Good Reading : June 2015
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING JUNE 2015 32 shot for rifle practice. I wish I had met Mary Shaw. There were famous guests as well. The German armaments heiress Bertha Krupp is said to have donated a grand piano to the Hydro before the Great War, in which her guns would slaughter Australian soldiers in Flanders. Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stayed while on a lecture tour about spiritualism, the comforting ‘science’ of contacting loved ones beyond the grave. Angry sceptics in Australia heckled his talks, and Presbyterians prayed for his ship to sink. Dame Nellie Melba, the most famous singer in the world at the time, perfor med one of her last concerts at the hotel in 1928 – or so the story goes. All these characters make guest appearances in my novel, helping to unfold the story. I began to feel as if I was channelling history in some weird way when my fictional imaginings were sometimes echoed by histor ical facts. I had already written a scene where Adam Fox commissions an artist to paint a mural of plump frolicking mer maids to brighten the clinical atmosphere of the spa. To my amazement, I read a 1913 newspaper story about Mark Foy’s display of two ‘real’ dead mermaids he had supposedly brought back from Libya. The small German connections in the Hydro story – the spa water, the doctor, the grand piano – triggered another unexpected connection, this time with my own past. While researching TV documentaries back in the 1990s, I had stumbled on the little-known story of the internment of Germans in Australia dur ing World War I. It was a story that shocked me deeply at the time and one I had always wanted to tell. It sowed the seed of a critical part of my narrative and introduced a major theme of what it means to be Australian. Dur ing World War I, the government arrested and interned nearly 7000 German ‘enemy aliens’ in camps all over Australia. Dame Nellie Melba ... performed one of her last concerts at the hotel in 1928 BEHIND THE BOOK The recently restored dining room of the Hydro.