Kosta Pritchard is on a good behaviour bond. He and his
Kathy, are the stars of their drama group, but Kathy thinks Kosta is
possessive and things are tense. Both Kosta and Kathy have a tendency
to get into trouble at school and Kosta's mate, Hendo, reckons Kathy
should do an anger management course.
And Kosta keeps having somebody else’s dreams -- dreams of a burning
plane in a long forgotten war. Then Kosta gets a job reading to Jack,
an old blind man in a retirement home.
After a while Jack convinces Kosta that he should learn shorthand in
order to read aloud from his old diaries which record the years of the
Depression and the Second World War. Kosta reluctantly agrees to try a
bit of shorthand – and soon becomes engrossed and reasonably competent.
This (somewhat literary device) allows the reader to learn the story of
Jack’s early life in tandem with the contemporary story of Kosta and
his friends. There are the obvious contrasts in terms of modes of
entertainment, communication, economic prosperity (or lack of
prosperity) etc. But there are also comparable universal feelings and
concerns. In their different ways both Jack and Kosta’s stories are
concerned with friendship, loyalty, possessiveness, jealousy, and what
happens when a romantic relationship is put to the test.
It turns out that Kosta’s strange dreams are related to Jack’s RAAF
wartime experiences. At the heart of Jack’s war story is an unexplained
mystery that he has suppressed for years: did Jack’s best mate
deliberately take Jack’s place on a doomed flight? Now, near death
himself, Jack wants to know the truth and he thinks his wartime diaries
might contain the answer. Hence the elaborate ploy of getting Kosta to
The story ends with Jack’s death and a subtle increase in the maturity
of Kosta’s relationship with Kathy - partly as a result of his
conversations with Jack, partly because Kathy suddenly has one of the
strange dreams herself, and partly because kids just do grow up.
My main source for the gold fossicking scenes in the novel
to Clare" in The Wasted Years? (Edited
by Judy Mackinolty). The letters in question were written by an
unemployed fossicker, George Parr, to his fiancée, Clare
in full, are two of the letters.
Rockley Feb 2nd 1932
we have arrived at our destination at last; not Trunkey, but a small
township called Rockley about 21 miles on the Bathurst side of it.
There is quite a lot of fossicking going on here, so we intend to stay
a while and try our luck.
By the way, we have been too far away from
civilization, to hear the Bridge Lottery results. Still I don't suppose
we were fortunate enough to win anything.
The day I posted your letter in Bathurst, it was
dole day. We like a lot of mug alecs, thought that the old system was
still in vogue that is, that we could receive coupons at any time after
12 o'clock. Having this in mind, we strolled up to the police station
at about 2 o'clock and were informed, much to our disappointment and
sorrow, that we were too late. It appears that owing to men backing up
and getting double issues, by means of visiting two towns at short
distances apart on dole day, the police were ordered to make dole
issuing orders between the hours 1 o'clock and 12 o'clock for married
men, and from 12 till 1.30 for single men and travellers. Our arrival
at 2 o'clock made us half an hour late, and try as we did, nothing
would induce them to give us an order. After us sitting in Bathurst
park for about an hour calling the police sergeant everything we could
lay our tongues to, (to ourselves of course) we followed the only
alternative for us, and that was of course to buy our own rations.
Imagine the plight we would have been in, if we had not had a few bob
in our pockets.
We also lightened our swags on Thursday in
preparation for the road, by leaving everything but bare necessities at
the home of a friend of Bill Webster's.
On Friday night we packed up our gear and food at
about 6 o'clock and started off on our hiking trip. Everybody who is on
the track up here, starts walking in the cool of the evening, as the
days are too hot. We reached a place called Perthville a distance of
about 8 miles from our previous camping place, after walking about 2
hours. We had a bit of difficulty in locating a camping place in the
dark, but eventually found the recreation ground where we camped the
night. Fortunately there was a bit of a shed on the park grounds, and
owing to the night being a bit nippy, we, found it very appropriate. In
the morning we left the shed and camped under some willow trees on a
creek bank. Needless to say we had other chaps camping around us, as
there are dozens camping wherever you go.
