Paradise Earth

$9.99$29.95

Amy Barker

‘The aftershocks from 1996 continued, year after year, often in the life of the individual more devastating than the Port Arthur massacre itself. Yet always the subsequent tragedies could be traced back to that unspeakable Sunday.’

Coming home to Tasman Peninsula with her Northern Irish partner, Ruth journeys into her own psychic trauma as well as that projected onto the raw, monumental coast. When Ruth’s brother John helps his fourteen-year-old son apply for a firearm’s permit—almost two and a half decades after Port Arthur—they risk condemning those who do not remember the past to repeat it.

A Port Arthur survivor, Marina has returned to the Peninsula with her brother Moon to pack up Doo-No-Harm, the family holiday home, after their mother’s death. Marina’s personhood was so violated by her early life experience that she has been left an angry she-wolf about to set out on the hunt. In a convoy of duck rescuers, the siblings head for a confrontation with shooters on the wetland.

In these lives choreographed by trauma, damage and the ramifications of wilful forgetfulness, transformation can only occur after an extremely painful lesson.

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Book Reviews

‘A task fraught with dangers: to be an honest and unflinching guide to this most terrible of Australia’s hauntings. Amy Barker reminds me of the young Dostoevsky, how in his novel of a Siberian prison camp he could descend the ladder of humanity step by step because even in the most degraded there must still be the divine spark. Not a safe place for writer or reader—but a novel of blazing and humbling integrity.’—Peter Bishop, writers’ advocate and formerly Creative Director of Varuna, the Writers’ House.

‘In a masterful follow-up to her award-winning debut novel Omega Park, Amy Barker has created a simple and beautiful tapestry of lives lived in the shadow of the unthinkable violence of the Port Arthur Massacre. Set against the backdrop of the Tasman Peninsula’s raw and rugged natural beauty, and its tragic legacy, Paradise Earth recounts a series of separate but interconnecting stories that explore the vicissitudes and fragility of the human condition. The result is both lyrical and provocative.’—Chris Nyst, author of Cop This, Gone, Gettin’ Square, and Crook as Rookwood.

Learn more about Paradise Earth by listening to Amy’s interview on ABC Radio National’s Books and Arts program.

Awards

Amy Barker is honoured as a finalist in the literary fiction category of the 2020 International Book Awards for Paradise Earth

Paradise Earth’s Amy Barker and Stormbird Press rise from the ashes of Kangaroo Island’s deadliest wildfires to win Gold in the Australia/NZ/Pacific Rim Best Regional fiction category in the 2020 Independent Publisher Awards.

Author

Amy Barker holds degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing. Her debut novel Omega Park won the 2008 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Best Emerging Author, was shortlisted for the 2010 FAW (Fellowship of Australian Writers) Christina Stead Award for fiction and was Winner of the 2012 IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Ena Noël Award. Paradise Earth, Amy’s second novel, won the 2013 DJ ‘Dinny’ O’Hearn Memorial Fellowship. Amy has undertaken residencies at the Australian Centre (UOM), Varuna, The Writers’ House, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and Old Melbourne Gaol, which like Port Arthur, is a Pentonville model prison.

Author Interview

Today we talk to Amy Barker about her new novel, Paradise Earth to be released by Stormbird Press in early 2020. Amy was the winner of Australia’s 2008 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Best Emerging Author. Her stunning debut novel Omega Park won the 2012 IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Ena Noël Award, and was shortlisted for the 2009 FAW Christina Stead Award.

1) Donna Mulvenna: Hi Amy. Paradise Earth. It’s just fantastic. I pushed many aspects of my life aside so that I could keep reading. One of the things I loved most was the powerful way in which you introduced readers to issues that divide communities throughout the world today. Can you tell us what motivated you to write about the events surrounding the Port Arthur massacre and how you are able to write with such profound empathy for each character?

