I wanted to tell a story that might reveal some of the things these women experienced while respecting their privacy. I decided to set my tale in a place where none of my old-lady-storytellers had even been. I chose the beautiful Tweed Valley in northern New South Wales, mainly because I grew up there and know it well, as you must in order to write about a place effectively.
It’s also one of the most beautiful places in Australia with a fascinating history to boot. Though it is never named, Sweetmans Road is peppered with descriptions of the Tweed—its topography, its amazing variety of trees and vegetation, its placement in the hinterland of the Gold Coast, dominated by the strange couchant figure of Mount Warning.
Mount Warning was named by Captain Cook in 1770 to mark its role as a warning to passing ships of the dangerous reefs that hide in the sea just off the Tweed Coast. The mountain is a significant local icon. The climbing of Mount Warning in time to see the sun rise has been a rite of passage to kids from the local high schools for as long as I can remember. When buying property in the Tweed, a view of Mount Warning, however fleeting, is much to be desired. Can you spot the tip of Mount warning below?
The town of Murwillumbah, which Bridie Bowden, the story’s main protagonist, longed to visit more often than her lack of transport allowed, was once a thriving country town with multiple grocery stores, haberdashery shops, specialty shops for clothing, footwear, household goods, tools and furniture. Now, one giant Coles supermarket dominates the town and most of the specialty shops have long since closed. The residents of the town now make frequent trips to Tweed Heads and Coolangatta where the buzz and the variety of shopping opportunities make it an easy and attractive option. The thirty kilometre trip down a bitumen highway is nothing nowadays but for Bridie such a trip would have been unthinkable, requiring her to get a ride into town somehow and then board a Greyhound bus for the coast. Like many of my storytellers, she had neither the know-how nor the money to ever make such a trip.
One shop that had a long and cherished place in the town was Tong’s Corner Store. Mr Tong was Chinese and in those days very few people from other cultures lived there. Set up in 1953, Mr Tong’s store might well have been visited by Bridie when she eventually found the means to get into town and out again, which would have been a hugely liberating experience for her.
In Sweetmans Road Bridie Bowden and her family live out of the township which makes life harder for her. However it also gives her peace and quiet, acres of land to wander and explore, access to the sub-tropical rainforest via the red clay road that leads past her house, into town in one direction and up the mountain in the other. What others may see as peace and beauty, however, Bridie more often sees as isolation and loneliness.