A time line that “sings”

More than a chronological list of his achievements, geographical arrivals and departures

Allan Cunningham’s story would make a really good book using a creative non-fiction writing technique. It’s a method I would love to use and a story I would love to write, however since starting out on my journey to tell his story I have discovered that writing is a learned craft, a skilled craft. No, naively, I didn’t know, but isn’t that what life is about . . . learning.

To some, writing creatively comes naturally and to others, such as myself, it requires a long, gradual learning curve without end. Plus, when the story is a true one, the writer needs a strong sense of responsibility to be accurate and to cite sources. This is all very overwhelming for a person who has written one essay and a few short pieces of creative prose. However, it’s silly to regret the skills you don’t have and the time you have lost. I’ll celebrate what I do have, that is, skills to record detailed data. The result of this ability is the evolving Allan Cunningham Time line Journal, a chronological list of his achievements and geographical arrivals and departures, which is part of the Allan Cunningham Project.

The Time Line Journal has developed over a long period of time and as each piece is written, I continue to expand the story line and wax lyrical. My haphazard research over the last few years has given me a knowledge of this man’s story, the detail of which surprises me sometimes and I marvel at the resilience and tenacity of the people involved.

As I write I realise I want to tell the reader what Allan saw, who was with him at the time, why was he there, what was he achieving, what the weather was like, what mattered to him and why he cared. There are no boundaries once the creative juices start flowing. However, this is history and must be accurate. Combining accuracy with creativity is challenging.

In Mark Tredinnick’s wonderful book “The Little Red Writing Book” he explains how to meet this challenge. His book provides much needed creative energy and inspiration.

Mark Tredinnick's Little Red Writing Book

He advises: “You’d want your reader to hear the bird cries – sweet crescent honeyeater, harsh yellow wattlebird, distant yellowtail. You’d want them to smell the eucalypts and the leatherwoods; to catch a vivid crimson glimpse of the waratah; to feel this waft of cold air; to sense, without seeing or hearing it, the cold, deep glacial water of the lake, hidden beyond the tea-trees; to guess at the whole long natural history that makes and goes on making the place they walk through.”

Such wonderful writing makes one anxious of not measuring-up, but no, I won’t go there. I’ll celebrate what I can do and keep on keeping on.

Mark states “when you write you talk on paper. When it’s good, you sing”.

Allan Cunningham’s Time Line Journal is going to “sing”, I promise, but . . . not quite yet.