The Tower Mill



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  It has been twenty-five years since Joh Bjelke-Petersen was forced out as Queensland Premier. For young people the age of my own children, his name may be vaguely associated with controversy Ė it might even draw a blank stare. Who? they ask. Even those who took to the streets decades ago in opposition are now likely to smile, wryly, and admit that the world has moved on. So it has. That era is already fodder for historians who like to assess events dispassionately, looking for trends and outcomes and the machinations of party politics.

  A novelistís job, though, is different. We might be looking for the big picture as well, but we do it through a focus on the lives of individuals and their deeply personal response to events that others remember only as headlines. That is the role I have taken with The Tower Mill. The truth of it is, when the Springboks Rugby Team came to Brisbane in 1971 I was a school boy devotee of the game and I resented the intrusion of demonstrators into my enjoyment of the game. Only later did I realise another game was being played. That drama was only beginning; in fact, it was to run for the next fifteen years until matters of far greater importance to individual Queenslanders than racism in South Africa were at stake. That is why my novel is about individual lives and the relationship between Susan Kinnane, protester, journalist, mother and, Tom, the son she chooses not to raise herself. Her choices are intertwined with the politics of the day, which sits as backdrop and context for the personal drama of these two.

  This story had been in my head for twenty years. In fact, parts of the novel published only now were written in 1999, but I lost my way, or perhaps it is more truthful to say I lost confidence in my ability to tell the story as well as it deserved. In 2010 a novel by Penelope Lively seemed to show how I could go about the telling, so I sat down to the story once more. I had no idea at the time that only months before eventual publication, the political successors of Bjelke Petersen would return to power, effectively for the first time since his demise.

  I need to make it clear that I donít quibble for a moment with the 2012 State election result and readers should not see this book as Ďparty politicalí. However, some of the earliest decisions made by the Newman government seem to indicate that the party has not regenerated itself or moved its thinking forward in the intervening years and this makes The Tower Mill timely in a way I had not anticipated. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the government of Queensland did not govern for all of its people. It made no bones about it. People with ideas it didnít like, or those seeking basic personal freedoms it did not approve of were victimized. Most worrying of all, it began to treat genuine dissent as though it was no longer a necessary part of a healthy democracy. When many of the dissenters felt compelled to leave, as Susan does in this story, it crowed with delight. This was poor governance and I fervently hope the Newman administration does not follow up its early announcements with a return to the days when public agencies like the police were used against individuals and political opponents with the tacit agreement of a complacent public.

  The Tower Mill is about what can happen when this attitude takes root.



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