Amy Barker: As a writer, there is really no higher compliment you can receive than a reader telling you they felt compelled to continue reading your book so I appreciate that. I certainly felt compelled to write Paradise Earth. I found myself uniquely poised to write about the events in a work of fiction. While not at Port Arthur on the day of the massacre, I spent my formative years on Tasman Peninsula, with both victims and members of the gunman’s family. If I had been more directly affected, I imagine I would not have been willing, nor able, to explore the events in a novel. At the same time, without the personal connection to the subject matter I would not have found the courage to approach it. One of my main motivations to write Paradise Earth was to explore the unanswered questions—those of the community, survivors and all those affected—that still surround the massacre.

Regarding issues that divide communities, as one of my characters says in the book, there are a lot of good people who own guns. In Australia, we’ve determined that there’s no place for guns that are nothing but human-killing devices and after Port Arthur these were banned. The novel examines the genuine reasons for private firearm ownership (including self-loading and pump action rifles and shotguns) that remain i.e. recreational hunting and primary production.

2) Donna Mulvenna: As a work in progress, Paradise Earth won the 2013 DJ ‘Dinny’ O’Hearn Memorial Fellowship, the judges commenting that the narrative “is deeply inward and managed with a keen eye”. It is due to be released in April 2020. How long has it taken to write the book and why?

Amy Barker:  I began writing Paradise Earth in July 2009, during the week leading up to the release of my debut novel Omega Park. In all the excitement, I sought sanctuary at Varuna, The National Writers House in the Blue Mountains, where I found time and space to write the opening 15,000 words of a first draft. So it has taken me essentially ten years to write the book. The best way I can think to explain the process is that during that time I didn’t only write one book but a series of books. With each new book while things like the main setting and core characters remained, there was always a completely new plot, certain characters were killed off and others introduced. Even the core characters grew and changed from one book to the next, for example, entering different professions or becoming parents.

The reason for a constantly evolving novel is so that it remains connected with the outside world. That means while you are writing you are monitoring important events or news relevant to your subject matter, collecting this information and then reflecting it back within the world of your novel. With a major project like this you have to be able to adapt.

3) Donna Mulvenna: You hold degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing. I have to ask… can anyone learn to write like this or do you possess an innate gift?

Amy Barker: I was writing from a very early age. I have ‘work’ from when I was about five years old. I remember in my final year of primary school winning a competition amongst all of the students in my grade to create the dusk jacket of a novel. It was the cover art and a blurb for the back cover. Then in high school my English teachers would tell me they would ‘be first in line to buy the bestseller’. Personally, I consider it a gift but such a gift is not much use without discipline, commitment and sacrifice. Anyone will learn valuable things by doing a creative writing or related degree but knowing what I do about the life of a writer I wouldn’t advise anyone to pursue it as a career unless they felt they had no other options, that it was their calling. If you love something as much as you love writing, and you’re as good at it, then don’t write. Choose the other thing. As the author Hubert Selby Jr. put it, “Being an artist doesn’t take much. Just everything you got”.

4) Donna Mulvenna: I believe you were well on your way to becoming a lawyer, when you had a drastic change of direction and pursued writing instead. What initial steps did you take to become a writer?

Amy Barker: I did in fact re-enrol in law, right before my credits were due to expire for prior studies, my last chance to get my degree, with the sole aim of practising animal law. A few weeks into the semester I was offered an internship with a film producer (the first money I ever earned from writing was having a feature film screenplay commissioned and optioned), so I quit again!

The initial serious step I took to becoming an author was to apply for an elite course, a Fine Arts degree that only accepted twelve creative writing students each year. As part of the application you had to submit a folio of your work. I used this as a test for myself, to see if someone qualified might think that I possessed potential and/or talent. As it turned out, I was ranked first amongst all the applicants that year and I graduated with distinction after three years of study. In my final year, I began work on what was to be my debut novel Omega Park, working with a supervisor. Five years later Omega Park was published.

5) Donna Mulvenna:  Amy, you have won multiple awards and received wide critical acclaim for your first novel, Omega Park. What has that early acknowledgement meant to you? And did it change how you wrote Paradise Earth?

Amy Barker: The kinds of acknowledgements you’ve mentioned certainly help to increase your confidence. After the publication of Omega Park, probably the most meaningful thing I read from a critic was a comment about me being a courageous author who is not afraid to tackle confronting issues of contemporary Australian life. When writing a book like Paradise Earth, you reflect on this kind of feedback time and again, particularly during trying periods. It provides ongoing encouragement.

