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KIANDRA HISTORICAL SOCIETY


SPEAKING NOTES FOR LAUNCH OF KIANDRA GOLD
18 NOVEMBER 2003


For those who are wondering why I'm wearing my bush hat, you should know that Professor Manning Clark wore his bush hat whenever he gave lectures. There's much of Manning's approach to history that I disagree with, but the hat looked good. He wore it when he was at Oxford, I'm told, as an Australian statement. I wouldn't disagree with that.

"Kiandra Gold" is about history. But it's not academic history.

I studied academic history under Manning Clark thirty years ago - And if it hadn't been for Manning I may never have written this book. But don't jump to conclusions.

Why did I write "Kiandra Gold?" Whenever I'm asked that question I immediately think - Shit! What caused the First World War? Any of you who've studied history will know what I mean. There's got to be at least fourteen different causes suggested - ranging from the war being inevitable -due to the underlying economic, political and social forces - to it being an accident precipitated by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Causality in history is a fraught subject.

Before answering I'll tell you a couple of Manning Clark stories. My parents knew Manning when he was a junior lecturer in Melbourne. My grandmother told me she didn't approve of Manning. She said it was because he was drunk on railway platforms. She never did approve of people drinking - probably because her father had too much of a liking for the stuff.

I studied history as an honours student at the ANU for three years. In January 1971, just before I was due to start my honours year, I met Manning Clark one morning, on a path at the ANU. It was near the old Union Bar (I'll admit to spending a bit of time there). Manning was to be my honours year supervisor. The meeting got off to a bad start. Manning asked me if I'd read Dostoyevsky. I told him I hadn't. He then asked if I was working hard. It was holiday time and I certainly wasn't. I replied in the negative. He then pointed to his belt and suggested there was a way to fix that. I don't remember the exact words but his meaning was quite clear.

I was taken by surprise. I didn't know what to make of the comment. Thinking about it later I've never been able to fathom why he said it. I was 22 years old at the time. A few possible explanations don't seem to fit.

Anyway, after the meeting with Manning Clark I had a think about things. I decided I didn't want to go on with history so I took out my pass degree and joined the public service. When asked, I told people, with some naivety, that I wanted to be involved in making history, instead of studying what others had done.

For the next 30 years or so I left history alone and did a range of interesting things - mostly not at work.

Elsewhere I've explained how, a couple of years ago, I came to write my first book, "Where the Dead Men Lie." At the time I felt a strange urgency to tell Barcroft Boake's sad but moving story. Barcroft was my great great uncle.

Having written one book, a second is on the cards. But why this one? Well, Boake's poem, "Kitty McCrae" got me thinking of Kiandra. Then things moved on. I had it in my head the story would start with a dead body - for interest - so I went for a walk up Four Mile Creek - to see where one might be found. On my return to Canberra I started writing - and the rest is history.

So what will you find in "Kiandra Gold?" As the title says, there's love - a love triangle - a little bit of sex and nudity; there's a murder mystery; there's bushrangers - numbers of them, including the notorious Frankie Gardiner; and there's gold. I won't give away the plot - you'll have to read the book to find out who did it.

The only quote I'll read you is an opinion, given by Eureka Jack, a hard-bitten old digger, at the time of the 1860 elections.

Jack nodded. "They're all mongrels," he said. "All governments are mongrels." He spat into the fire again.

It's a view. Jack was a former Government man, as convicts were then called.

While the story includes fictional characters I've worked hard to make it as accurate as possible historically - accurate as to place, accurate as to recorded events, and accurate as to how people behaved. I researched the newspapers of the time, including all the extant copies of the Alpine Pioneer, which was printed on the gold field at Kiandra. The court reports in the Alpine Pioneer and the Cooper Inquiry papers were a mine of information. In the end I didn't need to make things up to keep the story interesting.

I've tried to write living history, so you can feel it. When you've finished reading the book I hope you'll say - "Wow! - So that's what it was like at Kiandra!"

I'd like to thank all the people who have helped me in this project - Stephen Matthews from Ginninderra Press, Helen Walker who did the beaut cover design, and Iain McCalman and Lindsay Smith, who unfortunately can't be here. I won't mention other names as there were many. They're acknowledged at the end of the book.

Probably, I should also thank Manning Clark, as otherwise I might have become an academic historian, and never written a book like this. But that would be a simplistic view of causality, wouldn't it? A bit like saying the First World War was caused by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

In the end I'm glad I'm not an academic historian. It's much more fun using your imagination. I have no regrets and I hold no grudges. For a number of reasons, leaving academic history was the right thing to do at that time.

I hope people enjoy reading "Kiandra Gold" as much as I've enjoyed writing it. And yes, I am working on another book. It's a sequel to "Kiandra Gold," - called "For the Love of Kitty McCrae." It will take the story forward into the bushranging era in the mid 1860's - when the Gardiner and Ben Hall gangs were the scourge of Southern NSW.

Thank you all for coming today.

Hugh Capel
18 November 2003

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