Traveller asked five Australian novelists to write about the one spot in Australia that has most informed their writings.
A SENSE OF WONDER
For novelist Richard Flanagan, Tasmania's Franklin River provided the most important lesson of his life.
I am 52 now, and I was 17 when I first kayaked the Franklin River. At that time perhaps less than a hundred people had ever been down the river.
It was so little known that a local newspaper ran a double-page spread on our trip when we returned.
We had never seen anything like the Franklin. Fifty or 60 trips later - I lost count long ago - I still haven't seen anything like it anywhere. The very toughness of the trip - and when the weather turns, it can still be very tough and dangerous - means the Franklin remains a pristine and wild world.
When I was young I played on the Franklin with mates. It was in our backyard, it cost us nothing more than the food and cheap drink we took, and we knew without knowing anything, that to be young and free in such a world was something we would never know again.
The serenity of sleeping on its rainforest beaches was not lost on us, nor were the grandeur of its gorges, the savage joy of getting to the bottom of one of its flooding rapids, the bewildering beauty of a sprig of myrtle growing out of a moss clump in limestone stained glistening bronze, its innumerable and frequently transcendent wonders.
As young men tend to be, we were wild and arrogant with our youth and strength. But we were all strangely moved by that river, and we all came to love it very powerfully.
The river came not just to inform my life, but shape it. My first book, written when I was 21, was a history of the Franklin. I nearly drowned on the river, trapped in a rapid. I was saved after several hours by a mate in an extraordinary act. I learnt what I had never learnt from the modern novel: that even in our darkest hour, we are not alone. After that most things became unimportant, even trivial. Except other people and writing, which is, I guess, at best a form of homage to the mystery of us. My first novel relives that experience, though I never said so publicly at the time.
Later, I worked on the river as a guide, and I've done the river in all sorts of ways. Strangely, the river is always a new place to me, and familiar as its reaches are to me, there are always sights and sensations that I had not known before. There are places in the world - and the Franklin is one - where the only appropriate emotion is a grateful astonishment. I remember the inexhaustible wonder of my twin daughters on their first trip when we camped beneath the vast limestone overhang at Newlands Cascades and, as the river ran a mighty flood, they watched for three days the extraordinary tableaux just beyond as that rapid grew huge, its noise that of a continual bombardment as it kicked up great gouts of spray and spume, as wild storms lashed through the gorge and sky above, as the rainforest writhed and ran.
From the first though I have always found the Franklin a strangely disorienting world - those rank rainforest odours of decay and growth, the sensation of mist forming water beads on your face, the sense of a rising river throbbing beneath your raft, the tenderness of its lower tranquil reaches with its weeping Huon pines and weary sagging cliff faces and circling sea eagles, its moss-hued grottos and caves - a world that made me painfully aware of my own insignificance, and so physically overwhelming that, at times, I no longer felt sure if I had any personality.
I came to realise that most contemporary culture, including its literature, is made by people for whom the measure of the world is what is man-made. But the Franklin taught me this: that the measure of this world are all the things not made by man. And it was this sense that has come to inform me and all I have written since.
To be on the Franklin is to realise you and your works don't amount to much, if anything. You shoot a rapid, your raft flips, people and gear go everywhere, and, if you're the river guide, you have to get back on that upturned boat, and start hauling in the rafters and the lost gear as quickly as you can. And perhaps that's what I have been seeking to do ever since I first kayaked the Franklin so long ago. For what defence have we against the terror and beauty of nothingness, other than to make an ark of our soul and our work, and haul out of the rapids and into it all the things and all the people we have known and loved, all that is forever on the verge of vanishing, and with them, laughing, joyful, amazed at who and what and where we are, continue journeying into the magnificent unknown, that vast perhaps?
Richard Flanagan is the internationally acclaimed author of six novels. His first novel, Death of a River Guide, was published in 1994. His latest novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, will be published in September.
Franklin River, Tasmania. The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park is in the midnorthern region of the Wilderness World Heritage Region.
From Hobart, it's a 2½- hour journey via the Lyell Highway and a similar distance from
Launceston travelling south on the Lake Highway via Longford and Poatina. Rafters
usually begin at the Collingwood River, 49 kilometres west of Derwent Bridge, and finish at the Gordon River.
Bush camping: inexperienced rafters are advised to join a commercial trip. See
SEE AND DO
Trips are eight to 14 days. Expect to pay about $2500 for eight days.
TOWN AND COUNTRY
Life and family has taken Monica McInerney to the other side of the planet, but in her heart she has never left the Clare Valley.