6) Donna Mulvenna:  What do you like most about Paradise Earth? Do you have a favourite moment, character or line? And when you began writing were their moments when your inspiration surprised yourself?

Amy Barker: This is a difficult question for me to answer. Honestly, what I like most about Paradise Earth is my personal connection to the subject matter. To have felt that I not only ought to write this novel but that I must write this novel, that this was my novel to write, to have completed this long and often times, challenging mission (‘task’ just doesn’t do the journey justice), and to have found it the absolutely perfect publishing home. The existence of this novel gives extra meaning to my past and adds value to life experiences. It really is much more than just a work of fiction to me.

7) Donna Mulvenna: Stormbird Press is a relatively new press whose mission it is to defend nature and empower communities through the power of story. Why is it important to you to align yourself with an organisation that is trying to make positive change in the world?

Amy Barker: Stormbird’s mission is one very close to my own heart. I consider signing with Stormbird Press to not only be a great opportunity but an excellent investment. As an author my success is Stormbird’s success and as a publisher whose mission I deeply care about, Stormbird’s ultimate success is my success. In my view this is true partnership and the kind that is difficult, if not near on impossible, to find as an author in the publishing world. I can’t imagine any other existing publisher that would have been the right one for Paradise Earth so I am very blessed.

8) Donna Mulvenna: What do you hope people will learn from your portrayal of the Port Arthur massacre, its effects on individuals and community, the legacy of violence, and the suffering on the physical landscape?

Amy Barker: I would hope that a reader might learn that the Port Arthur massacre is in many ways still an open wound—in the lives of individuals within the Tasman Peninsula community and beyond, as well as on the place Port Arthur and its surrounds. As such, the massacre remains an event deserving of our attention, understanding and compassion. Most of all, I hope that readers might be provoked to ask questions about aspects of the current state of the world and what Port Arthur can still teach us about the reality that hurt people do hurt people and so not only our compassion but our common sense should tell us that to do no harm should be our ever present goal if we don’t want cycles of violence to continue and the past to repeat itself.

9) Donna Mulvenna: Have you found it particularly challenging having factual events and such a notorious figure as a key focus of your novel? How do you find that balance of fact and fiction, particularly with such sensitive subject matter?

Amy Barker: Everything in the novel surrounding the gunman and the massacre is based on facts and the real historical events. My characters are the only fictional creations, as well as a couple of locations on Tasman Peninsula: a local cemetery and a fishing spot. Writing about this, or any other real world tragedy, is always going to be an ethically charged process. As an author you must listen most carefully to the voices of those affected, particularly those directly affected by the event. If you do that, it won’t be easy but you will have a constant guide throughout what might otherwise be a perilous journey.

10) Donna Mulvenna: One of the reviews of Omega Park stated ‘Despite a cast of memorable characters, the real hero in this debut novel is the setting, a uniquely Queensland environment, but one sadly underexplored in fiction’. The same might be said of Paradise Earth. Why is the strong evocation of ‘place’ such an important aspect of your work, which in some respects, could be seen as a central character.

Amy Barker: When I think about it, I did begin Paradise Earth simply with place rather than a story. The time I spent living on Tasman Peninsula as a child affected me deeply and continues to affect me now. There is no other place quite like it. When it came time to write my second novel I wanted to capture, or at least represent this place, in a work of fiction. What I soon found is that it is impossible to write about Tasman Peninsula without writing about Port Arthur and once you begin writing about Port Arthur, the events of 1996 in particular, this is such a vitally important subject matter that it subsumes any other potential narratives. I know that at least one of the reasons I feel such an affinity with the Peninsula is its unique geology. The coastline is stunningly beautiful and yet this unique beauty is the result of damage: millions of years of wind and wave erosion. This appeals to me as a powerful metaphor of the human psyche, that it is possible our own personal damage can result in a beauty that makes us unique, who we are, if you like. It’s a question of embracing it. I would challenge anyone to spend a significant length of time on Tasman Peninsula and not be affected by it in a profound way. As an author, I feel much obliged that I have a medium to be able to share my deep and lasting impressions with others in what I hope is a meaningful way.

