Together with my wife, Margaret, I found what we had been yearning for in Bend of Islands — a five acre bush block on the Yarra away from the madding crowd.
We were free to stroll the Yarra and commune with nature to our hearts' content. There in Bend of Islands, we set about building ourselves an mud-brick home using the simplest of materials such as the clay beneath our feet, ancient cobble-stones from suburban laneways, hundred-year-old poles from the Williamstown Naval dockyards, yellow-pine windows and doors from Mont Park Mental Asylum and sturdy Oregon beams from a Geelong Wool-Store. When the house was finished, we built ourselves an iconic chook-house, kept bees, grown our own vegetables and become deeply involved in our like-minded close-knit community.
I had made several attempts to commence the historical novel and took many a stroll along the river. Suddenly, on one walk, as if from nowhere sprung Ngayuk, a young Wurundjeri hunter wondering who the strange white people might be who were intruding into his people’s hunting grounds.
This had seen me make him the central character in my novel around which the action had subsequently played out.
It took me twelve months to write The Last Cry. After it was finished, I handed a first chapter to senior Wurundjeri Elder, Auntie Joy Wandin Murphy, asking that she read it and if she liked it I would give her the full story. A week later she phoned back and said good things about it and so I’d sent her the entire draft, asking that if she still approved of it, would she’d write
its Foreword which she happily agreed to do.
In my final year at Secondary School, my school journal had described me in one brief sentence, ‘Michael says little but thinks a lot.’
A later newspaper article had described me as ‘a square peg in a round hole.’ To my way of thinking both had been spot on. I’d had good reason not to be content with the status quo and had had to work my way around it. Sure, I’d enjoyed life but the world around me had somehow lacked depth and I spent my early years searching for a way out of its conformity to an extent that I’d titled my 2011 Autobiography, Round and Round the Mulberry Bush.
My decision to tackle a Degree Course had of course added to my sense of well-being. At the age of 60, I’d overnight found myself among mainly twenty year-olds with few of the hang-ups of my generation — young people setting out in their own way to bring about a better world.
I wrote my first book in Bend of Islands. Always an early riser, I would start the day with a dawn stroll of the river to pick up on the rhythm of the land. On one of these early morning rambles, I’d swum across the Yarra and strolled down to Brushy Creek and sat on a straddling log high above its peaceful waters. An hour later I was still sitting there struggling to interpret strange voices drifting in from the surrounding bush. A year or two later, I realisedthat those voices had been endeavouring to tell me that the tiny gorge beneath my seat that day had been an important Wurundjeri Dreamtime Site where Bunjil is believed to have punished his Wurundjeri people for not having followed his lore.
Life on a bush block had added a much needed new dimension to my resolve to devote my life to writing. During this time, I was seldom troubled by ‘writer’s block’ - a quiet stroll down to the Yarra generally put me back on track. This had been particularly so whilst writing my fourth book: a historical novel based on the Frontier War of the 1840s as it had unfolded along the Yarra. I was pressed to tackle this story by my publisher, the late Bruce Nixon who had commissioned me a year earlier to write Kangaroo Ground: The Highland Taken.