Bellevue: Background to Writing my New Novel
Publication date: 16 March 2023
Take a strong woman who’s accumulated some unhappy experiences that she doesn’t yet understand. Let her inherit from her beloved aunt an old house called Bellevue, near a glorious Blue Mountains wilderness. Encourage her to move from Sydney to the mountains, and introduce a few developers with their sights on her land. Set her story in the early-1970s, when conservation issues and Green Bans are beginning to capture the public’s attention.
Begin writing, and discover that there’s a boy called Joe hanging about on the other side of the railway tracks waiting to be noticed. Forget him at your peril, for he’s going to worm his way into the narrative come what may. Open Bellevue’s gates to various other townsfolk who are bursting to be included. Let them all in, the good, the bad and the ugly. Mix them up and see what happens. Develop a few plot twists and a couple of family mysteries and see how they work out. When it’s all over – and the loose ends have been tied up the manuscript finished – name Clare’s story Bellevue after the house she has inherited.
Why did I write this novel? The simple answer is that it’s been simmering in my head for some years, together with the themes of environmental and conservation protection, displacement from home, seeking a safe place and caring for future generations.
When I began writing Bellevue, I knew I had to set it in a place that was dear to my heart – and a place that has been dear to four generations of my family – the Blue Mountains of New South Wales.
Just short of the Great Dividing Range that separates the coastal fringe from the fertile western plains, the Blue Mountains are a magical place, more ancient eroded plateau than mountain range. A place with glorious flora and fauna, and ancient Aboriginal paintings in caves whose location has not yet been fully mapped. A place where the terrain is so rugged that, as recently as 1994, a previously unknown and ancient tree was found, only 150 kilometres from Sydney. This tree was from an evolutionary line thought to be long extinct - the Wollemi Pine. https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/science/our-work-discoveries/germplasm-conservation-horticulture/wollemi-pine-conservation-program
Why set the novel in the early 1970s? I wanted to pick a time when Sydney-siders were beginning to take on the developers who were threatening historic parts of their city. My principal character would therefore have had experience of the Green Bans https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/green_bans_movement that were emerging in the early 1970s (and that subsequently gave their name to the term ‘greenies’).
The Greater Blue Mountains became a UNESCO World Heritage Area in 2000. But that doesn’t mean that their preservation is guaranteed.
Like the current UK government, Australian state and federal governments are criminalising peaceful environmental protests and altering the definition of lawful dissent. NSW is a leader in this regard. The NSW state government has been accused of ‘disproportionately punishing climate protesters in violation of their basic rights to peaceful protest’ according to the highly-respected International Human Rights Watch (https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/06/22/australia-climate-protesters-rights-violated )
The outcome of these legislative changes remains to be seen. But at the moment it does not look good for protesters holding out for action against climate change.