When travelling on the road up here, one has to make
enquiries before venturing on a trip, as regards the water supply on
the road and at the place to which you wish to go, as the country is
very dry at present, and to be able to get water is the main thing.
Although the creek is not running at Perthville, excellent water can be
got by sinking a hole in the sand on the creek bed; as the water is
still running underneath the sand and filters through on sinking a hole.
Perthville is a very small town, and consists of a
combination of a general store, bakery and post office, hotel, garage,
police station and railway station. I don't suppose that there are more
than about 2 dozen cottages in the town, not counting surrounding
farms, although there is a larger Catholic building and church for the
training of nuns.
During our short stay at Perthville, we were treated
with two forms of entertainment, one being a cricket match in the park
on Saturday afternoon, and the other - well I had better give you this
one in more detail as it was very humorous to us.
While we were all lying down reading on Sunday
afternoon, in company with a Scotsman who was also camping here, we
were interrupted by the sudden arrival of a man and boy. After the
usual bush greetings of 'howdy' etc. he started to converse in quite a
friendly manner, and inquired as to where we came from and where we
were bound for, and when we intended starting etc. After a short period
of this talk, he clears a seat amongst our gear and makes himself at
home. On making himself comfortable in every respect, our suspicions
were aroused by the following questions:- Had we come from Wattle
Flats? Had we a grey horse on which we packed our gear? Where we last
received the dole? Had we seen anybody of the description given us? and
then to top the lot he asked us if we had any guns?
Well one glance at our friend's boots and trousers
verified our suspicions. His tight fitting serge trousers and big boots
were those of a policeman.
Later on he told us that he was a policeman from the
local village, and wanted to search our gear. Bill Webster up and asked
him to produce his written authority, he then poked out his chest and
produced his warrant. He then proceeded to search our packs and
clothes, even under our bed clothes. On meeting with no success, he
left us tickled to death with a curt good afternoon, and a very
disappointed face. Anybody would think that we were three of the forty
thieves, instead of three jolly prospectors.
We intended on leaving Perthville earlier but the
weather was very threatening, and we knew that there was no shelter
after we got a couple of miles out of the town. As a matter of fact we
were chased to shelter several times by downpours of rain. However we
were anxious to get to our destination and make a permanent camp, so
yesterday, in spite of the overhanging clouds we decided to pack up and
make a start.
After we had journeyed about 2 to 2½ miles we
were met with a terrific rain and hail storm, and were forced
to take shelter in the cow bails of a nearby farm. We were stationed in
the cow bails for about I hour until the storm passed over, and passed
the time singing songs from the ABC Community Songster midst the
atmosphere of cow dung and flies.
Following the passing of the storm, we proceeded on
our journey, hoping to reach our destination with our backsides dry. We
had journeyed about a mile when we were caught up by a motor lorry, the
driver of which offered us a lift to Rockley. Imagine our joy on being
Rockley is a much larger town than Perthville, and
once more we were fortunate enough to strike a decent recreation ground
with a shed.
One can easily see that this is gold bearing country
here, as the ground and hills are covered with pieces of quartz and
reefs. It is very hilly country and there are many deserted claims and
mines. There is a lot of fossicking being done about 4 miles from here
on a river, so we are packing up tonight and going out to where they
We will be only visiting the town once a week, and
that will be on a Thursday when we call in to receive our rations.
If we do not do any good out there we intend to push
on to Trunkey, a distance of about 18 miles.
The three of us are thoroughly enjoying ourselves,
as this is a life we have never experienced before, and one never knows
what is going to happen or turn up next. As regards to our health, we
declare that we have never felt better.
Well sweetheart the boys are going crook because I
am using too much of the pad, so had better wind up.
Under the Willows,
Rockley, Feb. 10th 1932
we have been away only a little over a fortnight, it seems ages to me.
