The Old Truck set in the Northern Territory
As almost everyone knows, The Old Truck by Kate Disposee — as well as two other titles she wrote — is set in the Northern Territory. The town of Amata is an old convict settlement called Auchenflower, once a heartland of iron ore mining.
Kate’s first story to be published in The Northern Territory — aptly called It’s an Ordinary Man from Amata — had more of a military theme. The story’s protagonist, Norma Morris, was part of the convicts brought to Australia in the early part of the 20th century. Ordinary, but determined to survive in an unforgiving environment and a backwater settlement.
A strong focus on the personal journey of a convict
It’s About time that Katherine author Kate Disposee wrote a compelling story set in Katherine and the Amata area. Whilst much of the tales of Katherine inspired me when I started writing, I have always been fascinated by the mistreatment of convicts; especially given that I was born and raised in Kyogle, which is over 600km from the Northern Territory.
In a recent article in the Katherine Times, Catherine King (Katherine’s mayor) said Katherine should really be known as the town from which Molly Meldrum left the convict camp.
Whether she’s writing about the convicts or the explorers who captured Katherine and mined its rich rock formation for gold, Kate’s stories always have a strong focus on the personal journey of a convict. By far, the only other series set in the Northern Territory that strikes this same tone is the Australian Snowman series by Iain M. Banks, though his traditional setting of the remote Outback is loosely based on a trip I took with my father and a friend to the Kimberley years ago, and Kate’s books all mention convicts.
In Kate’s descriptions of Norma Morris’ journey to the tropics in pursuit of her husband, he is the catalyst that drives her. In it, Norma addresses herself to anything but her husband. We know that Norma is going to save him – as she did with Greg. And yet, she comes to find out that her life is on the brink of the unthinkable: she can only save her own life.
But doesn’t she deserve to be with him?
The ripples of the story
The stories about Norma, or the Amata characters themselves, have ripples right across Katherine and beyond.
I mentioned the novel I had written about Cadaan, and how I wanted to write about the reaction of a local woman when she realised that a Yolngu man had been saved by locals. She didn’t know a lot about the Yolngu but had been schooled in Katherine. There’s an upcoming story workshop in Katherine, where Kate will be giving a free talk about the significance of stories from Amata. Her storytelling is immersive, and more than just a story.
I’ve also worked with Katherine people for a number of years as a game designer and instructor of Aboriginal Games. That’s when I first came to know the stories around the mine town. Kate set out to create this wonderful novel from these stories: stories that have never been told. That’s a passion that continues.
In The Old Truck, Kate has used much of the history of the Northern Territory as a backdrop for her stories. This is just as it should be: with the likes of Arthur Boyd and Ruth Harper, NT stories have inspired literature and illustrated the quintessential image of the outback: a vast plain of dun-coloured sand.
I did well to create the most complex, layered characters of any of Kate’s three novels. The book, along with its setting and background, is a must-read, if you want to know more about the region where Kate’s novels take place.
Kate’s been the storyteller of Katherine since 1992, with The Way to Alaska, A Squeeze on Kazoo, and The Old Truck. I’ve loved all of her stories. If you want to learn more about Northern Territory country, Kate’s and those of Ruth Harper and Arthur Boyd, go to www.katherine-ku.com.au.
It’s an Ordinary Man from Amata, out now and published by Arrow).