As a writer of historical fiction, there is nothing more helpful than being able to experience the places I’m writing about. Travelling to the cities and countryside where my characters would have lived or journeyed, helps me picture the sights, scents and sounds of my story. Being able to walk through buildings from the time is especially useful in plotting action. If I can see a floor plan in my mind, the action becomes more real. Of course, this isn’t always possible. But even getting close helps me enter the story world.
One of the setttings for my novel The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay is the homestead of a sheep property in the Western District of Victoria, Australia. Luckily for me, I have spent time at properties like this over the years, so it was easy to imagine my characters living in one of these Victorian-era bluestone homesteads. The dark granite was spat from volcanoes thousands of years ago. The Indigenous people used it to build their homes, eel and fishtraps, while the European settlers who came after used it to build shearers cottages, drystone walls, homesteads, woolsheds, and pubs, of course!
The woolshed at Skene
The veranda at Tarndwarncoort
The rear of Tarndwarncoort showing the earlier cottage
Another grand woolshed at South Mokanger
Decades ago (let’s not reveal exactly how many) I lived in a timber cottage on a 5000-acre sheep and wheat farm known as Skene. Skene is graced by a large bluestone homestead with a later 1920s facade, and to my young teacher’s eyes, it had what seemed like a hundred rooms. It also had a particularly magnificent woolshed.
Several years ago, I spent a wonderful Easter holiday staying at Tarndwarncoort, another Western District homestead built largely of bluestone. The original modest house of rubble walls has been incorporated into a later, grander Victorian Italianate style building.
And more recently my partner and I, accompanied by our ancient dog, stayed in a shearer’s cottage at South Mokanger, with a fine view of its woolshed sprawling grandly under the spreading branches of ancient redgums.
All these places have made a contribution to my vision of Wuurnong, the homestead in The Secrets of Bridgewater Bay. The towering bunya pines, the verandas, the old settlers chairs, the dams, the view over volcanic plains — all helped me envisage how the action would transpire and how my characters might inhabit this setting.