We will be going into Rockley tomorrow to get our rations, and I am
just longing to get to the post office to collect your letter. We are
that far away from civilization here that we know little or nothing of
the goings on in Sydney.
Well to continue, we left Rockley on Tuesday night
and proceeded on our tramp to the river. We went rather a round about
way covering about 41h to 5 miles, where, if we had been familiar with
the country, could have taken a short cut and only have travelled about
half that distance. However, it was pitch dark when we reached the
river and our journey along the river bank had to be very slow and
cautious, owing to the very rugged nature of the country. Thistles also
tend to hinder your progress by night, as they are very thick about
here, and grow anything from one ft. to about 5 ft. in height.
After we had progressed along the river for a short
distance we reached a couple of camps, the first one being inhabited by
an old prospector. We stayed for a short time yarning to him, after
which he directed us to a good camping spot for the night a little
further along from where he was. After reaching this spot we were not
long in unrolling our blankets and turning in for a well earned sleep.
Snores ... from three husky throats, although I am unable to verify
this as I happened to be one of the three.
which is of course followed by daylight, and by the aid of this
phenomenon of nature, we were able to look our new digs over. instead
of being camped on the river bank as we thought we were, we had camped
about 5 or 6 ft. below the high water level of the river. The river at
present is very low owing to the dry spell which they have been having
up here. However, the spot according to our opinions had been well
chosen, it being on a level piece of ground (which is very rare up
here) and under the shade of enormous willow trees.
The farmers around here go in for sheep and cattle.
There are very little crops of any description grown here, as the
country is very rugged and hilly. There are hundreds of ravines, gullys
and creeks the majority of which are dry at present. The river which we
are camping on is called Campbells River, the name, we are told,
originated from camp Bells.
The water is wonderfully clear, and ideal for
drinking purposes, although it is a little hard to wash in owing to the
mineral country which it flows through. The river is a sight in itself
as its banks are a forest of willows. There are an abundance of fish in
it, although it is practically impossible to catch them at present
owing to the water being too shallow and clear. People come from all
over outlying districts to do trout fishing. It is a very popular
fishing stream, and can even boast a fisheries inspector who patrols
and reports on the fishing possibilities. Besides the river having
rainbow trout-it also has perch and gold fish galore. It is a beautiful
sight to see pure gold fish swimming around the clear water.
There are birds and parrots of nearly every
description here. There is a particular beautiful bird called the Blue
Wren, which whistles very similarly to a canary. They, I think, are
about as plentiful as sparrows are in Bexley and provide us with our
music. Of course we have an occasional change of programme when Bill
decides to give us a vocal item,
Never in all my life have I seen so many rabbits,
the place is absolutely alive with them. Not hundreds but thousands
upon thousands. They tell me that since this place has been over run
with them, they have reduced the grazing capacities of this country to
about one quarter. So they must mean thousands of pounds loss to the
farmers. No one need to go short of a feed here. There are also plenty
of ringtail possums in the trees and rats galore.
After us getting our camp all nicely fixed up, we
were advised by other campers on the river to shift our camp high up,
above the high water mark of the river, as it rises with remarkable
speed after a good downpour of rain. They told us although it may be
quite fine weather here, it is possible that they might be getting a
thunderstorm at the head, and that it has been known for waves of water
to come rushing down the river bringing trees and logs with it, at an
amazing speed, and the only warning given is the roar of its progress.
This of course showed us our folly, and not wanting to be trapped while
we slept at night we immediately proceeded to shift our tent to higher
The old prospector which I told you of earlier in
the letter, is one of the nicest men I have ever had the pleasure of
meeting. He will do any mortal thing for you. When we told him that we
intended to do some prospecting he was quite prepared to tell us
anything we wanted to know.
