Home' LOTL : March 2007 Contents 29
Sixteen years ago, give or take a few months, a
girl stepped off a bus in the middle of nowhere
Australia. Now, she takes us back there to a
land alien to most city dwellers, what could be
a different continent if it weren’t for the utter
‘Austrayaness’ of it all.
It’s taken that long for Pip Newling to feel she could
put down all her experiences in one place, to distill
the essence and get them out of
Written with an unusual lack
of judgement, we see Pip from
selected angles but with enough
honesty to satisfy a reader’s
She talks about affairs of the heart,
he challenges of self reliance and
e primal ways of relating in the
utback, with an equal and even
e chapters are longer or shorter
pending on the turn of events in
ese intense, claustrophobic and
sty places. Places that both draw
u in with their inscrutability and
el you with their violence.
e intensity of being on the road
the relationships this produces
also brings out more about this young
woman although she really serves as a mirror for
her surroundings. These are “the people no-one
writes about anymore, if they ever did,” and this set
of stories leaves no room for romanticism.
The people in view were some of those living in,
and passing through, Halls Creek in the Kimberley
region of north Western Australia, and Mataranka
in the Top End in the early 1990s.
And this is where the power of the story was found.
Not in the fictionalised version that Pip originally
created, but in the real-life aspect of the stories and
the landscapes in which they took place, that she
re-discovered in the editing process.
“…When you hear about the turkey shoot,
shooting aboriginal people for sport...when you’re
confronted with that, and it’s based in truth, the
reader can trust the voice they hear it through,
without being put on notice by the narrator.”
This is just one example of the gulf between
indigenous and white people that informs the text.
We see Pip trying to bridge this gap, something
that takes “time and consistency” including times
where it seemingly “backfires.”
“It’s still a white person’s story…there are no
substantial relationships with indigenous people
and that’s not to say that they weren’t there in
small ways…I’m a white person, I can leave, I have
opportunities everywhere I go.”
Challenging the notion of Australian-ness was
also a pivotal theme. What can the reader identify
as Australian? The beer, the male chauvinism,
the aboriginal camps, the pub, the cowboys, the
language, the landscape.
To be in a place where there is a native language
that’s not English would be a foreign concept to
many Australians. The same place where bars
are barricaded with wire mesh, public brawls are
part of life, and the Police have different rules for
“The clash and ringing of metal was becoming
rhythmical, and I guess kind of reassuring because
they hadn’t actually hit each other’s bodies.
They must have been getting tired though. The
fight had been going a good fifteen minutes
already. The younger woman stumbled. The crowd
took a collective intake of breath as we watched
the arc of the older woman’s picket. It landed
squarely on the other’s torso, with a dull, fleshy,
This fight between two aboriginal women recounted
in Knockabout Girl took place outside the pub in
Hall’s Creek where Pip worked behind the bar,
prompted by an argument over a man.
Perhaps inevitably, the sexual language spoken in
this ‘land’ is straight. To be the “wrong sexuality,
the wrong colour” means you can have battles.
Although she came out as a lesbian some years
later, the Pip of that era was one with “long, blonde
hair, hanging out at the pub…trying hard to be a
“In some respects I was looking for a community
to belong to and ended up in Halls Creek…but it’s
really about this story I am telling, of Australia rather
than my life.”
During her return to Halls Creek and Mataranka in
2005, her observations of which are included in
the book, Pip said, “It was interesting going back
and seeing that the white people had moved on
but the indigenous people had stayed and brought
their kids up and sent them to uni, and they
“It’s not impossible to be friends but it’s a big
task…Whose side you are on is often what it
comes down to.”
Pip is working on another book, perhaps with a
community theme, maybe a lesbian theme, we’ll
just have to wait and see.
Knockabout Girl (Harper Collins) RRP $27.99.
TALKS TO PIP NEWLING
ABOUT THE OUTBACK
INSPIRED HER BOOK
‘KNOCKABOUT GIRL’. Centre
Photo of Pip
Photo of the
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