The inspiration for my writing came from my family history research. I began by wondering if I might find some English aristocracy or perhaps a famous explorer in my background, but instead I found seven generations of Australians, mostly of British and Irish heritage, and mostly convicts: going back to the First Fleet on my mother’s side. Once I came to terms with coming from a long line of petty criminals, the details began to intrigue me. There are so many available documents describing in detail the convicts who arrived; their crimes, appearance, moles and scars, their disposition. Many of the youngest were taken from streets of Dublin or London, homeless or out after curfew. It seemed to me that to a large extent the English government of the time used the Australian colony as a dumping ground for its unproductive, nuisance people as well as hardened criminals.
This got me wondering how in 200 years these kinds of people change an isolated, uncultivated, land into what we have in Australia today. So I was drawn into the historical course of events in my ancestor’s lives; their families, where they lived in Australia, what was going on around them at the time, politically, socially, industrially? How were they being formed or reformed as a people?
Their daily lives were very hard, even after they’d served their sentences and were considered free citizens. I thought about women who bore 13-16 children and lost 6-7 of them to disease or accident; women whose husbands were often away on stock drives or out minding sheep for days, or on a property labouring, or had taken off to the gold fields. Without community services, electricity, means of communication, or even running water, they had to build farms and communities, often living in tents to start with; battling floods, fires and drought. Most couldn’t read or write. Women had no voice in society, no vote, no right to own property or a bank account.
These images inspired me to write about the lives of my ancestors. I believe we have much to learn from them, much to be grateful for. The themes in their stories of loss, betrayal, fear, the struggle to forgive, to overcome tragedy, the fight for positive changes and human rights, are common to human beings in every generation everywhere. I drew on my experiences as a psychologist to try and understand their emotions and relationships, their responses to the challenges they faced.
I wanted to write about these stories of resilience, determination, courage, love and faith, because they remind us that when people are determined and when they draw deeply on inner strengths, and work together, they can achieve amazing things. Their stories also show the flaws in human nature and help us understand that there are also negative consequences for behaviour that often continue down through generations. We need to remember our past, not only to be inspired by it, but also so that we might be less likely to make the same mistakes as have been made in the past. These are the messages I hope my stories convey.
In tragic circumstances Beth and her brothers are left in England to grow up without their parents. When Beth’s childhood dream to be reunited with her father in Australia finally eventuates she finds that dreams do not always come true. All that seems to follow is further abandonment. Will she ever find true love? And will she discover she doesn’t have to be alone before it is too late? Set in the early colonial days of New South Wales and based on real characters in the mid 1800s. Revisit Charlotte and Thomas from Charlotte’s Angel and Mary’s Guardian, and meet new characters in this new novel by Carol Preston.