They marched into Loveday

MRB_1977 ARHS to Renmark @ Barmera_RX224_017

Railway siding near Barmera, similar to where the internees would have disembarked.

When war came to Australia.

From Brisbane it took three days by train for the internees to reach the Riverland District of South Australia.

The exact route from Queensland is not clear. According to Max Scholz, long-time resident of Barmera and eyewitness to the establishment and operation of the Loveday camps, the final leg brought them from Adelaide to a siding close to the town of Barmera, known to the locals as ‘Ebb Farmers’. From there, the men marched the remaining four miles to Camp 9. They wore the distinctive burgundy-coloured uniforms that branded them prisoners.

The first trainload of 458 Italian internees arrived on 11 June 1941, after having been transferred from the camp at Hay in western NSW. The following day a further 502 Italians arrived from Hay, including the captain and crew of the Italian ship, Romolo.

The Melbourne newspaper, The Argus, reported that the Romolo was the last Italian liner to sail from Brisbane before the war began. She had 116 crew, 21 passengers, and a valuable cargo of wool. RAAF aircraft and Australian navy ships shadowed her after she deviated from her planned course to Thursday Island. Instead she navigated a gap in the Great Barrier Reef and sailed off into the Pacific. To prevent her from being captured by the Australians and used as a warship against Italy, the crew set her alight in the middle of the ocean. She burnt and sank. The crew and passengers were picked up from lifeboats and sent to Hay Internment Camp.

The Brisbane contingent of internees arrived several days later, on 20 June 1941. Overnight the site was transformed from a ghost camp into a bustling barbed-wire town of more than one thousand men. It marked the start of an operation that by January 1943 would house 5,000 internees.

You can only wonder at the logistics of constructing accommodation and facilities for a vast number of men within a short period of time. Luckily some of the internees were experienced builders while others volunteered to work as construction labourers. So the subsequent camps (Camp 10 and the four compounds of Camp 14) were built for internees by internees, using materials supplied by the military and whatever was on hand.

The land at Loveday was stony and dry. Walls and gardens were edged with stone-pitching and irrigation pipes were run from the nearby River Murray. As with many arid areas of Australia, the soil was so rich that artificial fertiliser had little effect. Add a little water and anything would grow.

Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Thayer Dean, a South Australian grazier, was appointed as Loveday Group Commandant. He had been awarded a D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order) for his service in the Great War with the Field Artillery Brigade. The combination of farming know-how, vision, and respect for the men under his command made Loveday not only tolerable for the inmates, but also financially viable. But more of that later.

Sources I wish to acknowledge are: As I Remember by Max Scholz; Internment in South Australia by the Committee appointed to record the history of internment in South Australia (foreword by E.T. Dean), Trove, and the Australian War Memorial.


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To market, to market … 5 tips for selling your book.


‘Please buy me.’

Writing a book can be an absolute joy or a nightmare, depending on your outlook and the mood of your muse. But all those months (or years) of burning the midnight oil are for nought unless you can get your magnus opus out there for people to read.

Here is the conundrum: you are a writer not a bookseller. Writing is what you love and what you’re good at. The practice of writing means locking yourself away in solitude to concentrate on the inner world. You are a hermit in a garret, communing with no-one but your characters, ruminating on nothing but the twists and turns of your tale.

After a long and tumultuous gestation period, your labour of love enters the world. It’s silky and smooth and ink-scented. Perfect.

What happens next is truly shocking. It’s up to you – the author – to sell it.

Whoa! Selling means putting yourself out there, talking to people you don’t know, telling them about this awesome novel that you – boast, boast – just happened to write in your spare time. It means standing before a roomful of critics to reveal intimacies about your motivation or your inspiration or your determination to finish your mammoth task.

Have I scared you yet?

Selling your book isn’t easy. So here are five tips I’ve learnt along the way.

