We are about to set off on a third trip to Australia. The first in 2011 was a retirement trip. We knew that Grandpa was born in Australia and I had done some research about the family, so I based our itinerary around that. We arrived in Perth and headed straight for a living museum near the airport. What was so delightful was to find a school class of primary age children learning about what it was like to be a pioneer’s child in West Australia. We’d gone there because I knew that a railway engine bought by Great Grandpa was on display. But I remember the children in their schoolroom with slates, sitting in rows facing the stern teacher at the front. All that was different from a similar scene at a British living museum was the heat, the vivid blue sky, the red soil – and that railway engine.
Railways were even more vital in Australia where distances are so great. Great Grandpa, one of the main characters in Sadie’s Wars, was a railway contractor. He built 3000 miles of track all over Australia. All my previous books lead to his story, the story of a self-made man, the grandson of convicts and a towering figure in early twentieth century Australia. He was a man of myth, and like so many myths, has faded into obscurity. It has been my work to rescue him, along with his mother and grandparents.
On that same trip, we visited Tasmania and the Port Arthur Convict site and in contrast, we visited the farm owned by Great Grandpa in Victoria to visualise him at the height of his fortune.
Experiencing the Sovereign Hill Museum, another living museum with its Son et Lumiere display about the Eureka Rebellion was at the time, a wonderful day out. But I had no idea that I would end up writing the story of the miners and their fight for justice against the redcoats who tormented them with their licence hunts.
A few months after our return and finding the original convict records were online, I had a snapshot of life in the 1820s and knew how the story should begin.