Welcome to Helene Young, who is chatting with me today! Helene and I have been talking online for years! I’m not sure, but I think our books came out with a year or so of each other. Today I’m really thrilled she’s popped across to write about her new book, Safe Harbour. I LOVE Helene’s books. I’ve always been mystery/crime reader and Helene’s books have it all, so if you’re chasing a book for an Easter read, I can highly recommend Safe Harbour.
Many of my stories are set in small town communities with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies. It might seem a strange choice of setting for an author who grew up in inner city Brisbane, in the shadow of the Gabba Cricket Ground, but my family had a holiday cottage at Currumbin Beach and we spent most weekends and school holidays there. Those memories are still very strong.
Back then the Gold Coast was a scattering of hamlets that stretched from glitzy Surfers Paradise down to Coolangatta, with its caravan parks and fibro weekenders. Currumbin Beach was tucked off the two lane highway, nestled behind a hill and a little bit ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
The corner store on Teemangum St provided part time jobs for many of us when we were teenagers. The Currumbin Pub sprawled up the hillside in rickety pink layers overlooking the creek, the high-rise in Surfers a distant line of sticks. The snack bar on the beachfront, near the flagged swimming area, was the only place to buy a hamburger or a milkshake. It was also the most prized place to work and sadly I wasn’t one of the ‘too cool for school’ locals so I could only dream about that!
The Currumbin Bird Sanctuary was just around the corner from our house, a small wildlife park filled with lorikeets and kangaroos – a far cry from the busy place it is now. There was also an old cinema next door to us, complete with canvas sling-back chairs and a concrete floor.
But best of all? For kids there were no boundaries and we ran wild. Provided we showed up at mealtime we could hang out with our mates on the beach or in the bush, exploring, dreaming and having adventures. Adults, as a community, looked out for all of us. We knew our neighbours by their last names and called them Mr and Mrs. We knew if we stepped out of line we were just as likely to get a clip over the ear and then be marched home for an apology.
As the youngest of three I was frequently lead astray, but the mischief was benign and more being late for dinner than anything destructive. That childhood sowed the seeds for a lifelong fascination with small communities and their secrets, their undercurrents and the allegiances that make them unique.
As an adult I’ve spent the last seventeen years flying into regional Australia with Qantaslink. That’s given me a different perspective on the issues facing kids in places like Weipa, the islands of the Torres Strait, Longreach, Emerald, Bundaberg and Mt Isa.
Most of the teenagers have to leave to go to boarding school, hugging their pillows, their fluffy toys and their oversized bags as they fly out. Many of them play sport and it offers one of the few ways out of isolation and disadvantage, particular for those from the remote Aboriginal communities. For the boys it’s football – all the codes – yet only a few will make the grade and even fewer will be successful. Every time I see a story in the news about a football player who’s been dropped from his footie team for bad behavior I think of the kids I’ve carried on my aircraft with their wide eyes and optimistic smiles.
Safe Harbour started with those kids and grew into a story that explores the rhythm of a small coastal community and the destructive power of old secrets. A secondary character, Rosie, is an Aboriginal elder. She’s a combination of all the wonderful women I’ve met and worked with over the years, passionate about education, about retaining their culture, but determined to find a way forwards for their children.
I hope the story resonates with readers, especially those who’ve grown up in small towns. They may have moved away, but they know the pull of that community which draws them back again and again. Rural Australia is a very special place.