This week we talk to Ann Howard, author of Rainbow on the River - a terrific new book on the history of Dangar Island and the lower Hawkesbury. It continues her series on the subject, including:
- Rainbow on the River
- A Ghost, a Murder & Other Dangar Tales - Volume 1
- Ten Dry Pies & other Dangar Tales - Volume 2
- Derrymacash to Dangar
- Q. What inspired you to research the Hawkesbury River area?
- A. Thirty-eight years ago, I was invited to a party on the island from university. I went there in September. The jasmine hedges were perfuming the air and there was no traffic. It was an instant love affair. I moved on a year later, buying and restoring The Pavilion, the last remaining part of the Dangar homestead.
- Q. Favourite website?
- A. Trove is brilliant but I’ve been researching for 38 years and all my preliminary research has been primary.
- Q. Favourite library?
- A. For this particular research I didn’t have one – I looked at the Royal Australian Historical Society Library but found sketchy and inaccurate information about the Dangar family. I was really on my own as an independent scholar.
- A. Well really it was finding and interviewing people (sometimes serendipitously, sometimes by due diligence), and obtaining family documents, diaries, photographs and letters. People have been very generous with their time, resources and information. I think that the great mass of Australian history is slipping through our fingers. People are grateful to me, because I record in a straightforward, non-political, non-judgemental way. When I first came to Australia from London, I found that children did not know what a drover was, but they knew what cowboys were. Australian drovers moved more head of cattle at one time than their American counterparts. I took my sons in a gypsy caravan over stock routes in the far reaches of NSW and interviewed drovers for a book.
- A. Yes, historical research is like opal mining. I chipped away at it over many years and found new historical facts about the 1890s that stopped me in my tracks. The Dangar family was unaware of what I uncovered – illustrating just how quickly history is obliterated! They had a father who was really keen on history and they tuned out! Then later they were grateful to me. Also, the mother of John Dangar Reid transcribed the family letters, for which I am abidingly grateful.
- A. Well, the fact that 800 passengers at a time and two brass bands used to leave Lime Wharf and go out into the ocean and up the river to Dangar Island, where they stayed for four hours. Everybody had assumed the island was a quiet backwater.
- A. Ryland, a manager from the American company which won the tender for building the Hawkesbury River Bridge, arrived with his whole family, a cigar-smoking American full of bravado, with a revolver in his belt. He was the father of a little boy, born to a local Australian woman, name unknown. His baby was christened ‘Hawkesbury’ after the river and taken back to the US.
- A. I’d like to know the draught of the SS Namoi because I know the Hawkesbury River is 108 feet deep in the centre, but I wonder whether they had to moor offshore and take passengers in small boats to Dangar Island, or if they could moor at the wharf. I’d also love to go underwater in the murk of the river because there must be all sorts of artefacts half-buried there. I’ve watched people lose fishing knives and bottles in the river – it’s easily done!
- A. If you are passionate about a subject, you will find a way to do it.
- A. I let them speak for themselves. The last book I wrote was hardly edited and is in the voice of an 8-year-old girl. Learn to listen carefully to what folk tell you.
- A. I get the same warm, expansive feeling you get when you have your family and pets around you, or you’ve drunk slightly too much good single malt whisky or had a great cassoulet.