Meta

Author: Amy Barker
Release date: April 28, 2020
RRP: AU$29.99 (pbk), $9.99 (ebk)
Territory: English language market
Format: Paperback and eBook
Size: 203 x 128 mm
Pages: 324
ISBNs: 978-1-925856-22-4 (pbk) 978-1-925856-23-1 (ebk)

 

Media Content

Pull Quotes

“In the wilderness the boundary between humankind and the divine is but a membrane and if you do not remain vigilant, penetration can occur without you so much as realising it.” (page 15)

“It is trauma though, the wounding, mortal wounds—heart rot is the silent killer.” (page 25)

“There are some people you encounter in life who leave impressions on your soul, like a passer-by’s handprints in a fresh cement pour.” (page 49)

“For though the wrongs we do to others may seem insignificant, we do not know the damage that has already been done them, or will be done them, and so we cannot predict what impact our venial sins will have on the world.” (page 53)

“1996 was the year her faith was fossilised, like an insect caught in the blood flow of a giant swamp gum, dead and trapped forever in amber.” (page 193)

“The reason the hunters and rescuers stood in such close proximity was not some truce resulting from the shooting accident; it was merely the price of admission to a rhombus of shared sunshine.” (page 224)

Press Releases

Serious Literature Honoured in Serious Times
July 28, 2020
In a year marked by the collective trauma of Australia’s horrific bushfire season and the current Coronavirus pandemic, Paradise Earth by Amy Barker is honoured as a finalist in the literary fiction category of the 2020 International Book Awards.

Paradise Earth Wins IPPY Gold
May 12, 2020
Paradise Earth author Amy Barker and publisher Stormbird Press rise from the ashes of Kangaroo Island’s deadly wildfires to win Gold in the Australia/NZ/Pacific Rim Best Regional fiction category in the 2020 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Awards.

Paradise Earth Release Announcement
April 29, 2020
Stormbird Press announces the launch of Paradise Earth, from multi-award-winning author Amy Barker.

Extract

The following extract is from the first chapter of Paradise Earth. Both extract and novel focus on events surrounding the Port Arthur massacre and its effects on individuals within a community, as well as the legacy of violence and suffering on a physical landscape.

Inside the Penitentiary, it becomes immediately apparent to Ruth that the ruin is infested with the past like toxic black mould. History, a living organism, releases spores that feed on its decaying matter. This colony branches out across the remnants of internal cell walls, the shelving and the bolt fixings for sack hammocks. It threads over the foul air egress vents in the rear wall and through the rubble debris piled up in corners. Its roots travel deep, right to the bloody Indigenous land beneath the foundation stones. Unsuspecting tourists risk exposure simply by breathing in the air as they access the ruin via its purpose-built walkways. When they pause in the interpretive areas to read about the past, they are unwittingly ingesting it.

“Not real big, are they?” a woman in front of Ruth remarks of the cells to her male companion.

“Can’t go far when you’re in chains,” he replies.

Lions, Ruth recalls. The Commandant used to call the men imprisoned on the ground storey lions because they wore leg irons. Together, Ruth stares with the strangers into the closest cell, now just a brick cavern with moss-covered earth, two metres deep and one metre wide.

“Look at the size of them!” the woman exclaims, as the reality sets in. “God.”

Shaking their heads in disbelief, the pair move on.

As Ruth climbs to the stabilised second storey, on what is more scaffolding than staircase, a child begins to scream. The sound cuts right through her. In this place, to scream is dangerous for there are too many ghosts to be woken. Within the ruins, scars left where floor levels were keyed into the brickwork are the only trace of absent floors in the upper storeys. When Ruth finally locates the source of the relentless sound, she is peering down at the little girl, Carly, held like a life-size doll under one of her mother’s arms. With a bird’s-eye view, Ruth studies her closely. Carly is having difficulty breathing, her eyes are red and watery, her nose is runny with mucus. Ruth determines, as the girl is carried out, that she is definitely suffering a reaction to the Penitentiary’s infestation.