I'm writing this in my attic-office in Dublin, the rain pelting against the skylight. It's midsummer in Ireland. More than 16,000 kilometres away, my mum, sisters, brothers, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews are gathering for an impromptu winter family reunion in my home town of Clare, South Australia. Their days will be crisp and blue, the nights frosty. They're planning a barbecue, a game of backyard cricket or even netball at the local courts. I wish I was there. I often do.
My dad was the railway stationmaster in Clare. Our house looked across at gumtree-covered hills, yet was five minutes from the main street. We seven McInerneys were town kids and country kids. The Valley's wine industry was part of our life, too - vintage brought the rumble of tractors carrying grapes to the wineries, the smell of fermenting fruit. My first paid job was as a grape-picker, earning 10¢ a bucket, big money to a 10-year-old.
Occasionally our family made the trip to Adelaide, two hours' drive away. The journeys weren't fun - nine people in a car for five - but coming home made it worthwhile. I'd watch as suburbia dissolved into farmland, the road passing through flat wheatfields, through the towns that made me think of beads on a necklace: Auburn, Leasingham, Watervale, Penwortham, Sevenhill, waiting until we could shout "Clare!"
I knew every curve of the road. I'd gaze out the car window, waiting for my first sighting of vineyards, proof we were now in the Valley. The vines changed with the seasons: bare branches; green buds; plump grapes; then, briefly, beautiful autumnal reds. We'd pass abandoned stone cottages in wide paddocks, dark, lonely shadows until a setting sun transformed the stone into golden warmth.
I set my first novel, A Taste for It, in a fictional winery-cafe in Clare, using an old stone cottage owned by friends as a location. Several years later, fiction became fact. Greg Cooley Wines - run by a family friend and based in an old stone cottage - is just metres from my winery, offering real local food and wine.
My characters walk the Riesling Trail, a 35-kilometre walking and cycling path that follows the old railway line, past vineyards, art galleries, cafes and pubs. They visit the Jesuit-run Sevenhill Cellars, where my brother once worked, and the Sevenhill church, St Aloysius', where I was married. One chapter in The Alphabet Sisters takes place in the Sevenhill cemetery, high on a hill overlooking curving vines, tall gumtrees. It's not just the final resting place of a fictional character. My father is buried there, too.
To conjure up Clare from my desk in Dublin, I call on my senses. I remember the scent of wood smoke in winter, drifting from cottages dotted throughout the hills. The bird sounds - magpies, kookaburras, shrieking galahs. The taste of a sharp, cool riesling or a warm burst of shiraz; a barbecue of local saltbush lamb; a pub meal or a freshly baked pastie-with-sauce ... Or I do what I'll do tomorrow, when my family is gathered there. I'll ring and ask them to tell me exactly what they're doing and how the Valley's looking. And wish I was there, too.
Monica McInerney is the author of 10best-selling novels and numerous short stories published internationally.
Clare Valley, South Australia, is 133 kilometres north of Adelaide and 91 kilometres north of Gawler.
The Main North Road is quickest route from Adelaide, taking 2¼ hours.
From B&Bs, motels and cottages to much grander establishments such as Thorn Park by The Vines and historic Martindale Hall.
SEE AND DO
The Clare Valley has more than 40 wineries, many with cellars doors, and is famed for riesling and shiraz. The 35-kilometre Riesling Trail and the 19-kilometre Rattler Trail are suitable for both cyclists and walkers, and link many of the towns in the valley. There is a number of bike hire companies around the region.
THE TIDE'S PULL
For Jacqueline Wright, James Price Point on the Kimberley coastline is precious beyond words.
James Price Point, or Walmadany, was once a well-guarded secret among Broome locals. Leaving the tourists behind to fill Cable Beach, we'd cobble together some camping gear and drive 54 kilometres north to wet a line or sling a hammock up in the monsoonal vine thickets. We'd pick our way over the rocky ledges of Broome sandstone and paddle in the giant dinosaur footsteps.
We'd walk the working week out along a beach where a tide of red Western Desert sandhills spill out into an ocean of brilliant clarity, where you were guaranteed to see a turtle, snubfin dolphin, white-bellied sea eagle or even humpback whales cavorting off the beach.
Walmadany is in the middle of a songline running from Gantheaume Point, Broome (Minyirr) and Yellow River (Bindiangoon). The Goolarabooloo community has been sharing this country with people from all over Australia for 24 years now through the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail. It takes two weeks to walk this "living country", as Goolarabooloo man Richard Hunter calls it.
