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INTERVIEW: Local author donates book profits to WAM

20 Jan

A local author, Doctor and teacher, Peter Burke is also a passionate supporter of local music. It has made such a impact on him that he  has chosen to donate part of his proceeds from his latest book, Wettening Auralia, to WAM, which has recently become registered with Deductible Gift Recipient status, meaning tax deductible donations can be made (more info here). In this interview he discusses how half of Perth is related to someone in Wettening Auralia, how Sounds Of The Pilbara is the opposite of One Direction, and the music that has inspired him in his career.


Please discuss a bit about your varied careers to date.
I’m a local boy schooled at John XXIII, studied Med at UWA in the early ’80s and worked as a doctor in the North West for years, producing children in each of Derby, Hedland and Carnarvon. Nowadays I look after the staff and students at Murdoch Uni, as well as running my little travel vaccination clinic at Chelsea Village Nedlands.

What made you decide to write your novels relating to historical events in regional Western Australia?
That started when I was working in Derby and visiting Broome a lot. As a city boy I realised how little I knew about the north. The Kimberley has a really alluring history, and a huge amount of that thing writers call a ‘sense of place.’ The writer’s aim is to bring it all back to life and it actually happened for real with my first book, The Drowning Dream. It was set in Broome in 1920, and my narrator was an unreliable old bugger called William Webber. I thought I’d made him up but he actually existed and came out from Wales to visit me! Long story.

AURALIA COVERYou have just released Wettening Auralia. What was involved in the process of researching the history of CY O’ Connor?
It is WA’s Foundation Myth I reckon, and a true tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. I have been like a magpie over twenty years, collecting shiny bits of information and then squeezing them in. I hate discarding interesting bits, so my books tend to be a bit jammed full of ‘I didn’t know that’ moments. How easy has the net made things for historians? Until recently poor historians had to hunt down the actual 1899 newspaper, a day’s job, and copy out an article. Now you can just go to Trove and click on the paper and the date you want and up it pops. Such fun.

In your opinion, how important is it to keep these past events topical for future generations of Western Australians and why?
Imagine having a friend who won’t tell you about the first twenty years of their life. You would really know them. Same with a state or country. That is the attraction of history ultimately; to better understand where we are now, who we are. It is amazing how much the attitudes of this state were set in the decade leading to Federation in 1901. We were buggered for seventy years, had to ask for convicts just to get some stuff built, and then, just as the world went into the Great Depression of the 1890s, we had a resources boom and all of Australia and the world flocked here for work. Gold made us the richest place on earth. When things cooled, we all went crook at the Premier and the Chief Engineer for squandering the boom on stupid big expensive things like ports, railways and pipelines. We should have put it all in the bank. Sound familiar? Amazingly so, I think. Perhaps the thing I am most attracted to in history is the messages for today. It gets taught a bit too respectfully so you start to think everyone was logical and sensible and well-behaved in the past. Not so. They were complete ratbags just like us, believed rumours and got spooked by the same things as we do, like going broke.

What’s the reception been like so far?
It’s building really nicely. I have set myself a high target here as I have chosen a story that everyone in WA has a connection to and, in many cases, feels strongly about. There is a little bit of controversy in my version, as I introduce everyone to Tommy, a new villain of the piece who has been mysteriously unmentioned by 114 years of historians. It needs to fly from both a literary viewpoint and a historical viewpoint to succeed. Half of Perth is related to someone in the book, so it’s impossible everyone will be happy. Nothing I can do about it now, we will see what happens in the general response and in the WA Premiers Award.

What were your reasons behind donating part of the proceeds of this book to WAM?
I was just driving to work listening to RTRFM and heard this beautiful song off Sounds Of The Pilbara II - Pinakarraji by Greg Gardiner. I didn’t understand the lyrics of course, but it brought a tear to my eye. Beautiful sad song. I contacted Georgia from WAM to try to buy a bunch for presents and found out more about the project. That sort of song would never have made it to Perth ears without a project like this. Everybody wins; the local musos, the community they live in for all sorts of reasons, and lucky us who are gifted the end product. Commerce would never deliver us such gifts. It would deliver One Direction.

What was it about WAM’s Sounds Of The Pilbara project that captured your attention?
Greg Gardiner’s two songs Pinakarraji and Karntimarta hooked me in, but you can hear the whole community on that disc, from the old ladies to the tough young blokes to the Strelly schoolkids. Same with the Wiluna one. Where the hell they found all that talent in Wiluna I have no idea. And I can’t wait to see what the Sounds Of The Goldfields turns up.

Any favourite WA music acts that have helped inspire you over the years?
Uni years without live music on weekends would have been unthinkable. That’s all we did really. Dave Warner singing about Old Stock Road sent the message that anywhere could be the centre of the cultural world, even Melville! Sophie Gare from the Jam Tarts playing the double bass at the Wizbah inspired a few of us. Never forgiven Ben Elton for destroying that particular dream! Katy Steele ties with Chrissie Hind in my mind for greatest female voice of all time, and her duet with Ben Witt recently something to do with the morning after a night in Northbridge was absolutely sublime, subtle, and local. You don’t have to be all parochial and xenophobic, but when you’re writing genuinely felt stuff the local must creep in there, and it shows. Waifs, the same. Triffids of course, but like an idiot I never went to see McComb play live. Memories of playing Wide Open Road in a hire car on French freeway last year to wake up hungover… and it is a song that could not have come from any place but WA.


Purchase details: All good indies including Northside Books Opposite the Bird, Beaufort St Books, The Crow East Vic Park, and Chart and Map Shop Freo.  RRP $25, with $10 for each book sold going to WAM!

WA Music Fund: All donations of $2 and more are tax deductible, and your donation to the WA Music Fund just might change somebody’s life, as Peter Burke has done. More info here.

*There will be a launch, reading and signing at Chart and Map Shop Freo on Saturday 23 January at 11am.



Government of Western Australia Department of Culture and The Arts Australian Government

WAM is supported by the State Government through the Department of Culture and the Arts, and is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.