  1. Talk to your local library. Most public libraries are extremely supportive of local authors. But be warned: there are long lead times if you want to arrange author talks. Many months in fact. Ask if the library allows you to sell your book to customers on the day. Check whether any fees or commissions are payable. In Australia you can register for royalties if you have books in public libraries. These are called Public Lending Right (PLR) and Education Lending Right (ELR).
  2. Email everyone you know or have ever met. Even if no-one wants a book, it puts you in touch with a whole bunch of people you haven’t spoken to in ages. If you’re lucky, an old friend will pass the message on to someone who will buy your book and theywill love what you write. That’s the whole point of writing, isn’t it? So that others can read and enjoy.
  3. Ask your fans to write a brief review. I should explain that the sort of review you need is not the long and critical variety seen in the Sunday newspapers. The best review for this purpose is short and sharp and tells customers what a page-turner you’ve written. Ask for the review to be posted on websites such as Goodreads or online bookstores such as Amazon. Your reviewer will also need to give your book a ‘star’ rating – usually out of 5. It’s best to check that your reader actually likes the book before making this suggestion. One star out of five spells disaster.
  4. Do the rounds of your local bookstores. Talk to them about taking books on consignment. Agree on conditions, such as commission and the length of time your book can remain on the shelves. Keep in touch with the bookseller. At the end of the agreed period, pick up any unsold copies and provide an invoice for your share of the sales.
  5. Set up your website so that people can purchase electronically. This is not an easy task for someone like me who is technologically challenged. After much swearing and gnashing of teeth, I managed to put a ‘Buy Now’ button on my website that allows buyers to order and pay by Paypal or credit card. The buyer leaves their postal address and any special instructions (such as ‘please autograph’). You get a confirmation email the instant the purchase is made. When setting this up, be sure to cover the cost of postage. Remember, websites are global. Factor in the additional cost of international postage. Otherwise all your hard-earned cash will go supporting your friendly postal service.

The final word. The most frustrating part of the sales business is the enormous time commitment. Sadly there is little time or energy left for writing another bestseller. So put in a sunset clause and move on. At least you have a list of contacts for next time.


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A prison without prisoners

Camp 9

All that remains of Camp 9 today is this sign.

When war came to Australia.

This series of posts introduces my work in progress, a research-based historical novel due out later this year.

Camp 9, the oldest compound in the Loveday Internment Camp complex, was constructed nearly a year before the first Italian-Australian enemy aliens were captured and sent to South Australia. When Mussolini made an alliance with Hitler which sent Italy to war in June 1940, the Army was instructed to prepare secure accommodation ready for an influx of internees.

The site at Loveday in South Australia was compulsorily acquired through a five-year lease arrangement, with options to extend. It was chosen because of its location far away from the major cities, yet close to a railway line and the River Murray. Moreover the land had already been cleared and irrigation pipes had been laid.

Originally Loveday was to house 6000 internees from British Palestine and 400 so-called dangerous German-Aliens deported from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). But this never eventuated. Instead, those prisoners were taken to other internment facilities such as Hay in New South Wales.

Camp 9 was diamond-shaped, twelve chains (240 metres) in diameter from north to south, with a double row of six-foot high (1.8 metre) barbed-wire fences around the perimeter. Four twenty-foot (6 metre) guard towers were strategically placed at each corner of the diamond. At night the perimeter wire was illuminated by floodlights, while the sentry boxes where armed guards monitored activities in the compound were kept in darkness. The total area of the compound was around 10.5 acres (42,000 sq m), the size of six rugby fields.

The buildings were set out symmetrically. There were 32 sleeping huts (each for 30 men), four mess halls, two kitchens, a canteen, a hospital, an office for the camp leader (an inmate elected to represent the internees), a hobbies workshop, ablutions and laundry blocks, and latrines. By December 1940 construction of a camp for 1000 prisoners was completed, but it lay empty until that first trainload of Italians from Far North Queensland arrived in June 1941.

Imagine how the men must have felt as they marched in from that lonely siding near Barmera. It was cold and wet, the start of winter. For days they’d travelled, cooped up in railway carriages. The motley mob of 500 – of all ages and all levels of fitness and health – had yet to walk four miles (6.5 km) through flat scrublands before they reached warmth and shelter.

Then, rising like pillars from the plain, were the guard towers. Army personnel would have opened the gates, allowing them into no-man’s land, the dangerous space between two rows of barbed wire fencing. Then a second gate would have opened into the compound itself. In one of the mess halls they would have assembled. Rolls would have been called, paperwork completed, sleeping huts allocated.

How long would they be held there? No-one knew. Their fate would be determined by what happened half-way across the world. Until then, they had a roof over their heads and food on their plates. They could choose to rebel or make the best of it.

I wish to acknowledge the following source: Loveday Internment Camp Archaeological Report (1992), by Austral Archaeology Adelaide for the State Heritage Branch, Department of Environment and Planning, S.A.