Outside, Ruth follows Carly who is climbing the hill, having made one of the miraculous recoveries that only a small child can. The blonde head darts like a white rabbit between the Commandant’s Office and the Guard Tower, up to the Officers’ Quarters and Smith O’Brien’s Cottage, reserved for political prisoners. Ruth wonders where the father of the two children is. Are the parents separated? Divorced? Or, did he just choose to stay home this afternoon and watch the football? Only when Ruth comes within a few metres of the family does she realise, this woman, Carly’s mother, might be a ghost. Everybody on the Peninsula knew someone involved in the massacre. Most knew several. Beyond the striking physical similarities—the natural butter-blonde hair, milky-white skin, heart-shaped face—the woman is the age her friend would be today, had she survived. These are the children, the children she might have had. A life she might have made for herself. Seventeen years was not long enough, not nearly long enough.

Ruth’s old friend is buried in the small, historic Clark Cliffs cemetery, overlooking Norfolk Bay, a ten-minute drive up the road from her parents’ house in Nubeena. After the massacre, those who had been involved in the tragedy or directly affected by it found themselves faced with a decision similar to the ‘stay or go’ predicament in a bushfire. Like Ruth’s own family, after her death her family chose to stay. Other locals made the decision to leave early and over the coming year moved to the mainland, or further, some severing all ties to the Peninsula.

In the aftermath, it was those who delayed making their decision until it was too late—like those who find themselves in the firestorm and at the last moment flee from their homes in their cars or on foot—who were ultimately consumed by it.

As the sun slips behind clouds and the entire Historic Site darkens, an autumnal gust perforates Ruth’s lips and then Seamus’s hand spoons the small of her back.

“We’re losing the light,” he warns.

From the Penitentiary, a sealed path along the waterfront leads them, on their way back to the Visitor Centre, directly past what is called simply, Memorial Garden.

At the entrance, Ruth pauses with Seamus, hands held behind their backs, palm in palm, like priests or policemen to scan the information provided. Ruth knows the details by heart. More than two decades ago a young man armed with three high-powered automatic weapons opened fire in a busy café on this very spot and then continued his shooting rampage throughout the grounds of the Historic Site. The gunman was tried and convicted of 35 counts of murder.

“These shootings you had down here happened in ’96, straight after Dunblane,” says Seamus. “Was this a copycat crime?”

“I don’t think so,” says Ruth. “I’m really not sure but I don’t even remember hearing about Dunblane at the time to be honest.”

“I was living in Scotland, studying at the University of Dundee,” says Seamus. “It’s not something you easily forget. Those school portraits they showed on the news of the beautiful wee bairns. Even if you weren’t directly affected you still felt like your heart had been ripped out. People, complete strangers, cried for days.”

Ruth leaves his side.

Where the most lives were lost here, they have built a Pool of Reflection. Inscribed around the stone edges are simple words that acknowledge pain, loss and courage and ask visitors to cherish life as a way to honour the dead. Coins shine up from the bottom of the rectangle of chill, shallow water. Tourists who visit the Port Arthur Historic Site must wander in assuming it’s just another ruin. Chancing upon an artificial body of water they feel the irresistible urge to wish, so take a coin from their pocket or their purse and toss it in, unaware that they are asking favours of the dead.

In one corner, a plaque of bronze leaves lies submerged and Ruth does not need to count them to know they number thirty-five—thirty-five fallen. Glancing up, she finds the cross that bears the victims’ names: two beams of Huon pine, the horizontal wide and rough-hewn, the vertical cut neat as a fence post, standing in the shadow of the escarpment. At its foot lies a bouquet of white lilies wrapped in brown paper and tied with brown string, the only clue that three days ago was the anniversary of the worst mass murder in post-colonial Australian history.

Ruth interrogates her surroundings, searches for some trace—psychic, spiritual or otherwise—of the violence that occurred. Moments pass and she discovers nothing but the natural beauty of the place. The proliferation of native flora exists in defiant contrast to the manicured lawns and mature English trees that dominate the rest of the landscape. Even when a flock of Green Rosellas fly low overhead, threatening to destroy the tranquillity, their wings merely mimic the sound of rustling leaves. The past, for now at least, is a sleeping dragon.