Writing from Larrimah | Rochelle Nicholls
“The secret of it all is to write – without waiting for a fit time or place.”
– Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman knew the importance of every moment to a writer. Despite being lauded as the one of the greatest poets in American history, Whitman worked a succession of jobs throughout his life, including as a deliveryman, journalist, schoolmaster, and Civil War medic, cramming his writing into spare moments between his daily labors. This is a remarkably common phenomena, even among the giants of world literature. The Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Anne, were both forced to earn a living as governesses in Victorian England, stealing time within their bleak and gruelling lives to compose some of the great masterpieces of English literature. In Australia, Booker Prize-winning novelist Tom Keneally was a schoolteacher; our top-selling author Bryce Courtenay worked as an advertising executive while producing 22 novels in 24 years.
It is a recognised fact that most authors, whether in the classic age or modern times, fit their writing in around external commitments which put food on the table and keep the kids in piano lessons. Writing is squeezed around a daily schedule which often looks something like:
- Full-time job: 8 hours;
- Kids and domestic duties: 4 hours (at least);
- Exercise: 1 hour (if you’re lucky);
- Sleep: 8 hours (if very lucky);
- Unforeseen crises, checking social media, paying the bills: 1 hour (give or take).
This leaves a grand total, on most days, of two hours unallocated time in which to put pen on paper.
The opportunity for two weeks of writing time uninterrupted by mobile phones, tweets, emails, or even (sorry guys) the kids, is one most writers can only dream of. I was fortunate to be selected as the recipient of the Andrew McMillan Memorial Retreat through the NT Writers Centre in 2017. Before his passing in 2012, Territory writer Andrew McMillan sought refuge from the demands of daily life for several weeks every year at the iconic Larrimah Pink Panther Hotel, 500km south of Darwin, where there are no phones and no internet service – just a small staff of khaki-clad hoteliers (thongs are de rigueur), a selection of native fauna (including a 3.5m saltwater crocodile), and a lot of time and space for writing and reflection.
It is in Andrew’s memory that the annual fellowship is now offered. As the 2017 recipient, I made the journey to the Northern Territory from my home in the NSW Snowy Mountains between November 1 and 12. I was awarded the fellowship to continue work on my third book, He of the Never Never, a biography of Territory pastoralist and explorer Aeneas Gunn. I would like to thank the Writers Centre and the McMillan family for supporting me to spend 3 days in Darwin researching at the NT Library prior to my departure for Larrimah. I also wish to thank Barry Sharpe and the staff at the Larrimah Hotel for providing me with a large and comfortable ensuite room (with all-important air-conditioning), some of the best pub food north of the Black Stump, and a warm and generous welcome to the Northern Territory for a pale southerner unaccustomed to 42-degree temperatures, cane toads, and feral donkeys. The quirky village of Larrimah (population 11) is uniquely supportive of Australian writers. It was a matchless experience to write about Aeneas Gunn in such close proximity to his former home at Elsey Station, in the uniquely ‘Territory’ atmosphere of the Larrimah Hotel (that wasn’t a joke about the saltwater crocodile…and yes, there IS a Pink Panther standing guard over the hotel entrance – I’m sure Aeneas Gunn, with his own quirky sense of humour, would have approved). And to walk in the significant footsteps of Andrew McMillan, including a visit to the quiet billabong alongside which he now sleeps, was a privilege.
In 2017 Rochelle Nicholls was the recipient of the annual Andrew McMillan Memorial Writers’ Residency in Larrimah, presented by the NT Writers’ Centre. Rochelle is working on a biography of Northern Territory pastoralist and explorer Aeneas Gunn.