2020, what a year it was. Like good Irish whiskey mixed with coke, there has been a bubbly mixture of good and bad, and as I reflect on it all, I realise that despite all that was poured in my glass this year, I was offered more Connemara than coke. Obviously there have been hardships. The two main hospitals on the North West Coast of Tasmania closed due to Covid outbreaks, multiple lockdowns and border closures which resulted in nine months separated from my partner, Aidan, and the rugged beauty of Byrne and Sherritt Country. Despite these, this year has also brought with it plenty of positives. For one, it allowed me to hunker down and write, which resulted in the creation of five WordPress stories/articles and one published and printed story.
Earlier in the year, when I was feeling much uncertainty and angst at what was unfolding, I could never have imagined that such darkness would bear the most amazing fruit. ‘The Haystack’, ‘A Moment in Time’, ‘Walls of Granite’, ‘Joe and Maggie’, my ‘Q&A’ article, as well as the research I undertook during this time, all formed part of the escape from the world outside. However, it wasn’t until I had uploaded ‘Joe and Maggie’ on to WordPress that things really changed. While I had planned to release some of my stories as booklets, I could never have imagined the printing of my first booklet would happen so quickly. But after months of tirelessly working on ‘Joe and Maggie’, with nothing to show for it except a list of ‘reads’ and one woman’s hate filled rant which proved nothing more than her complete lack of basic literacy, I was feeling fairly flat.
While I would never, and more to the point, will never “throw in the towel”, there were times I did question why I was still doing it. I have no problem with criticism, as long as it is constructive and valid. However, when I am being threatened, bullied, or the ‘feedback’ is merely an open and ignorant attack on my work, then it is a problem, and that is when the Irish and Scottish blood in me bubbles to the surface. Similar to every other piece on my blog, and indeed every post on Facebook, I slaved over it. Obsessing over every detail, as if Joe himself was standing behind me with an eyebrow raised. Even minute details were pondered and given space to be addressed with rationality, such as the origin of the scar on Joe’s shin, his acquisition of Music and Maggie being overhead saying Joe’s name and what that meant for the couple. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I did receive feedback that was nothing more than an open attack on me, I was feeling pretty flat. Unfortunately, this seemed to be a theme of 2020, and there were many instances when I had to learn the appropriate way of coping and addressing such encounters, rather than allowing the anger and injustice I felt to boil over.
I have many people to thank for supporting me during this time, and indeed the whole of 2020. Many lessons have been learnt, goals have been reached and I have learnt the importance of standing firm and standing my ground. The release of ‘Joe and Maggie’ was the perfect representation of that. The fact I was so close to stepping away, only to then pick myself up, dust off the dirt and think, you know what, no. I made a promise to Joe and Aaron, to Ellen Salisbury and Maggie, to Ah Suey and Ah Nam, to every shopkeeper and prostitute whoever trod the streets of Beechworth. I made them a promise that their stories would be told and I promised myself that I would be the person to tell them. I took several weeks away from social media and with Aidan’s help, set about editing and formatting ‘Joe and Maggie’. Although it took a large amount of determination and grit to stick with, self-doubt is a dangerous thing, when I had it in my hands, I felt nothing but pride.
Finally, before I go on too much further, I do not do any of this because it is merely an “interest”, I do it because I feel so deeply that Joe deserves to have his story told. Whether this all sounds silly, I am not overly concerned with, as I do constantly wear my heart on my sleeve. All I wish is to offer greater insight into this young man who was “true and firm as steel”. To introduce Ellen Salisbury, James Tatham and the Chinese miners who offered him their friendship and customs, and to demonstrate their importance to him. This is one element of my writing and research that I am extremely proud of, and maybe non more so than within the text of Ah Nam.
This book (I’m calling it a book as it is certainly bigger than ‘Joe and Maggie’) is the first shining beacon of 2021. The nonfiction content of the text is double what was included in ‘Joe and Maggie’ and the dedication I have placed into getting every detail right, even down to the exact locality (when able) of hotels and stores. To my knowledge, this story and time in Joe’s life has never been addressed until now, and that is something I am truly proud of. While I can give no exact release date at the moment, I will continue to give updates of how the final stages of editing and formatting are progressing.
Thank you to everyone who continues to support and read my work. I am so grateful for each and everyone of you and hope the barman of 2021 pours you all a hearty glass of Jameson. Sláinte.