But too often life gets in the way of living and we would find that all we could spare was a night, a day, or even an afternoon. Just enough time to catch a rising tide, take a rock-free dip and snuggle up to some shade. My favourite bit is watching the tide go out.
They say more Broome babies are born on falling spring tides as even the most reluctant can't resist the pull of a 10-metre tide. For me, it quietens the worry-worry voice, drags the angst kicking and screaming into the open sea, where it bobs around all small and insignificant.
Yet this is a place Western Australia's Premier, Colin Barnett, declared "unremarkable". Walmadany, he said was "an unremarkable piece of coastline", the state, the nation, better served by "development" of a liquefied natural gas process precinct. Which is why now we coax and cajole the tourists to leave the compound of their tropical paradise at Broome and come and visit James Price Point ... while they can.
I am in Italy as I write this, and there is nothing like the lens of travel to sharpen the focus of what you've left behind. "Spiaggia libera," my son speaks laboriously into iTranslate and, for once, it is not very helpful.
"What's a free beach?" he asks, and our Italian friend Piero explains it is a beach everyone can visit. My son is no more enlightened. Born and bred in a place where the sea is bluer than postcard blue, where cyclones threaten the coast every year and the moon throws its staircase light against an outgoing tide, free beaches are a given. Except when "progress" closes them down.
Mr Barnett had one word for James Price Point.
I have two words: one is precious, and the other is haven.
Jacqueline Wright's novel, Red Dirt Talking, set in the Kimberley, was long-listed for the 2013 Miles Franklin award.
James Price Point, Kimberley Coast, is 54 kilometres north of Broome. It's the fourth of Broome's five northern beaches — Willie Creek, Barred Creek, Quandong, James Price Point and Manari.
Straight up the Broome Road. Stop at Willie Creek Pearl Farm, 32 kilometres south of James Price Point, to learn how the valued Broome pearls are farmed.
Bush camping. No facilities. Three-day maximum. No permits needed. For those who like their creature comforts, Broome's newest accommodation, The Billi at Cable Beach, has four luxury eco-tents. See thebilli.com.au.
SEE AND DO
Fishing, swimming, driving off-road.
ON SQUEAKY SAND
Alison Lester, Australia's first Children's Laureate, will never outgrow Wilsons Promontory.
I love the Prom.
How many times have you heard somebody say that?
I grew up on a Gippsland farm that looked across Corner Inlet to Wilsons Promontory and when I was little I thought it was mine. Our family ran cattle on the Prom until the late 1950s and we picnicked and explored there nearly every weekend.
The view across the water was the backdrop to our lives. Crimson dawns, misty winter mornings when the inlet looked like a fiord, shimmering summer days and indigo nights with the Southern Cross hanging above the silver sea.
The Prom, its ruggedness, people, myths and stories, fired my imagination. I've drawn the mountains, bush, sea, islands and beaches of Wilsons Promontory over and over in picture books and The Quicksand Pony is set there.
It's always in the back of my mind.
Over the years there have been many trips, but my favourite expedition is walking to the lighthouse to stay in the cottages there. It's about 20 kilometres, along beaches, past enormous granite boulders, stained and patched with lichen, through forests, swamps and heathland and over creeks until, finally, you glimpse the lighthouse and its cottages, perched far below on a granite bluff.
As you zigzag down the hill (I stepped over a snake last time) you see more and more of Bass Strait, with little islands stretching all the way down to Tasmania.
Sometimes we see whales swimming past and one lightkeeper told me that they hear them at the foot of the cliffs now and again, blowing and moaning as they rub their barnacles against the granite.
Often it's wild and windy but last March it was hot and still, and on both nights we had dinner outside, watching the sun fade and the colours change on the sea, savouring our wine well into the balmy night as the lighthouse's beam flashed around the mountainside behind us.
It's hard to find somewhere to swim at the lighthouse. There are worn steps cut into the smooth granite down at the old wharf, but the swell is strong and it's easy to imagine something big waiting to snap you up.
Last time we climbed under the wharf and wallowed behind the rocks in the yellow kelp, sloshing around like socks in a washing machine. A seal came swimming by and checked us out through his dripping whiskers.
The best way home is via Waterloo Bay. This soft footpath climbs through granite outcrops, coastal woodland and gullies of dappled light and giant tree ferns where one bridge across a golden stream is a huge boulder, manoeuvred into place by a crowbar. The past decade has seen two large bushfires and a deluge of biblical proportions alter the landscape irreversibly. Yet when I walked to Sealers Cove last week on the new track that crosses landslides and ravines, it was a beautiful day.
