The second novel of the Outback series, Valley of the Eagle was first published with the title Gully Rakers and was often described as a roughly adventurous frontier story in comparison to the first novel, Coloured Sands. If roughly adventurous actually means a little raw, tough, or violent, it certainly had those elements.
The character of Annie, little sister and mentor to the Aristocrat was my favourite person in the novel. I adored her. She was wild and gusty and completely her own person. I remember the day I finished the novel. I was in my upstairs office in the old double-storey farmhouse that looked out over the flats and the billabong on the irrigation farm next door. It was a peaceful place to be.
I quietly questioned myself about the origin of the wild child character. I asked myself seriously: ‘where did that young girl spring from? Who was she really? Where did the first idea for that character, the adolescent Annie, arise from?’
My brain cells shifted into gear, my command for recall was an instant flooding memory from school days in the tiny town where I grew up. The image of a fellow student flashed into my mind. I’ll call her Joan (pseudonym).
Joan and her siblings rode ponies to school every day from their farm a few miles out of town. A lot of the time the ponies were skittish, half broken mounts being tamed by the children. They were often thrown from their saddles onto the roadway. My father was constantly up-in-arms about this dangerous practice. The route to school passed by our house on the country road. Father often helped those children himself and held the skittish ponies while they remounted.
The tough beginnings for those children served them well in the horse-riding arenas of their future. One of the girls became a champion rider and later in her life a much sort-after judge of horse events. The other girl Joan was only fourteen when she graduated to rough riding at the local rodeos. She was the only girl competitor and went up against the boys, much older than herself and she often won. I was absolutely in awe of this fellow schoolmate and would detail her accomplishments in news items and send them off to the ABC.
The ABC Children’s radio programme, the Argonaut’s Club in the 1950s encouraged children in many varied activities, one of them being writing. Children could send in news items, poems, stories, anything to do with nature, current affairs, literacy and music. I loved it. Members had to get six entries read over the air to obtain a book prize. I had a couple of years in the club while at primary school. I received two book prizes and a special certificate for a play I wrote for a competition (mine was about spacemen from another galaxy). I was way before my time. My family thought I was a strange child who was always asking for stamps to post my news items and poems. My twin sister didn’t bother anyone.
This is where my character Annie was born – back in my childhood from a fellow student at the little country school – an adolescent girl who could ride buckjumpers and beat all the fellows too. She was the bravest person I have ever known. Annie, the character in the novel had a baby at a tender age and died very young. That had also happened to the adolescent Joan (although her death had a different cause). I remember being dumfounded at the loss of Joan at such a tender age. I didn’t remember any of this until the writing had finished. Joan had been dealt such a lousy card in life’s frivolous game; but she will be remembered forever by all who knew the brave-hearted, gutsy girl who was admired and loved.
I am so glad I fired her up from my dormant memory cells to give me the character of Annie.
Another of the main characters also stemmed from a memory that lingers in the mind. The aristocrat’s lover, the gorgeous Miriam from the wealthy O’Shea family was no English flower, but a straight forward, independent young woman who by her own words: took absolute responsibility for her own morality.
Nobody told the spirited Miriam what to do. And so it was with a young woman in my country town, who had said those exact words about being responsible for her own morality, many times. She also was raised in privilege from good people and was brought up with all the right ideals for the1950s, when most supposedly married as virgins. She was honest and straight forward – her own person and proud to be so.
The three main characters in the novel were the aristocrat Benjamin, his lover Miriam and the wild little girl Annie, all drawn from memories of other days.
Coloured Sands Trilogy by Barbara Hartmann King ...