River Murray upbringing inspires decades of storytelling

Darry Fraser carries love of regional Australia into stories

Life & Style
Aa

A CHILDHOOD living along the River Murray is among the inspirations for Kangaroo Island-based historical author Darry Fraser.

Aa
SA STORIES: Kangaroo Island-based author Darry Fraser uses her knowledge of regional SA and Vic, and her passion for Australian history, to "time travel".

SA STORIES: Kangaroo Island-based author Darry Fraser uses her knowledge of regional SA and Vic, and her passion for Australian history, to "time travel".

A CHILDHOOD living along the River Murray is among the inspirations for Kangaroo Island-based historical author Darry Fraser.

Darry regularly draws on regional SA and Vic for ideas as she attempts a sort of "time travel" in her works.

She said she was "always a storyteller".

"It was verbal when young and morphed into written words because I love books," she said.

After spending her early years in the Dandenongs, near Melbourne, her family moved to Swan Hill, Vic.

"I fell in love with the wide open spaces, big blue skies and the river (Murray) running past the town," she said.

"I never forgot that connection to the country."

She was living there at the beginning of the Pioneer Settlement - an open-air, living history museum.

"Suddenly I could walk from the 20th century at the time to the 19th century and that was a world I could relate to," she said.

"At the time it was very magical to do my own version of time travel."

Years later, while living thousands of kilometres away in Alice Springs, NT, Darry would draw on her time on the river and her love of history to write her first book.

"I wrote a marvellous story about a woman on the river who wanted to start a paddlesteamer fleet," she said.

But timing was against her, as another historical novel set on the Murray had just been made into a television series - All the Rivers Run.

"So (my book) went back into the drawer for 30 years," she said.

In the interim, she "tried my hand at contemporary stuff", before deciding to try again with her book.

In the early 2000s, she was told Australian historical fiction did not have an audience, "so back into the drawer" it went.

"Then the time was right for another Australian historical book on the river," she said.

The novel, set in Renmark, was finally published in 2018 as Daughter of the Murray.

"It had a few lives but was pretty much the book I wrote in 1987," she said.

The river and paddlesteamer economy stayed with Darry, who has written more books set along the river.

"I love the river and I'll go back to the river again (in my writing)," she said.

Research is an important element to Darry's writing.

"I'm looking for something special that might lead me down a three-hour rabbit hole for three lines in the book but I know I've got it right," she said.

"History can be very dry and from the viewpoint of the victors and male, so I try and work out the viewpoint of a young unmarried or married woman, but the historical facts are true."

RELATED:Alice girl shares station upbringing in outback page turner

Cheryl shares romance of country SA

The past year has been a different kind of year for Darry, with less travel - for book tours and research - than usual.

But she has still managed to release not one, but two new books.

The first, The Bushranger, set in Robe, was released in June, while The Last Truehart, set in western Vic,went on sale yesterday, December 2.

Darry said with SA such a "vast state with plenty of room", she was spoiled for locations.

"I wanted to choose a town or a region at the turn of the century that was booming in its day and at one point Robe was the second-largest port outside Adelaide," she said.

She said Chinese miners would come in on ships in Robe and walk to the Victorian goldfields to avoid paying the Vic poll tax.

"Penola is such a fabulous wine area - how could I not want to research in that area?" she said.

For her latest book, border closures meant research was a little trickier, but Darry found she was able to get what she needed - including the original idea - from website Trove.

It came from the discovery a Confederate ship was docked in Melbourne for repairs in the 1860s, while the United States Civil War was going on.

"There were 42 colonial men stowed away on the ship when it left dock and ended up enlisted in the confederate army - that fascinated me," she said.

She then used that to link in with a story set in western Vic.

"It's been a whirlwind of a year with the second book," she said.

She also has her next book well into production.

While Darry has written books based on the fictional Australis Island, which has similarities to KI, she is yet to set one of her historical novels there.

In part, she says it's because many of the potential stories still have descendants on the island, but she is also looking for that right idea.

In the meantime, she will continue to write.

"I enjoy what I do - the more I do it, the better I get at it," she said.

Start the day with all the big news in agriculture. Sign up here to receive our daily Stock Journal newsletter.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by