I had to write a page for a regional tourist guide; one of those glossy full colour productions that are half an inch thick and that no-one reads. They print a million of them and they get thrown unread into the motel waste basket along with empty beer cans from the mini bar, the pay-TV guide and last night's Chinese takeaway containers.
The thing I had to write was a biography of nineteenth-century poet Adam Lindsay Gordon, who had lived in the region. Tourist authorities milk these things for all they are worth; especially history, especially famous people, who become a property, a drawcard. Potted biographies usually give no real idea of the human being. Dick Turpin slept here! Who the hell was Dick Turpin? Who cares! Buy the T-shirt! Or the mug!
So I wrote about Adam Lindsay Gordon, but it wrote itself. I had known nothing about him or his work. Gordon had arrived in Australia at the age of twenty, already an accomplished horseman; married a girl of seventeen; wrote vivid epic poetry; rode Cup winners; and endured tragedy. A horse kicked him in the face causing injuries that worsened his depression. His poetry was all but rejected in snob-town Melbourne, the residents of which thought they were above his rollicking verse just like they were above convict-town Sydney. Gordon's fortune disappeared. Then, the one light in his life was extinguished when his infant daughter died. Adam Lindsay Gordon got out of bed one morning in 1870, took a revolver out of a drawer, walked into the ti-tree at Brighton beach and shot himself.
I wrote it up and felt sad for the lost child and her father and sent the copy off and hoped that Adam Lindsay Gordon would have liked the change of emphasis from tourist fluff to human tragedy.
That was last week. On Monday William pulled out a 500-page volume - one of ten from one of my old encyclopedias from about 1956 - from its low shelf and opened it at random. He asked me to read the 'story' on the page that fell open. He liked the pictures: 1940s woodcut images of a silhouetted ship foundering on a reef with people trying to get to shore, and two horsemen galloping through the night on foam-flecked steeds to alert a nearby town's authorities to the unfolding tragedy at sea. It was a poem of several hundred lines, From the Wreck, by Adam Lindsay Gordon. Nice coincidence.
Wednesday. We are walking through the semi-darkness of a quiet State Library corridor – the fourth level exhibition space entitled Victorian Visions: Ned Kelly replica armour, old black and white photographs, a decaying wine barrel from a Sorrento shipwreck, a model of a Fitzroy to Preston cable tram. That kind of thing.
Farther along, there is a wall of nineteenth century paintings. William pointed to one, at random. I stepped forward, leant down to the tiny brass plaque. Thomas Hamilton Lyttleton's Adam Lindsay Gordon Riding at Dowling Forest, 1869.