Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

The book talk in Benalla

IMG_0049Giving book talks is one of the perks of being an author. I suppose there must be some writers who don’t enjoy it but I love reading out loud – it’s been a life long pleasure – and I love talking to an audience of book lovers.

The fabulous cafe in Jugiong

The Long Track Cafe and Pantry in Jugiong

Popping into bookstores and libraries in small country towns is another joy, especially when the journey takes you to such fabulous sounding places as Gundagai, Jugiong, Wagga Wagga and Albury Wondonga.

The guest cottage at Cath Marriott's farm, with raised veggie beds outside

The guest cottage at Cath Marriott’s farm, with raised veggie beds outside

Benalla was beautiful, did I mention? Just look at that view of magnificent gum trees from the local library.


The view from Benalla library

And Cath Marriott’s organic sheep farm in the high country of northern Victoria was as spectacular as I remembered it from my first visit two years ago, even on a cold winter’s day when rain threatened. IMG_0016

The first morning I woke to find a magnificent peacock perched outside our bedroom window quietly preening itself, and on the second morning I woke before daybreak then lay in bed watching pink clouds emerge from the shifting sky. A thin line of golden light trickled along the creek, beyond the sloping paddocks and distant trees, and the hidden beauty of that winter morning slowly revealed itself, like a developing photograph.

Clyde with Cath's youngest son, Tom, and Cleo the dog

Clyde with Cath’s youngest son, Tom, and Cleo the dog

With Nicole from the Leading Edge bookstore in Benalla

With Nicole from the Leading Edge bookstore in Benalla

We were in Benalla to give a book talk in conjunction with the local CWA, which used the talk to raise money for the Uniting Church Fencing team. Bush fires that swept through parts of Victoria destroyed hundreds of kilometres of fencing, making stock impossible to control, and many farmers struggle to find the time (and the finance) to repair those fences.

Val Stafford’s husband is head of the fencing team so he couldn’t attend the talk – he was out mending fences – so Val accepted the cheque for $2,000 on his behalf, a fantastic sum of money raised and donated by the CWA through various activities, including an entry fee on the day.

With Sue and Norma from Benalla CWA

With Sue and Norma from Benalla CWA

Sue Doxey organised the talk and I met many lovely people that day, including Norma the indefatigable president of Benalla CWA and the owners of the lovely Leading Edge bookstore in Benalla, which sold up a storm after the talk and generously donated $3 from each copy.

It was extra special to have Cath

With Cath Marriott and Norma, president of the Benalla CWA

With Cath Marriott and Norma, president of the Benalla CWA

in the audience and many people came up to me afterwards to tell me what a well-respected local farmer she is.

Thank you to everyone for a wonderful afternoon and a special thank you to John for getting the projector up and working.


Librarians Sue Ellen and Deb at Benalla library with Cath Marriott

Librarians Sue Ellen and Deb at Benalla library with Cath Marriott

The library in Benalla was as beautiful as the local art gallery, and it’s testimony to the strength of community spirit in that small Victorian town that they fought so long and hard to get a new library built. Its success was due in no small part to the Friends of Benalla Library, who raised many thousands of dollars for the new building.

David was rather mystified by my visit, but gamely agreed to be photographed!

I suspect David was slightly mystified by my visit but he gamely agreed to be photographed at Dymocks in Albury

Lunch at the Milawa cheese factory with members of Cath’s book club was another highlight, but we had so much fun I forgot to take any pictures, more’s the pity.

We detoured on the way back to try and find Dymocks in Wagga Wagga, where apparently Australian Farming Families was selling well, but there wasn’t a Dymocks in Wagga Wagga so in a flash of inspiration I suggested we try the nearest Dymocks, half an hour away in Albury.

Another mystified book shop owner at Collins in Wagga Wagga

Peter was another mystified but lovely book shop owner at Collins in Wagga Wagga

The lovely bookstore owner in Albury was clearly mystified as to why I should want to call in and sign copies. ‘It should do well over Christmas,’ David said, hopefully.

We drove on to Wagga and tried the Collins bookstore, another great shop with another lovely owner and another mystified expression.

‘Come back any time,’ Peter said politely.

With the lovely Sue at The Bookshop in Wagga Wagga

And finally, with the lovely Sue at The Bookshop in Wagga Wagga

The university bookstore didn’t stock it, the children’s bookshop surely wouldn’t have sold it and I was on the point of giving up when we found The Bookshop inside a shopping centre.

‘We’ve sold 25 copies!’ said Sue, the delighted manager. That quickly turned into 26 when I met a fellow author at the till and we did what I assume must be an author thing (or maybe only eager new authors like me do it, I don’t know). I bought his book so he bought mine. I’m not sure Mindless Thug is really my kind of book but Matt Quade was a local self-published author and knowing how challenging his journey to publication will have been I’ll read it with interest.

And seeing Australian Farming Families on the ‘Top Ten’ shelf was definitely worth the detour.

We stopped in Yass on the way back, where the run of -5 nights had warmed to a balmy +3, but even if snow had fallen we would have been happy because no amount of cold could have penetrated the warmth of the The Globe Inn bed and breakfast, where David and Greg had a log fire burned brightly in the guest sitting room and the smell of pears poaching in cinnamon boded well for breakfast the next day.

Four days earlier I’d left my mobile phone in a petrol station in Yass, and only realised when we’d travelled another 200 kilometres further on. Turning round at that stage would have added another four hours to an already long journey, so I left the phone where it was and trusted the pleasant young man who reassured me when I rang in search of it.

‘I look after,’ he said in halting English. ‘No problem. You come back any time. My name JP.’

I wrote JP a thank you card and slipped $20 inside – an iphone is an expensive commodity and he could so easily have denied any knowledge of it – and the young lad greeted me with a smile when I finally met him at the petrol station.

I’m guessing ‘JP’ was Muslim and he nodded shyly as I handed him the card. I wish I’d had time to stop and talk but we were hurrying to get to an appointment in Berry so I thanked him again and walked back to the car. Before we could pull away JP came running out of the station, waving the card.

‘I keep card,’ he said through the car window. ‘You keep money. No need money. Happy you get phone. Pray for me, is all,’ he said, smiling.

So I sent up a prayer for JP, whose gentle courtesy reminded me that decency and kindness are commodities you can’t ever put a price on.

What a wonderful trip.

2 comments on “The book talk in Benalla

  1. Eliza Waters
    June 8, 2015

    Loved reading about your tour. I’m glad your book is so well received. That JP is a gem, I love reading about such inspiring folk.


  2. debhuntwasinbrokenhill
    June 8, 2015

    Thanks Eliza. Isn’t it wonderful when you meet such kindness? I must write to the owner of the petrol station and tell him what a gem JP is


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This entry was posted on June 8, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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