We intended to buy some gear up here, such as pick
and shovel, but found that the prices of such were sky high. owing to
the present demand. The old fellow told us to wait until we got
sufficient gold to pay for them, and that in the mean time he would fit
us up with pick, shovel and dish. He has even given us little things
which we have been short of in the camp, and I can tell you that we are
very fortunate in knowing a man like him. The other day he took us up
the creek and showed us how to fossick; he got more gold in 6 pans than
we got all day. There is not much gold around to be got about here
without digging, and we have not started to do that yet, but will do so
in the near future. We have only been out fossicking for 3 or 4 days
and I think that we have about 7/- worth of gold. Tobacco money. There
are quite a number of men prospecting around here and some of them are
doing real well. Experience is a thing which we lack and is essential;
but we hope to gain that in time.
It is surprising the number of chaps who go into
Rockley to get the dole. Bill actually met a motor body builder whom he
knew at Properts. All of them are out prospecting. The dole here is 7/8
per man and what with rabbits we are getting along OK.
Well darling that is all for the present. Hoping
that you are in the pink of health. Give my love to them all at home.
Love and kisses to yourself.
From “Letters to Clare” by George Parr, in
The Wasted Years? Edited by
George Allan & Unwin, 1981. pp. 120-124
In the novel Jack talks to Kosta about his
experience in the Adelaide dole office [p.67]. My source for this scene
account given by Mr J.Jose to Adelaide historian, Ray Broomhill.
I am embittered
about the awful way things were done in Kintore Avenue. They had two
rosters a day, five days a week. One parade on Saturdays. You would go
there and there was a policeman and he stood by the building while you
sat on the forms. The men would pass round a cigarette. There was a lot
of comradeship. You went once a fortnight to get your rations and this
policeman would yell out, "The Js," and the Js would walk in. I was
There was one fellow called Mack, who was a terrible
Black Mack. He would sit behind a desk and you would come in and he
would say, "How much did you earn?"
"Nothing," you would say.
he'd say, and he would look you up and down. He would make you feel
very small. He would be getting paid to do this job and he would
frighten most men into saying, yes, they'd earned two bob, and if they
said they earned this, they wouldn't get the rations.
J.Jose quoted in "On the dole in Adelaide" by Ray
Broomhill in The Journal of the
Historical Society of South Australia No.1, 1975.
In Night Vision Kosta
expresses disbelief that a huge demonstration could occur over the
difference between mutton and beef. In truth, it did, but there
was more to it than meat. As Jack
says, "...the average
bloke was just sick of being pushed
around. Cutting the beef out of the rations was the last straw."[p.50]
Here are three accounts of the Beef March of 9 January 1931. The
first is by Irene Bell, a housewife whose husband, Tom, was a union
Being very militant, Tom
was very active during the wharf strike. He was lucky once - he got
away after pulling a trooper off of his horse with his wool hook
because Tom took objection to him hitting a Woman with his baton, so
Tom got him off his horse and he got away with help from his mates, I
guess." (Tom read the Red Leader and the Workers' Weekly).
'The beef march was organised in Port Adelaide by the
unemployed militants to get decent meat, such as beef, on the rations,
not green mutton and bony scrags that was being doled out to us by
Matthews the butcher. They had separate counters in the meat shop. The
payers went down one end, the rationed people went down the other end,
and of course only the bad meat was down that end ... Tom offended the
official in the Ration Office one day. He got some green meat and he
went and threw it on the counter and asked him how would he like to eat
that meat? And of course anybody that knows my husband would know he
could get in quite a rage, and he said, "'Well," he said, 'if it wasn't
for the likes of me you wouldn't have a job," he said "and I'm not
going to eat that meat.",, Tom said, "Well, go ahead." Needless to say
the police wasn't brought into it because it might have made a bit of
news and that wouldn't be right.'
Anyway, the Beef March was that successful that it resulted
in us being able to present our vouchers to the local butchers who gave
us much better meat. At least we were able to get good beef dripping to
eat on our bread. Not bad, beef dripping, I'll tell you...
Snoopers were sent into people's homes to inspect our
cupboards and what your house contained. When I made jam I stored it at
me mother-in-law's cupboard.
Evictions were very prevalent ... while the bailiffs were
taking the goods out of the front door, the unemployed were putting
them in the back door. My husband - I think at times his mates saw him
more than what his family did because he was
always out trying to make the world go right.