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When War Came to Australia

Land Army

Women’s Land Army, WW2. Photo from

Mea culpa.

Yes, it’s been a while since I posted. The exciting news is that I’ve almost finished writing my new novel. Hey, there’s only so much a person can do in one day.

I’ve taken a short break from crime mysteries to make space for a story that has been bouncing about in my brain for around fifteen years. It started out as a family history: a story of migration, of the struggle to adapt to new ways, and finally of acceptance. My research journey took me to archives in four states, libraries, historical societies, museums, and of course the fabulous internet. It produced a mass of documents and gave me quite a few shocks along the way.

Then I realised a sad truth: who wants to read yet another family history?

Back to the drawing board, or rather the computer in the corner of my office.

After a complete rethink, all that material now forms the backdrop to a novel about World War Two in Australia. This was a fascinating period of our history: a time of innocence and wisdom and wild paranoia. For example, naturalized Australian citizens of German, Italian, or Japanese origin were arrested like common criminals, transported thousands of miles, and imprisoned for the duration of the war.

Just like that! No evidence, no proof, no trial.

The story is told from four perspectives: Delahunty, a state politician; Luigi, an Italian-Australian farmer; Edith, who runs the family farm in her husband’s absence; Ted, a guard at the Loveday Internment Camp. The action takes place in three separate locations: Far North Queensland, Brisbane, and the Riverland District of South Australia.

Researching the period from 1939 to 1945 has proven to be a joy. I did not live through those amazing years, but I’ve come to realise that the living history, the stories of first-hand experience that make names and dates come to life, will soon disappear. People who remember the headline PEACE! – printed in three-inch letters in the Telegraph on the 15th August 1945 – are now in their nineties. In a few years they will be gone.

What I’ve uncovered, I want to share … lest we forget.

So stay tuned. You’re in for a few surprises.

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#Editing 101: the fine-tooth comb method for line editing

tips-to-throw-theperfectsurpriseparty-2If you’re a parent with a young child, you’ve probably discovered the joys of head lice. Pesky little beasties, they’re ridiculously hard to get rid of. Even when you’ve blasted them with a cocktail of chemicals and raked out their eggs with a fine-tooth comb, they’ll turn up again out of nowhere.

What, you might say, have head lice to do with line editing?

In my experience, ridding your work of cliches, repetition, banal words, limp similes, and typos is as painstaking as zapping head lice … only a whole lot harder.

If you’re scratching your head over the line editing process, give my never-fail, fine-tooth comb method a whirl.

Step 1: Save your manuscript as a new file.

Better still, back up all your files onto another device. Do it NOW. Computers have a habit of crashing or being stolen or otherwise coming to grief. If you don’t have a copy of your fabulous work, you will be doubly sorry.

Step 2: Make a list of the words you routinely overuse or know to be lame.

The words on my personal lame-list are ‘very’, ‘always’, ‘like’, ‘really’, ‘just’, ‘quite’ … and so on. You get the idea. Everyone will have a different list of feeble or threadbare words.

On my lame-list I always include the word ‘like’ because I tend to write in similes. While a smattering of strong relevant similes can be short-hand to communicate meaning, weak similes smack of lazy writing. The best way of tracking them down is to examine every phrase commencing with ‘like’. Be prepared to make substitutions or to delete if your simile is trite or adds nothing new to the characters, setting or story.

Step 3: On your computer, turn on the ‘find’ function and zap those suckers.

The ‘find’ function will open a navigation pane with a search bar at the side of your screen. Methodically comb through your manuscript, examining one lame word at a time. Make adjustments as necessary. This may take some time, but believe me it’s worth it.

To keep you motivated, take note of the number of times each lame word appears – before and after intervention. This is easy: the navigation pane automatically counts them. The target words are highlighted in yellow throughout the document. Use the ‘up’ and ‘down’ arrows to move sequentially through your manuscript.

After my comb-through of The Scarlet Key, the number of times ‘like’ appeared in my 76,000 word manuscript reduced from 326 to 171. That’s about half! Not all were similes: ‘like’ was also used as a verb or formed part of another word such as ‘businesslike’ or ‘likely’.

To show how this strengthens the writing, here is a sentence from an early draft of The Scarlet Key. ‘The shopkeeper looked like a hippie and spoke like a yobbo.’

