Elaine Forrestal

What Am I? What Am I? What Am I?

Like the Bunyip of Berkley’s Creek, I find myself forced to confront my own image of myself in the mirror of covid19. After delivering a tirade along the lines of ‘How dare the government force me into a pigeon hole and try to define me by a number? I pay my taxes. I have been running my own business – from home – for years!’. My Bunyip mirror looks back at me with a frown and says, ‘What are you? Is this really you?’ Having grown up in small, isolated country towns, one of them a lot like the Coolgardie of Clara Saunders’ time, one would think I would be able to handle isolation. But while I do acknowledge the need for our current lockdown, and I’m cheering because it does seem to be working, it has caused me to question whether I really am who I thought I was.

A ‘Bunyip of Berkley’s Creek’ moment. (by Jenny Wagner, Ill. Ron Brooks)

In these uncertain times everyone is under pressure. There is a sense that we no longer have any control of our lives. The law is changing daily. Responsible, law abiding citizens are threatened with huge fines just for leaving their house. Couples who have inconveniently fallen in love are banned from spending a night under the same roof. Adults who have railed against the amount of time children spend on their computers have taken away schools and sporting activities and driven those same children back into the arms of technology. In a world gone mad is it any wonder some of us loose our cool occasionally?

On the bright side, at least coronavirus is throwing up some funny moments. Today someone sent me a cartoon showing Greta Thunberg, incandescent with rage, saying, ‘This is not the way the world is supposed to end! We are meant to have a climate catastrophe! Not some beer virus.’

Keep smiling and stay calm.

Early Release of Goldfields Girl!

Goldfields Girl by Elaine Forrestal

In the midst of all the doom and gloom a pleasant surprise came on Wednesday. My new book, Goldfields Girl, was released a month early! But the thrill was bitter sweet.

I had been talking about this book for so long, planning the big celebration, but also looking forward to all the little unexpected ones that come spontaneously when there is a new book on the scene. This time everything seems muted. The incredible team at Fremantle Press has been working frantically to spread the news. As the world, and the old rules, change day by day these brave people are creating new and innovative ways to connect with readers. I am so lucky to be able to stay busy, helping them produce new posts and online content for a whole range of different sites. It must be hard for people who find themselves with too much time on their hands when everything is changing so rapidly. Everyone at the Press remains positive and enthusiastic, but for me, leaping up, punching the air and dancing around the house is somehow not as satisfying as hugging my friends and seeing their eyes light up. Still Clara is finally out there! So buy yourself a copy for me to sign. I’m working on a digitally signed version of the old ‘Ex Libris’ stickers that you will be able to download and attach inside your book – just until I can give you a high-five and sign it for you face to face, in real time.

Can’t wait for all this social distancing stuff to be over. Please stay well.

Mateship

Australians are known for their mate-ship and for banding together in times of crisis, but this coronavirus is pushing us apart. It is forcing us to distance ourselves, both physically and socially, not only from our friends but in some cases even our families.

On Monday my brother-in-law and his wife, who had gone to the UK for the funeral of a close family member, missed out by one day on getting back into Australia before the borders were closed. As a result they are now under house arrest! They are banned from leaving their suburban

Paddy Hannan is not very talkative, but at least we don’t need 4sq metres of separation.

property. In spite of living within half a km of the beach, they are not even allowed to go down there for a walk! Family members like us can deliver food and other essentials, if we can find them on the supermarket shelves, but we must leave them on their doorstep. We, or they, face a 50,000 dollar fine if we so much as enter their house. My sister-in-law is grieving her beloved aunt and we can’t even give her a comforting hug, even if we wear a surgical mask and gloves! How un-Australian is that? Normally healthy people are beginning to lose their confidence. I see them shrinking into themselves and becoming depressed. We know that persistent feelings of helplessness and despair suppress our immune systems. That creates a vicious circle we can certainly do without at the moment. Have we become completely paranoid? And is it the paranoia that will kill us more quickly than the virus itself?

As a writer I am used to isolation. And I am comfortable working on line. But there are times when we all need real contact, in real time, with real people. Let’s take sensible precautions, of course, but let’s make sure we don’t forget what it is to be human.

Common Sense and Confidence

Leaching away common sense and confidence, as reactions to the coronavirus seem to be doing, is threatening to do more long term damage than the virus itself. We are social beings and most of us are capable of taking sensible precautions. Which is why it was such a joy to be at a large gathering of authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers and other supporters of the arts last week.

Elaine Forrestal disappearing into to a good book

The fact that human beings thrive on social contact is well researched and documented. We may seek it out to a greater or lesser degree, but if we are without it altogether for too long we begin to shrink into ourselves and become a shrivelled up version of artificial intelligence. While isolation may be a habit of choice for people pursuing any of the arts on a full-time basis, we become diminished, as people, if we are completely cut off from all contact with others. For me the dedicated hermit simply living off the land in complete isolation may be proving something to himself, but is adding nothing to the well-being of his fellow citizens.

Fortunately while 14 days seems like a long time to be in isolation, for most of us it is just long enough to read the pile of books on our bedside table. After that we desperately need to tell someone, in detail, what we thought of the stories. We need a gathering of people.

Lagerphone and Tea-chest Bass

The first store on the new ‘field’ that surrounded Bayley’s Reward Reef in 1892

An outback pub is coming to the State Library of WA for the launch of Goldfields Girl on Thursday  7th May. Get out your pen and mark the date clearly in your calendar.

In the new ‘field’ surrounding Bayley’s Reward Reef in 1892 the one and only pub was the social centre for a rag-tag collection of prospectors from all over the world. Since water cost more than Champagne, the pub was the best place to quench their thirst after a hard day of scratching at the red desert dirt. And where so many men gathered there were always tall tales to be told and songs of their homelands to be sung.  Of course only the smallest and least fragile of musical instruments could be carried in the swag of a prospector, most of whom had walked the 168 miles from Southern Cross out into the desert. Mouth organs, squeeze boxes, tin whistles and the occasional ukulele had arrived with the men, but it wasn’t long before other instruments were cobbled together to add to the sound and rhythm. Empty wooden tea-chests were plentiful and, since nothing could ever be wasted in such a harsh environment, they were turned into drums. It was thirsty work in the relentless heat so there was no shortage of discarded bottle tops either. The men gathered them up and nailed them, close together in rows, onto a spare broom stick. The unique swish and rattle this instrument made added a new sound to accompany the tea-chest bass and swell the band.

If you have never experienced the enthusiasm and camaraderie of an evening in a bush pub – or even if you have and want to feel that excitement again, here’s your chance. Come along to the launch of Goldfields Girl on the 7th May and bring your friends, young and old.

Invitations coming soon.