I love the Prom with its whispering bush, squeaky sand, silver sea and big sky.
Author and illustrator Alison Lester has published 25 children's books and two young adult novels.
Wilsons Promontory National Park, Gippsland, is on the southernmost tip of the mainland.
The route along the Princess and South Gippsland highways takes 2½ hours. A bus operates from Foster to Tidal River connecting with the VLine bus in Foster (three services daily). See foster.vic.au.
Visitors can camp, caravan, stay in huts, lodges, eco-cabins and safari-style tents. Book roofed accommodation. Parks Victoria conducts a ballot in June for accommodation for five weeks from Christmas to late January.
SEE AND DO
Beaches (Squeaky Beach has quartz sand); hikes from an hour to three days; Education Centre school holiday programs.
TOURISTS KEEP OUT
The Australian coast is a constant inspiration for Robert Drewe.
A tiny settlement in Western Australia's D'Entrecasteaux National Park, east of Augusta on the shores of the Southern Ocean, is my favourite spot. For many personal reasons Windy Harbour is my perfect place to go to write.
Around the corner from the Indian Ocean, it's the sort of wild, remote coastline that could harbour fictional smugglers. It ticks all my nostalgic boxes with its 1950s-style holiday shacks, pounding surf, pristine sandy beaches, rugged limestone cliffs and caves, excellent fishing - and few people.
This is probably the first time Windy Harbour has featured in a travel supplement. It's 30 kilometres from the nearest pub, bowling club, cafe, supermarket, souvenir shop and post office - at Northcliffe. This is not your standard tourist haunt.
Therein lies its appeal. It's not the sort of place for fast-food lovers and pub-and-club-land holidaymakers. It's 180 degrees removed from, say, Surfers Paradise. It's so quiet you can hear the wildlife breathing. There's one general store, open only in summer, and a small camping ground. The shacks, most held on 99-year leases, are sewered but not electrified, and have wood stoves and generators. Your mobile phone and laptop probably won't work.
But there is abundant native fauna and, to gorge on it, allegedly, the obligatory panther or puma that Australian rural newspapers so adore. Those mysterious big cats frequently spotted padding along country roads at night but, sadly, never managing to stay in focus for a photograph, make their presence felt as you pass through Pemberton on your way south to Windy Harbour.
On my last visit, the Pemberton Community News announced it was "on the lookout for the Pemberton Puma" and featured a story of the Harding family - Darren, Jessica and Leona - who claim they saw one.
Darren Harding described it. "On the South West Highway we saw a large black feline, at least a metre tall, with reflective eyes. It had the swagger of a cat. We hit the brakes and stopped to see if we could get a closer look, but it disappeared into the night."
Sixty kilometres on, I see a warning sign on the settlement's information board: "If you have any unusual stock losses, or sightings of a cougar or black panther, contact Sharon. I have a huge database of sightings of these mysterious big cats."
They have long memories in Windy Harbour. The locals still talk about the wreck here of the S.S. Michael J. Goulandris in December 1944. The most exciting and lucrative event in the their lives last century, it strewed 2000 tonnes of general cargo - a month's wartime supplies for Perth - along Windy Harbour's beaches.
They have generous hearts as well. I've been given fresh abalone just off the boat, and help with a dodgy generator. But mostly the residents keep to themselves. In the darkness I hear quiet torchlit conversations on the beach. And rustlings in the shrubbery.
They're my storybook smugglers, I imagine, and semi-mythical panthers.
Robert Drewe is a multi-award-winning novelist and playwright. His latest book, The Local Wildlife, is a collection of observations and reflections of life in the Northern Rivers district of NSW.
Windy Harbour, the only settlement in the D'Entrecasteaux National Park in the southwest of Western Australia, is 371 kilometres from Perth.
It takes about 4 hours to get to Windy Harbour by road from Perth. Both Busselton and Albany (187 and 242 kilometres from Windy Harbour) have airports.
A handful of the 200 beach shacks at Windy Harbour are available for rent. Contact the Northcliffe Visitor Centre for details and booking. Expect to pay from $120 a night for four people. The Windy Harbour Nature Based Camping Ground has 33 unpowered sites and six powered (wind or solar). Rates are about $12 a person nightly; $500 a week. Phone (08) 9776 8398.
SEE AND DO
Fishing, birdwatching, four-wheel-driving, mushrooming, hiking, mountain biking. D'Entrecasteaux National Park has 181 beaches and is known for its wildflowers, particularly the orchids in season between September and November.
- Compiled by Kay O’Sullivan