In a life with more twists, turns and unexpected contortions than a politician’s mind, one constant is the synchronicity that so frequently connects with my writing and reading passions.
Over lunch recently, a friend lent me several back issues of Underlines*, one of which had an interview with Tim Winton and a short extract from his latest book The Shepherd’s Hut**. As it happened I had purchased that very book an hour before. Having just finished this great read, I feel compelled to write of another rather more spectacular ‘coincidence’ from thirty years ago that also featured Tim Winton.
Leading up to this was the death of my second husband in 1989 — only six months after we’d relocated to Shepparton for his new job. It was sudden and traumatic. I was totally unprepared and it was only thanks to massive and unselfish support from my seventeen-year-old daughter, Tammy, that the ridgebacks and I made it safely back to Perth. Over the next few months, I found work wherever I could – I needed the money, the discipline, and an escape from my own thoughts. One of several jobs was as part-time literary officer for the Fellowship of Writers WA – which also kindly allowed me to live rent-free for a number of months at Tom Collins House.***
At that time, I think it’s fair to say that the only two contemporary Western Australian authors making headlines outside our own state were Elizabeth Jolley and Tim Winton. One of my duties at FAW was to find a speaker for our monthly meetings and, over time, I had tried – unsuccessfully – to persuade both these authors, but in particular the extremely private Tim Winton to give us a talk.
About a year later I decided to take a few days respite at Ningaloo Reef. In retrospect it was overly ambitious (foolhardy) in view of my still limited funds and the time available, but I’d recently purchased a small second-hand car and the idea of driving – just driving with the windows wound right down – appealed. The only sensible move I made was springing for RAC long-distance car insurance before I left.
Everything went as planned until a few kilometres short of Shark Bay when a pipe burst, the radiator steamed, the engine spluttered and the car stopped. I was given a lift into town, found the local garage and given the bad news: new engine needed. And for that it had to be returned to Perth. Holiday over.
This was the second day of my trip: I had purchased the insurance around 24 hours before. By some miracle I had passed the RAC’s ‘three-day exclusion’ clause and – to my continuing amazement and gratitude – without quibble they offered free transport back to Perth. The only decision I had to make was whether I wanted to accompany my car by road or be returned by air. I chose to fly.
Back then, Shark Bay ‘airport’ was a landing strip, a windsock and nothing else. Until a short while later when I spied two guys walking towards me across the strikingly bare red-gold dirt. One was younger than the other and had a ponytail. Closer still and I recognised him from his photos. For a passionate, but as yet unpublished writer, this was yet another stroke of serendipity that more than made up for the failed trip: I was about to meet Tim Winton and his father face to face.
Tim had just returned from a month’s promotion of Cloudstreet in the United States. He was exhausted he said with a fed-up look, and ‘anxious to get back to the real business of writing’. This trip was a short mission taken in aid of his conservationist passions.
I’d flown in small aircraft before and I’m not usually a nervous traveller, but we were the only passengers, the plane’s antics and sudden drops were alarming and it’s only now that I wonder whether Tim and his father were as frightened as me. If they were they certainly didn’t show it. Instead they twisted around in their seats and included me in their conversation for the entire two or three hours of the flight. I can remember nothing of what we discussed. Only that they were kind and very charming. And that Tim’s father had me laughing for the first time in ages. Safely landed back in Perth, they offered to give me a lift back to my home which, still overawed, I remember (and to this day regret) declining.
And I still haven’t made it to Ningaloo.
*This journal is a produced by Penguin Random House filled with excellent articles, author interviews, short stories, book reviews, in short everything that readers and writers find absorbing, interesting, enlightening.
**Along with The Shepherd’s Hut, two other terrific reads over the last couple of months have been Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight and Leigh Sales’ Any Ordinary Day.
***(Tom Collins was author Joseph Furphy, of course, best known for Such Is Life, but who first started work at his brother’s iron foundry in Shepparton, the place from which, in another stroke of synchronicity, I’d just fled).