Award-winning author and playwright Margaret Hickey was born in London to Australian parents and grew up in small country towns across Australia. Currently, she works as a lecturer, teacher, public presenter, and is a regular guest on ABC regional radio. Her newest title “Stone Town” is our July Book of the Month.
ABOUT STONE TOWN: Aidan Sleeth has been gruesomely murdered – but it’s not him everyone is talking about. It’s Detective Natalie Whitsted. After investigating the wife of infamous crime boss “The Hook,” she has gone missing. Did she uncover something that cost her life? And why are two Homicide detectives, sent to run the Sleeth case, so obsessed with Natalie’s fate?
Exclusively for QBD blog readers, Margaret discusses the mums, the grandmothers, and her new book:
When I was growing up, Other Peoples Dads were huge, mysterious figures. I read and barely understood Frankenstein, but the monster, wandering the wilderness, hulking at the edge of families and terrifying children seemed to satisfy something of how I understood them: Other Peoples Dads.
Fortunately, I rarely encountered The Dads. They were always out: Mustering, milking, harvesting, drenching, stripping, shearing, lambing, clearing, fencing, fixing.
It was The Mums I was familiar with, the women I knew and loved from the small country towns I lived in. My earliest memories are of broad shouldered, big breasted women –telling us off, giving us food, laughing at us, dolling out jobs, supervising, clapping loudly to get attention. If The Dads were the creature in Frankenstein, The Mums were Úrsula Iguarán Buendía, matriarch from One Hundred Years of Solitude. Smart and practical, these women ruled small country towns. They still do.
During Brownies and Girl Guides, The Mums would knit clothes for babies, and in between the organising the world, they’d offer advice:
“Always keep a bank account of your own girls,”
“Insist on one paddock in your name. Your name only, not the brothers.”
“If a boy doesn’t invite you somewhere, don’t ask to go.”
During the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, the town of Deans Marsh was surrounded by flames. After a failed evacuation, I huddled with women and kids in the small foyer of the local hall. A couple of men, but the faces were mostly female, and I had no doubt, no doubt at all, as the orange fireballs flew past the window, as the wind roared and the sky grew black, that these women would keep us safe, that these women with names like Rosalie and Beryl and Sue, would run out into the flames if need be, would do everything in their considerable power to make it so that us kids were safe.
My book, Stone Town, is a rural crime, this time about grief and loss and the city/ rural divide. It’s also a tribute to country women; intelligent, big hearted and strong females who keep rural communities together – who run the raffles, fund-raise for refugees, sing in the choir, organise the visiting authors, volunteer the reading, and cook for baking sales to raise money for families who’ve had a bad run. They are teachers and nurses and writers and ex ballerinas, and their skills, like Úrsula Iguarán Buendía, are varied and wonderous.
My grandmother told me a story about the time the women in her small farming locale put on a play. An hour before opening night, the lady playing Juliet had to leave when her daughter went into labour. The town hall was buzzing – a full house!
The cast came to a swift decision. There was only one other who knew all the lines and so the show went on. A triumph.
‘Yes,’ my grandmother said, ‘you might think that one actor couldn’t play both Romeo and Juliet, but by all accounts, the woman who played them was magnificent.’
Of course, she was! Of course.