up boards. ‘I know that lion from some­where,’ I thought. It was def­i­nitely not a local as they have lizards, but not lions, on Cocos. Dur­ing a break I decided to con­front this almost life-sized crea­ture and found that James Foley had drawn it sev­eral years before! Then I dis­cov­ered some smaller, more dis­creet pieces of art­work by Matt Ott­ley and felt that I was in highly esteemed company.

In terms of a pris­tine envi­ron­ment and friendly, self suf­fi­cient peo­ple it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a more pleas­ant place than the Cocos (Keel­ing) Islands.

Singapore Boot Camp — without the boots

Elaine For­re­stal pre­sent­ing a cre­ative writ­ing work­shop in Singapore

In spite of a trop­i­cal down­pour at lunchtime on the third day, it was far too hot in Sin­ga­pore to be wear­ing boots!

In any case the three-day Camp, run by the organ­is­ers of the Cre­ative Writ­ing Project which cel­e­brates Singapore’s 50 years of inde­pen­dence, was quite the oppo­site of a Boot Camp. The best cre­ative writ­ers from at least six dif­fer­ent schools across Sin­ga­pore came together at the Nan Hua Pri­mary School and worked dili­gently on their sto­ries and poems from 9am to 4pm each day — in spite of the fact that they were on their school hol­i­days. We did all have a wel­come break at lunch time while deli­cious, freshly cooked, Chi­nese food was deliv­ered in indi­vid­ual lunch boxes to the 52 stu­dents, four pre­sen­ters, numer­ous staff of the Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion and vol­un­teers from the local community.

The stu­dents had cho­sen prose or poetry as their pre­ferred form of writ­ing and had been evenly divided between the two prose and two poetry pre­sen­ters. As a prose pre­sen­ter I have not yet seen the poems pro­duced, but the sto­ries the stu­dents have writ­ten are notable for the vari­ety of sub­ject mat­ter and the qual­ity of the writ­ing. The insights and ideas shared by the stu­dents, with me and with their peers, are an indi­ca­tion of Singapore’s suc­cess as an inde­pen­dent Nation and its deter­mi­na­tion to con­tinue to be a sig­nif­i­cant player on the world stage well into the future.

My thanks to the organ­is­ers, Writ­ingWA and CWP, for mak­ing my trip to Sin­ga­pore pos­si­ble, and to the stu­dents for their enthu­si­asm for writ­ing and their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the work­shops through­out all three days of the Camp. I wish you all the best of luck and I will be look­ing out for your names in future publications.

To See the World — the music

Dr Georg Car­oll play­ing the harp­si­chord at the launch of To See the World

It is most unusual for me to write two blogs in one week, but I need to tell you about an excit­ing new spin-off from the Rose de Freycinet story, To See the World.

On Sun­day, in the Gov­ern­ment House Ball­room, a most extra­or­di­nary event took place. Dr Georg Car­oll, who played the harp­si­chord at the launch of the book a year ago, has been work­ing on his own orig­i­nal piece of music inspired by the story of Rose’s voy­age around the world between 1817 and 1820. Dur­ing his time as Artist-in-Residence at the State Library of West­ern Aus­tralia Dr Car­oll, or Jordi as he prefers to be called, set out to cap­ture the essence of the voy­age aboard the sail­ing ship Uranie in music. After more than a year of writ­ing, tri­alling, work­shop­ping and more writ­ing he per­formed the fin­ished Freycinet Suite for the first time, accom­pa­nied by the Perth Baroque Orches­tra. The Freycinet Suite is a stun­ning, orig­i­nal and immensely sat­is­fy­ing evo­ca­tion of a long sea voy­age, often through uncharted waters, encoun­ter­ing many haz­ards and hos­tile peo­ple as well as being highly acclaimed and treated like roy­alty, once the achieve­ments of the voy­age became known. Jordi has cap­tured the sway­ing motion, the fierce squalls of wind and the excite­ment of reach­ing land at last. He has also incor­po­rated a lit­tle tune, orig­i­nally sung by Abo­rig­i­nal women and writ­ten down by Louis de Freycinet while the ship was in port in Syd­ney. This sim­ple melody became part of an exchange of ‘Notes’ from the Colony of New South Wales. The ‘Notes’ were even­tu­ally trans­lated into Eng­lish by West Aus­tra­ian, Tom Cullotty.

After being prac­ti­cally unknown except by their fam­i­lies in France until a few years ago, the details of the remark­able voy­age of the Uranie, with Rose and Louis on board, have been cap­tured in paint­ings, books, and music. It is amaz­ing how a good story will expand and travel, devel­op­ing a momen­tum of its own and draw­ing in new audiences.

We are just wait­ing for the movie now.

Tim Winton Awards celebrate our young writers

Young writ­ers work­ing on their stories

As this years judg­ing of the Tim Win­ton Awards draws to a close I am con­scious of just how sophis­ti­cated some of our young writ­ers are, and of the vital role our remain­ing writ­ing com­pe­ti­tions play in fos­ter­ing this sophistication.

Tim Win­ton him­self has forged a path for these young writ­ers to fol­low. See­ing the drama, the humour and sense of adven­ture por­trayed in famil­iar set­tings, writ­ten down and shared with oth­ers by a world class author, brings a degree of con­fi­dence which allows oth­ers to give it a go. We would not have such a thriv­ing com­mu­nity of young writ­ers with­out him and other local writ­ers who have fol­lowed. How­ever, with­out the rewards, mon­e­tary and oth­er­wise, that writ­ing com­pe­ti­tions pro­vide some of the best books, movies, TV series, com­puter games and plays will not con­tinue to be writ­ten. Writ­ing is hard work. It is most often car­ried out in iso­la­tion, which makes it absolutely essen­tial to encour­age young writ­ers not to give up. Tim Winton’s suc­cess in bring­ing his own very West Aus­tralian sto­ries to a world audi­ence inspires us to tell our own sto­ries, in words and pic­tures, not only to make sense of the world we live in, but to keep our unique cul­ture alive.

While we mourn the absence of the WA News­pa­pers Young Writer’s Com­pe­ti­tion this year, we cel­e­brate the fact that more than twice as many stu­dents have entered the Tim Win­ton Awards. This extra load has really stretched the organ­is­ers at the Subi­aco Library and their team of vol­un­teer judges. But it is a load that I, for one, gladly shoul­der in order to encour­age young writ­ers to describe their world and to main­tain a sense of our shared cul­tural identity.