Alstonville writer wins top award

TO Cold Chisel muso legend Don Walker she's just ‘Mum', but to the literary world Alstonville's Shirley Walker is now a leading author after winning one of the country's richest writing awards.

Dr Walker won the $30,000 Nita B Kibble Literary Award for Women Writers for her book The Ghost at the Wedding, which tracks two generations of her family from World War I to World War II.

Dr Walker, a professor in Australian literature, said the book focused on the experience of the women whose fathers and husbands, and then husbands and sons, went to fight in the two wars.

“People had repeated sacrifices,” she said.

“Those women at home had to cope with that, and had to cope with men coming back significantly damaged by war.”

Beyond that, Dr Walker said The Ghost at the Wedding was a ‘Clarence River book'. Her family hails from the Clarence and the lives she describes all revolve, to some extent, around the river.

Research also delivered interesting coincidences. One of those was the rescue of a child from the river at Chatsworth Island in 1925.

The rescue was written up in the school magazine and the boy who did the rescue was awarded amedal by the NSW governor.

Maybe 17 years later, his very much younger brother makes a similar rescue from drowning on the other side of the world – this time as a German POW marching to a prison camp.

The brother saw a boy drowning in a river and leapt in to rescue him, stunning the German guards.

Is that a profound message about heroism moving through families and generations?

“It's more a message about the kids on the Clarence River. They were all good swimmers,” Dr Walker said.

The book took five years to write and research, but Dr Walker was surprised to win the award.

“I knew I was on the short list, but I didn't expect to win it because the other two books were just wonderful,” she said.



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