I grew up in a small town in rural Victoria – Eildon Weir, as it was known when I lived there. The town nestled under the weir, and I spent a fair bit of time as a child contemplating the thrilling prospect of the wall’s collapse. I imagined the opportunities the flood would provide for the rescue of old people and small children. The newspaper headlines would read: “Eildon Boy Saves Hundreds.” Fashioning these fantasies of triumph was the beginning of my life as a writer. Whenever a new word came my way, I found a home for it in my ongoing narrative, always awkwardly: “Indefatigable Eildon Boy Saves Hundreds,” and, “Indefatigable Eildon Boy Saves Hundreds From Catastrophic Calamity.” It took me many years of writing before I got back to,“Eildon Boy Saves Hundreds”.
Joyful Text Publishing April 2014
Tess Wachowicz is a woman of great beauty and accomplishment. Her second marriage at the age of forty to Leon Joyce, a privately wealthy dealer in fine and rare books, puzzles her friends and admirerers. Tess is famously libidinous; Leon is asexual. The assumption is that Tess has made an ‘arrangement’ with Leon, but the arrangement is stranger than anyone imagines. When Tess falls fatally ill and dies after months of struggle, her husband’s grief drives him to the brink of madness. He retreats to Joyful, an old property in rural Victoria, once the site of an utopian community run by his great-aunt. There, Leon faces harrowing secrets kept from him by Tess, and also uncovers the hidden life of the long-ago utopian community.
Leon’s grief and sense of betrayal is mirrored in the concurrent story of Emmanuel Delli and his wife Daanya, Kurds who adopted Australia after the Gulf War to escape the nightmare of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Emmanuel arrived in Australia with an international reputation in Mesopotamian studies; Daanya is a pediatrician. Their daughter Sofia, a musical protégé of Tess Wachowicz, takes her own life in a Melbourne hotel after the failure of an ill-advised relationship with her father’s closest friend. Emmanuel experiences his daughter’s death as a betrayal of his love for her, and like Leon, he is driven close to madness.
Circumstances eventually bring Leon and Emmanuel face-to-face at Joyful, where their separate struggles to overcome grief and betrayal merge, and find resolution.
“Hillman’s writing has a rococo grandness and sweep. His confidence encompasses high fashion, the lives of an educated upper-class Iraqi family, the eccentricity of country towns, the glory and terror of the Australian countryside and the hilarity, as well as the anguish, of being mad. And he writes about sex with an earthiness reminiscent of D.H. Lawrence.” Helen Elliot, The Saturday Age
“Hillman’s prose is a pleasure to read, elegantly alert to the paradox of strong feeling, full of poetry…” Geordie Williamson, The Weekend Australian
His Life and Music. ABC Books, 2013: “Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu won’t be explained by any book. If the best a biographer can hope for is to make that clear and okay, Robert Hillman does an excellent job.” Michael Dwyer, Sydney Morning Herald