Wollongong – second post from Des Hunt

Dead wombat near Wollongong. The yellow cross painted on its belly is a way that wildlife rangers keep track of road kill.

Whenever I visit a place to research locations, I look for road kill for it gives a good idea of the sorts of animals that are common. The road kill in Australia (OZ) is a lot bigger than what you’ll find in NZ. Wallabies and kangaroos are to be expected, and you’ll see their remains on the side of roads every kilometre or so. But I never thought that wombats could be so common. We drove around southern NSW for 7 days and saw dead wombats each day.

Fortunately we never hit one, for they are big animals and would have made quite a dent in the rental car. We stopped and looked at some of them – road kill provides that opportunity to take a close look at animals. Although I was surprised by the length of their claws and the thickness of the fur, I should not have been, because they dig holes, and the temperature at night was below freezing even in October. We also saw a dead echidna, several snakes (one that unfortunately I couldn’t avoid running over), a potaroo and a fox. We did not see any dead pelicans but we saw thousands of live ones around Wollongong which is where I decided to set the Oz part of the story.

Wollongong is a town with huge chemical plants. They extract iron from rocks and turn it into steel which is then manufactured into a wide range of products. They also smelt copper. I found that the city fitted nicely into my chemical theme for the story. The place was celebrating because their team St George-Illawarra had just won the National Rugby League Grand Final – this is a big deal in NSW. Like most places in OZ I found people were very happy to talk about their city and I soon had lots of ideas for settings. I drove around checking places out and taking hundreds of photos that would set the scene when I wrote the story. Remembering that I wanted to have boys setting off pipebombs, I looked for suitable places where they might do this. I found just what I wanted at a lookout on the coast.

A steel pelican at the Port Kembla steel works, Wollongong.

Hill60 – as it is called – has old gun emplacements left over from World War II. The graffitti-covered tunnels were the perfect place for boys to do things they should not. They were also a good place for things to go wrong. And flying overhead were pelicans soaring on the updraft caused by the wind hitting the hill. Immediately I though that the word pelican would somehow look good in a title. Then, when I later visited the steel mill, I saw a statue of a pelican made by welding bits of scrap metal together. I then had my title – Steel Pelicans. That’s what the boys would call themselves.

This is only the second time that I’ve had the title of a book before I start writing – the other was Where Cuckoos Call. Usually I have the book mostly finished before I can think of a title. I can’t be sure that the title will stay at Steel Pelicans, as the publishes might not like it, but I’m going to call it that in the meantime.

After two days in Wollongong I felt had all I needed. If, when I was writing the story, I found something missing I would have to use Google Earth to get a bird’s eye view, or Google Street View to roam the streets of Wollongong – both are important tools for a writer who likes to use real settings.

We left Wollongong and moved inland. I visited a huge open cast gold mine which is creating lots of protest from the locals, just as we get here on the Coromandel Penninsula where I live. You never know that might be the source of another story linking NZ to OZ. From there we went to Sydney and flew home, satisfied that I had plenty of ideas on which to base a story. The next step was to research the NZ locations. I’ll tell you about that in my next blog.

5 Responses so far

  1. 1

    alex said,

    IS THAT A REAL ANIMALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. 2

    juju said,

    poor wombats!!!!
    How did you get the pic?

  3. 3

    Rachel said,

    Aww. That’s really sad. i can’t believe they do that just to mark the ROAD KILL!

  4. 4

    neve said,

    i hate people who kill animals just for the fun of it!

  5. 5

    Jacqui said,

    Hi Des
    Will you factor any League into your characters story when they are in Oz? St George Illawarra have a huge following. Perhaps they could have a game at home against the Warriors that he wants to go and see. The Grand Final win was their first in many years so I imagine their fans are still celebrating.

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