Mortlock Library of South Australiana Oral History collection
The second account is by Wally G. Bourne, an official in the
Unemployed Workers' Union.
started off from Port Adelaide. It was given an enthusiastic send off
by the traders in the Port. One trader even came along the lines all
the way to town dishing out fruit, etc. Another one was dishing out
pies and pasties to the marchers. So it was not just the unemployed, or
not just the Communist Party - it was Port Adelaide on the march.
It was decided a deputation would meet the
ministers. They were met in Adelaide by the unemployed of Adelaide. By
then I should imagine that there must have been ten thousand people
marched down King William Street. When they got to the Treasury - this
is in Victoria Square, the historical building - they were told that
the minister would meet a deputation of six. Well the deputation then
got to the front of the huge mass then that was assembled. We had to
wait something like quarter of an hour to half an hour, waiting for the
minister to give his reply that he would meet a deputation. In the
meantime the deputation of six - six of us, three from Port and three
from town - were to meet the minister and discuss the possibility of us
getting beef back on to our ration tickets.
So when the door was opened - two big double
doors at the Treasury - instead of the minister being there to greet
us, there was the police force in all its glory, and behind us - in the
half an hour that we'd been waiting
there - behind the people, in the square itself, was the mounted
police. In other words we were completely ambushed, and that was the
actual riot. Then when the police came swinging their batons, they were
horribly surprised to see that the unemployed workers were also
swinging their batons and taking the blows of their batons on their
arms. Now that battle was actually a battle and it raged right across
The mounted police were hunting down who they
regarded as ring leaders. A lot of them took refuge in a
hotel that used to be on the comer. Mounted police actually rode their
horses into that hotel chasing two particular chaps. They chased one
little chap named Reimann, a little German who had deserted off a boat.
They eventually caught him and he was deported, and they rounded up six
from Port Adelaide who were ring leaders of that, Unfortunately they
didn't round me up - I missed them - but they caught me the same night,
On the Friday night protest in the Port."
Mortlock Library of South Australiana Oral History collection
This is how the clash between the marchers and the police was
reported in the daily newspaper, The
IRON BARS AND
SPIKED STICKS IN CITY RIOT
PITCHED BATTLE WITH POLICE
SEVENTEEN PERSONS INJURED
IN THE AFFRAY
Women Trampled Upon by Frenzied Crowd
TWELVE RIOTERS ARRESTED BY
WATCHES CLASH FROM TREASURY
Nearly 2,000 Communist rioters armed with iron bars, sticks and stones,
engaged in a fierce battle with police with batons in front of the
Treasury Buildings, shortly before noon yesterday, and seventeen
persons were injured. Twelve men were arrested for participating
in a riot and on other charges.
Of the injured, ten
persons, including a woman and six police officers, received treatment
at the Adelaide Hospital. All except the woman were able to return home
after having been attended. Many others received minor injuries.
The Communists had invited
the riot, and that the demonstrators had been the first to take the
offensive, was the opinion of the Premier, who witnessed most of the
affray from the window of his office.
Several loads of murderous
weapons were collected by the police during and after the trouble. They
will be produced as evidence when the men appear in the Adelaide Police
Court this morning.
Saturday 10 January 1931
Questions about the Depression
When Judy Mackinolty published her book she put a question mark
in the title: The Wasted Years?
Obviously she was suggesting that some
people caught up in the Depression had good experiences. Consider Jack
and Peter's fictional experiences in the novel. And then, in the light
of George Parr's real experiences described in his letters, ask
yourself: can desperate times sometimes produce deeply satisfying
Do you think anybody ever had a deeply satisfying experience in
the Kintore Avenue dole office?
There is a marked difference of emphasis between the accounts of
the Beef March by Irene Bell and Wally Bourne on the one hand, and The Advertiser
newspaper on the other. Yet they were both describing the same
events. Can you think of any reasons that might explain this
difference? Do you think many of the unemployed bought The Advertiser?
