This novel is part of my journey, as a resident of Sydney and as a novelist of contemporary Australia.
My first memory of any interest in writing about the Georges River was a set of five 500 word short stories I wrote as part of my involvement in a writers group at the South Coast Writers Centre in Wollongong in 2019. Those stories could well have been inspired by musings I had during my weekly three hour walk from Hurstville to Loftus, south of Sutherland, which included walking across the Como Bridge with its view of Botany Bay on one side and the place where the Georges and Woronora River meet on the other side.
As I looked at the rivers from the Como Bridge, a few times I imagined two children feeling happy and at home as they sailed together in a small dinghy along the river doing an errand for their father before school one morning. Perhaps this was inspired by adventure stories I read in my infant school years. Around the time of my imagining, I also came across a wonderful account of the history of life along the Georges River: Rivers and Resilience by Heather Goodall and Allison Cadzow. After reading this work, I remember thinking that once you read this book you will never see the river as just a river ever again. Rather, we see a living breathing being, all 90 kilometres of it, which has watched, mostly enjoyed, but also suffered, a lot of human comings and going over the course of its existence.
As I expanded the few short fiction stories I started with, I found I was attracting characters who each had their own relationship to the river, and I simply followed the story from there. I had only lived in this area for a few years and decided it would be a good idea to research the river, in a phenomenological sense, by visiting its parks and walking its trails, immersing myself in its presence, not always literally of course. Over the months, I visited many points along the river as well as the bay, and had lots of conversations with people doing their own thing down there on the river. Ideas just kept coming to me.
My intention was to write something that celebrated the beauty of the river as it is today. I’m not a historian and am not qualified to write (or rewrite) its history. I am simply an observer, a fresh set of eyes, of this manifestation of beauty as it is today. As part of my explorations, I did learn a lot about the history and the geography of the river and its surrounds, but I persevered with what for me was my own unique literary rendition of the river. I discovered that, while some writers have lived along the river at different times, there is little fiction written in this setting. One exception is David Cross’s George and The Widda Woman published in 1981, a book which would be lost but for the local history collection in Sutherland Library.
As I was writing, I did take time to question who my readers might be. I imagined them as those who not only like a good story that’s well told, but they also enjoy a story that shows some craft in the use of language, and they like a work not only accessible but also one that can also transport readers to a new place where we are able to reflect a little more on life and its many wonders. I decided to follow in the footsteps of William Faulkner in his classic As I Lay Dying and write the story in first person with multiple narrators. This was important as the river needed to be seen from many angles.
As you may have guessed by now, I don’t have any master plan as a writer. I treat each new work on its own merits. But I am always on the look out for good examples of art. In the early stages of my writing the novel, I learned about the career of a jade sculptor in Canada, Lyle Sopel. He pointed out that in his sculptures, his principles of design were: balance, rhythm and harmony. I committed myself to these principles in my rendition of the river. Also, at that time, listening to an ABC radio interview with classical composer Elena Kats Chernin, she was asked to describe her approach to musical composition. She said she focussed on repetition of themes, and also harmonies that strike out in new directions. This sounded good to me. So I wanted to incorporate her approach as part of my plan in writing this book.
I invite you to read this book.