(For those not tangled in my endless loopy skirts, I am writing an honours thesis on the intersection of fiction and history. This navigates the story of sealers and Menang Aboriginals in King George Sound in 1826. When Lockyer arrived here to proclaim the area as part of the British crown, there was already a small colony of reprobates, consisting of two African Americans, a Maori, two native Van Diemonian women, a 'Sydney Aborigine', a little girl and several European sorts, all living on Breaksea Island.)
I saw a man in the supermarket the other day, a shearer. Tall, scary, bags under his eyes, hook nosed, hard lived, dark. He flashed at me, "Is this your shopping?" This was William Hook, he was all there. I knew if I approached him on a real human level, he would just dissolve but the set of the shoulders and that kind of sailor/shearer arrogance said, "Do not transgress this."
Right now I'm enjoying Willian Hook too much in a creepy kind of way. And so the question: "What is it in sealer's mind that allows them to do what they did?" Well.
What is emerging is a process, a method of invoking character. It's witchery; like really good cooking. I begin with the story that Lockyer related in his journal and the testimony of William Hook. I read 'The Historical Records of Australia, Vol.3' and also found some extracts from D'Urville's journal, whilst he was anchored in King George Sound in 1826.
There are questions immediately - and not enough answers. No-one is here to tell me the tale. Most of my questions regard motivation - why they did what they did. Why did he do that? Why didn't they keep her with them?
To understand our unknown character, we enter our lizard brain, the reptilian recesses where all our formative experiences are stored. This is where the motivation lies, with supposedly dormant memories that have been subjugated into silence but manifest themselves through our state of mind and therefore, ultimately, our actions.
There is no better way than unabashed fiction to access the reptilian mind of a person who lived one hundred and eighty years ago, one who wrote nothing down for posterity. Fiction is the vessel of truth for a writer, assuming that the human state is universal and subject to the same outcome to stimulus and experience, as anyone is, in any era.
So, rather than research their genealogy right down to those little wriggly taddies, I do what B. T. told me once during her workshop on local history narratives. 'Speculate, elaborate, embroider.' Find out enough to write creatively, do the research and then leave it behind.
William Hook's background is on the page, my prerogative as blatant fictionista. Spending six months as an exchange student in Dunedin didn't hurt either. Wanting to know this man incited a William Hook infatuation on my behalf. It was the mystery of his motivation in testifying against his co-worker and sealer Samuel Bailey that hooked me in. All I had was his name and a nationality but now I have decided this boy is Ngai Otaku. In 1817, he watched Australian whalers saw 42 of his father's boats in half with cross saws. Then they burnt the village to the ground. (This bit is true.) And there you have a formative childhood experience.
I thought about William Hook a lot. I remembered the pitiful amount of Maori words in my vocab and found more. I discovered that the Menang girl could communicate with the Maori through the names of fish. I read an ethnography of southern Maori, published by the Dunedin City council and Otago University. I realised that whilst William Hook was in Albany, Te Rauparaha was tearing down the East coast of New Zealand on a nightmarish rampage, bloodying the waters of Hook's home.
And gradually, after a few months of falling in love with and mentally stalking this non-existant person, he is being built, gollem-like, into existence. He is almost here. Once he is fully fleshed out, made real again so many years later, William Hook will explain to me his motivations, why he testified against his sea-dog mate, his deepest fears and his greatest strengths.
At first, as I delved into this story, I worried a little bit about myself and my obsession with a man who has been dead one hundred years.
Mmm yes, still worrying but I'm beginning to get it. He is the first one and there are more. He has nearly arrived fully formed. Next is Samuel Bailey, then the little girl from the mainland of what is now Esperance (yes she has an origin now, thanks to the French explorer D'Urville's journals), then the Menang woman, stolen from inland Albany, perhaps in the region of Wilyung, then finally Lockyer. He turned up in the Sound with his son from his first marriage, his new wife busy halfway through birthing her eleven children to him.
There's a few heads to climb into ... My next project is Samuel Bailey. I'm beginning with this image. Whaddaya reckon? Pirate? Politician? Sealer? Child abductor and general all-round Bad-Arse?
(Actually he's from the History Collection. Apologies to anyone who recognises him as their uncle, father, husband ... sorry 'bout that.)