Gibraltar is a large rock on a small peninsular on the
Spanish side of
Gibraltar (see map below). It has been owned by Britain in one way or
another since 1713. Spain wants it back, but the people who actually
live there keep voting to stay British. During the Second World War
Gibraltar was of considerable strategic importance since it guards the
entrance to the Mediterranean.
My inspiration for the Gibraltar scenes in Night
Vision came from Ray Whitrod. Ray was best known for being
police commissioner who resigned in protest at the appointment (by the
Queensland government) of a highly corrupt deputy police
commissioner. There was no way Ray could work with the
Towards the end of his life Ray wrote his memoirs and I helped him
prepare them for publication. Jack Duggan is a completely fictional
character and in many ways quite different to Ray. But it was Ray's
war time experiences
flying Catalinas out of Gibraltar, and his travails looking for work in
the Depression, that provided the basic framework for Jack's early life
in Night Vision.
Here is an extract from Ray Whitrod's
Sleep describing the life of a navigator on a Catalina.
in Europe reversed the usual serviceman's view of war: "a few moments
of great excitement and months of boredom". There was much for us to do
all the time. In 1942 and 1943, we flew Catalinas from Gibraltar on
patrols over the stormy mid-Atlantic that could last anything from
sixteen to twenty-two hours. We would fly out to sea as far as six
hundred miles to meet convoys coming from the United States. We did
this every third day. Since Cats carried two pilots but only one
navigator, these were arduous trips for me. I had to know where we were
at any moment in the event that we had to report the location of
hostile shipping, aircraft or submarines. I suppose I spent about half
my time in the air doing the calculations that would tell us where we
were. I had to work out how strong the wind was by watching the tops of
waves or by dropping flares and calculating the drift. As well, I had
to take my turn at radar duty and try to make visual contact with the
conning towers of submarines that might have been missed by the radar.
On these operations, we had to be awake and ready for briefing a couple
of hours before takeoff and it needed a couple of hours after the
mission to debrief. One could go thirty hours without sleep. We rested
on the second day, and then prepared for the next flight. Towards the
end of my year at Gibraltar, I became quite jittery and found I
couldn't sleep much before a mission. At times I had no sleep for forty
When flying out of Gibraltar we sometimes grave
similar cover to Malta-bound convoys. This was less difficult but
fraught with danger from the anti-aircraft fire of the American
destroyers who shot at everything. As well, the Germans had installed
heavy guns on the southern side of the entrance to the Mediterranean,
so we had to be very careful in the vicinity of Gibraltar. Some of our
aircraft disappeared when nearing base, presumably as the result of
anti-aircraft fire. Mysterious disappearances were especially
threatening since there were many possible causes, and we wanted to
know if there were any new precautions we should be taking.
Before I Sleep by Ray
Whitrod. University of Queensland Press, 2001. p.58
One of the more bizarre things I learned from Ray
was that allied air crew on Gibraltar could go on day leave in neutral
Spain. While Spain was technically neutral, the country was of course,
fascist. General Franco, the dictator, was well disposed towards his
fellow dictator, Adolf Hitler. It's hardly surprising that the Spanish
mainland near Gibraltar was awash with German agents. Here is an
account of a
visit to Spain that Ray made in the company of his pilot, Dick Oldham.
friendly with a civilian type whom we used to meet playing tennis on
the navy’s courts. He said his name was Don Darling. Dick and I got to
like him and we met occasionally. We didn't know much about his
background. And then one day he asked us if we would like to accompany
him on a trip to Algeciras, the town across the bay in neutral Spain.
He said he'd shout us lunch at the pub over there. So the next time
Dick and I had a spare day we joined up with Mr Darling and proceeded
through the border post, Dick and I presenting our Air Force
identification and Don Darling his civilian passport. We walked around
the shore of the bay towards Algeciras. On the way we stopped very
casually at a small cafe and Don suggested we have a cup of coffee.
Inside the cafe Don said that he wanted us to play the part of tourists
being shown around southern Spain. We drank some excellent coffee and
then Don disappeared for a quarter of a hour with the cafe proprietor
with whom, he said, he had a small bit of private business to transact.