After my nit-pick of the manuscript, the sentence was rewritten like this.

The fellow behind the counter was a refugee from the sixties with long white hair tied in a ponytail, faded jeans, and a string of love-beads around his wrist.

‘What’ll it be, mate?’ His Aussie accent was as broad as the Nullarbor Plain.

Okay, grab that fine-tooth comb. Search and destroy those lame words. Your manuscript will thank you for your trouble.

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Words, precious words

write-593333_1280With a new novel out recently, I’ve been attending lots of writerly events to promote my work and hopefully sell enough books to cover costs.

This is what I love about the writing journey. This is when you meet all sorts of interesting people and hear all kinds of intriguing tales. It’s an opportunity to grab a hold of life as it really is, instead of communing with figments of your imagination.

Which brings me to the topic of today. Words, precious words.

The other day I had a conversation with an aspiring writer. We were talking about the editing process and how I’d rewritten my book several times before deeming it fit to be published.

On my companion’s face was an expression of complete dismay. ‘But how could I destroy all those precious words? It took me so long to write them.’

My answer is this. Editing is not an option; it is essential. If your work is to shine, you must eliminate words that don’t pull their weight. Words are the primary building blocks of writing. Every word must count. Good writing is clean: no repetition (unless for effect); no sloppy adjectives or lazy verbs; use similes and metaphors sparingly and only if they add flavour to the scene.

Here are three handy tips for self-editing.

Tip 1: Read your manuscript from beginning to end.

Print out the manuscript or use a reading device that does not have a keyboard.

As you read, take a note of the sections that need surgery. If you find yourself getting bored, or if nothing happens, or if the scene or character does not progress the story, then it has to go.

Tip 2: Separate your characters and read each part in isolation.

This should be done at your computer.

Step 1: Save your original manuscript as a new file.

Step 2: In your new file, identify all the scenes and give each a name to summarise, e.g lost and found. Think of scenes as if in a film: as a discrete piece of action, or an interaction between characters, that happens in a specific time and place.

Step 3: Identify the point-of-view character whose scene it is. The point-of-view character is the one through whose eyes the story unfolds. You should limit yourself to maybe three or four point-of-view characters. Too many and you will confuse the reader. ‘The Scarlet Key’ has three point-of-view characters: Seth, Isla and Claude.

Step 4: Use ‘Styles’ to mark your headings. Use Heading 1 for scene name; Heading 2 for point-of-view character; and Heading 3 for a timeline identifier, e.g. Monday, winter, or date.

Choose one point-of-view character. Use the navigation pane to move sequentially between their scenes. Does their story flow? Are there overlaps? Are there inconsistencies? What is missing? Has the character changed unintentionally as the story unfolds?

Step 5: Repeat with the other point-of-view characters.

Tip 3: Stick to a ‘search and destroy’ strategy until you are done.

This is the most important part. Make notes about what needs to change, but don’t change anything until you have finished your mission. If you jump straight into line editing, you will become lost in a maze of words.

Schedule your ‘search and destroy’ to be done within a short specified block of time. At this stage you must move from what’s in your head to what’s actually on the page. Remembering what you have written is critical for identifying inconsistencies. Check basic things such as eye colour, age, height, spelling of characters’ names and where they live.

In the final edit of ‘The Scarlet Key’, I’d said in Chapter 2 that Isla’s mother had died at the age of eighty-seven, yet at the end of the book I’d said that she’d died young. Luckily it was an easy mistake to rectify.

Now, methodically go through your notes and fix the mistakes you’ve identified.

Yes, you will lose some of your precious words. But in their place will be even better words … and your story will really shine.

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‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Artfully written, meticulously researched, a triumph of a debut for a young author. Although ‘Burial Rites’ is not an easy read – there are too many unfamiliar names and phrases derived from Icelandic for that – it is a delightful read. The descriptions are sensuous and kinesthetic. You feel as if you are right there with the characters, enduring the wind or rain or the snow.
As an example, let me share with you the scene of Agnes toiling at the harvest.
‘I let my body swing, I let my arms fall. I feel the muscles of my stomach contract and twist. The scythe rises, falls, rises, falls, catches the sun across its blade and flicks the light back into my eye – a bright wink of God. I watch you, the scythe says, rippling through the green sea, catching the sun, casting it back to me.’
Simply beautiful! I could read descriptions like that all day.

View all my reviews

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