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Writers Inspiring Change featured book: Black Bones, Red Earth

Updated: Mar 24

Black Bones, Red Earth, is the harrowing, yet ultimately uplifting tale of a child’s search for happiness and a woman’s test of faith. Southern Highlands author, Lee Richie, looked to his mother for inspiration for this heart-wrenching novel, but where the story eventually led, surprised even he.

“It’s a shameful thread throughout history; children are the ones to suffer as a consequence of the decisions made by men of power. As I researched, during the writing of this novel, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the plight of children on both sides of the racial divide.”

1951: Katherine’s journey begins in the unforgiving landscape of the Australian outback. Having been abandoned by her father after her mother is killed in a London air raid, Katherine finds little sympathy when she is consigned to an austere life in the care of Lachlan and Daisy Stuart on an isolated property beyond Broken Hill. There is little tenderness in the ten-year-old’s life until Aboriginal station hands offer their friendship, but love comes at a deadly price.

Current day: Now living an idyllic life in the north of England, for almost sixty years Katherine has hidden her past. But when an old letter is discovered, she is forced to relive her traumatic years under the Australian sun and explain who died and why she had to run. However, there’s a twist in the tale that will bring her once again to her knees. Will returning to Australia help her truly find peace?

A story of hope, love, sacrifice and resilience. Black Bones, Red Earth was first inspired by my mother’s story. Her mother died of TB when she was just four years old. Her father sent her and her two sisters to an orphanage. This was common practice in those days. “Men didn’t raise little girls.” When it came time to leave the orphanage, Mum and her sisters made a pact to keep their childhood a secret. Mum kept her oath by inventing a childhood of boarding schools and happy days with family during school holidays. In the end she convinced herself of the tale. She was eighty years old when the truth was revealed. When I asked her why she had chosen to hide her true story for so many years, she said she was ashamed. That became the seed of an idea. The next bit of inspiration came from my Uncle Chris, who came to Australia as a boy, only to be despatched to a sheep station where he struggled to make a life under the care of a cranky old station owner. His adventures brought real-life experiences to my story and I combined the two to get started. As a panster, not a plotter, I had no idea where the story would go from there. But it wasn’t until I started writing and set my tale in the 1950s that I came to realise the weight of such stories, and how they could be entwined with the true-life experiences of characters from the bush. I found the back-story had far-reaching consequences for my understanding of Australia and its past. As I researched and added Aboriginal characters, I realised just how little I understood about Australia’s roots. I began talking to indigenous elders who told of their own experiences, and very soon the Aboriginal characters came to life on the page. I couldn’t have done it without their help. The book has some harrowing moments, brutal even, but the tale is ultimately uplifting and is a story of unbreakable love.

About Lee Richie

Lee Richie was born and grew up in Liverpool, England before migrating to Canada and, later, Australia.

“I’ve had the good fortune to travel the world and live in many places and this has always inspired me to write. Meeting people from all walks of life and different backgrounds provide a treasure trove of ideas for characters and their stories.

Lee is currently writing book two of the Alexander Bottom series, and an adult thriller set in London.

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