When Don returned, he took us to the main part of Algeciras and we
lunched very well on the terrace of a hotel, surrounded by Spaniards
and some other fair-haired types whom Don pointed out to us as German
officers on leave. They looked at us and we looked at them. And then we
returned to Gibraltar.
We had a few more outings with Don. We learned about
a "Spanish" trawler that had slipped into Gibraltar harbour and
unloaded some cargo. We thought this was a bit odd - ships from neutral
countries did not normally do this. We talked about this with Don who
told us that the vessel also visited the French Mediterranean coast
where its crew performed a few duties "for us". We didn't pursue the
After the war I discovered that Don Darling worked
under the code name Monday. He was the southern organiser of the famous
M19 escape route over the Pyrenees. He organised for escapees from
prisoner of war camps or shot-down airmen who had managed to escape
from France into Spain to reach Gibraltar. I suspect that the cafe
owner may have had a small dinghy with which to row escapees to our
side of the harbour.
Before I Sleep p.62
Gibraltar in WW2
Given the demands
the airmen (the hours
without sleep, the danger of being shot down, the responsibility for
safeguarding convoys from submarine attack) the stress must have been
Would Jack and Peter's
reconciliation have anything to do with the danger they were both
in? Or would they have resumed their friendship anyway?
Can you think your way into
mind of an Australian navigator, pilot or gunner and write a
letter home describing your feelings about the war you are fighting?
The letter could be to your wife, mother, brother, sister or old school
friend. You wouldn't necessarily describe things in quite the same way
to them all. "Don't tell Mum,
but..." was probably a well used phrase.
Central to Night
Vision are two parallel stories. Each contains two boys and a
Jack, Peter and Ellen in the 1930s and 40s; Kosta, Hendo and
Kathy in today's world. In the first story the girl, Ellen,
abandons her first love, Jack, and marries his best mate, Peter.
In the second story, the girl, Kathy, fails to go to a party with her
boyfriend, Kosta, because she is spending time with Hendo learning
lines for a video production. In the first story there is a total break
the two boys' friendship. In the second story, Kosta goes to the party
alone and has a fine time with another girl, Erin. Kathy hears about
this and there are ructions. But Kathy and Kosta are soon reconciled -
and, as far as we can tell, Kosta's relationship with Hendo remains
undamaged. In the final scene of the novel Kosta talks about the girl
he will marry: he says he might marry Kathy, but there again he might
marry someone completely different. Given that he has spent the entire
novel saying that he and Kathy are linked by some almost mystical bond,
this might be seen as a betrayal, but it could also be seen as the
product of a growing maturity. Perhaps the new maturity has something
to do with Kosta's involvement in Jack's story, perhaps it is just a
demonstration that kids do grow up regardless. Here are some
we can ask about the novel. I don't think there are any correct
answers. I certainly don't have any hard and fast answers myself.
Kathy thinks Kosta is too
possessive. Do you
Do you think Kosta learns anything
himself during the course of the story? Has he changed by the end?
What do you think of Kosta’s
behaviour at Tiger
Arts? Is he being immature, or does he have some justification?
Jack feels totally betrayed when his
mate Peter becomes
engaged to Ellen. Is this feeling reasonable or just a measure of
How do you read the account of Peter
Jack on the doomed flight? Was Peter deliberately sacrificing himself
for his friend?
How strong is Kosta's friendship with Hendo? Is
comparison with Jack's friendship with Peter? Remember, Kosta is the
narrator of the novel, he might not be telling the exact truth all the
(especially when he's being a bit patronizing about Hendo).
Kosta says that during the discussion in the Hot Donut, Mr
Simmonds employs a double standard: he's happy to have a "full, free
and frank discussion" with Kosta and his mates, but not with his own
daughter, Kathy. Can you blame him for this, or is it just the way
In Night Vision Kosta learns shorthand
reasonably quickly and without a teacher. This is necessary for
the development of the novel (if Kosta couldn't read shorthand
the whole plot would grind to a halt). But is this a case of the
novelist taking liberties with reality? Could Kosta really have
learnt so quickly? Maybe, maybe
not. Some people learn foreign languages spectacularly easily; maybe
Kosta is just a born natural when it comes to written codes, such
people do exist.
Have a go yourself. Use the
shapes above to write President Dust
missed the vast cast of
resident students. Here's my attempt:
If you write something and then
immediately transcribe it, as secretaries tend to do, then no major
problem, but if you try to read something you wrote last year, then a
major effort may be needed to decipher it, unless, that is, you have so
mastered the system that you can sight read thousands of brief forms.
So maybe it is a bit far fetched to think that Kosta could make
of something written over half a century ago by someone else.
But, in my opinion, it is not as far fetched as the belief that Kosta
could have someone else's dreams.
There's a phrase that is often used about the
reading novels: the willing
suspension of disbelief. Usually this just refers to the
fact that the novel is made up. In order to appreciate the
story we treat the people and events as if they really existed,
even though we know they don't. But in novels that use
fantastic devices and weird creatures a further suspension of
disbelief is required: we might have to pretend that ghosts, fairies,
warlocks, little green men with rayguns, the evil creature from the
black lagoon, could exist. We might have to pretend that time travel is
possible, or that men and women can turn into werewolves, or that the
Germans won the Second World War. Some very good novels in which
these things happen have been written.
But Night Vision is a very
realistic novel. It depends on all sorts of historical facts and I've
tried to make the plot as close to historical truth as possible.
The Great Depression, the Beef March, the Atlantic Convoys, the leave
passes to neutral Spain - they all happened. When they are fossicking
for gold, Jack, Peter and Jim play a game of cricket with a local
farmer and a few others. They don't play ice hockey. For me to
have written an ice hockey scene would have been so stupid that any
reader coming across it could be forgiven for throwing the book smartly
into the garbage. The same goes for the scenes in which Kosta and
his friends go to the movies, parties, their drama group, the
hamburger joint etc. I've done my best to make their dialogue,
their actions, their feelings and thoughts as close to those of
contemporary teenagers as possible. They don't do anything that
kids in Australia aren't doing at the moment.
So what am I doing introducing all this weird stuff about dreams into a
realistic novel? Surely I don't really believe that people can
have dreams beamed into their heads from somewhere else? And remember
that when Kosta talks to Jack in the final dream, Jack is probably
already dead. When Kathy talks to Ellen in her dream, Ellen has been
dead for twenty years. And Kosta appears in one of Peter's dreams
in Gibraltar almost fifty years before Kosta himself was born.
is crazy stuff. Why have I done it?
The short answer is that I've used the dreams as a literary device.
They move the novel along and help me to contrast the experiences of
the two generations.
But the longer answer is that I'm tapping into some deeply held human
beliefs, hopes, fears and values. Most religions have stories of
supernatural beings appearing to humans in visions or dreams. Many
people believe that the dead can be contacted through mediums - people
who are especially sensitive to messages from 'the other side'.
Start a conversation about telepathy and people will tell you anecdotes
about receiving thought messages from other people (or, sometimes
even from dogs). Often these things happen in times of stress or
danger. Maybe this is because people want to believe in the
supernatural, maybe it's because they genuinely have these
experiences. Personally I don't think they do have them (on this
issue I'm much closer to Kathy and her cry of 'Pig's bum!' than I am to
Kosta). Never-the-less, by
suspending my own disbelief I've written a very satisfying novel.
Questions about dreams
Do you think it is
possible to communicate through dreams? If you do, have you had any
direct experience of this sort of thing? Do you know other people
who think they have? Do you believe them?
Do you think the dreams in Night Vision help the
story? Would it have made more sense to keep the novel completely
realistic? Do you think the contrast between the strange
night-time world of the dreams, and the ordinary, daylight world of the
rest of the novel makes both worlds more interesting? Try using
this contrast yourself in a short story or poem.