The Story of my Book: Adrian Hyland on Gunshot Road

Australian writer, and author of the critically acclaimed novel Diamond Dove, Adrian Hyland guest blogs for Readings to tell us the story of his book - the sequel to Diamond Dove - Gunshot Road.

I spent many years working with the indigenous communities of Central Australia. In theory, I was engaged in community development work, although who was developing whom was open to debate.

For me, just out of university, this period of my life was one of constant revelation: I learnt language, listened to their songs and stories, was deeply moved by the courage with which they struggled to maintain their culture before the onslaught of Western civilization.


I was camped once, in the Tanami desert, with two Warlpiri elders, men who had grown to adulthood before they ever laid eyes on a white man. We sat by the fire, yarning, singing, and drinking tea. Drinking too much tea, I thought to myself when I woke up in the middle of the night in need of a leak.

I walked down to a nearby creekbed, but was startled out of my sleepy perambulations when a huge King Brown snake suddenly reared up and struck out at my torch.

I gasped, shuddered and scampered back to the camp. As I sat by the fire one of the men noticed my disturbed demeanour.

“Somethin’ troublin’ you, Jupurrula?” he asked.

“Snake,” I replied, nodding off into the night. “Bloody monster.”

He followed my eyes, nodded, then said, with great empathy, “Don’t you worry – takes a little time for the country to get to know you.”

Takes a little time for the country to get to know you.

There was enough going on in that sentence – a casually-expressed sense of a living landscape, and of a people who move in accordance with its rhythms – to fill a dozen novels.

It is this world-view, and its ongoing clash with the threshing machine of Western materialism, that lies at the heart of Gunshot Road. I find this conflict utterly compelling, and of great significance; it makes the Underbelly dropkicks look like a bunch of schoolkids squabbling in the yard.

I would hate, though, to give the reader the impression that the book is sententious or didactic. I was writing a crime novel, not a dissertation. Despite the indignities heaped upon it, Aboriginal life is shot through with earthy humour, raucous joy and a fierce determination to protect their culture.

A brief excerpt. Emily Tempest, having just taken on a job as an Aboriginal Community Police Officer, is investigating a death at a roadhouse. Her sergeant sends her in to get some food.

I stepped out, once more, into the blasting heat. Jesus, what a day: I felt like a pig on a spit. If a heat-seeking missile were to arrive on the scene it wouldn’t have known where to start.

I walked around the side of the pub, past the toilets, the delightful melody of 150-proof piss crashing into a urinal.

I stepped in the front door. Polished wood, whirling fans. Shafts of green-gold light streamed among bottles and mirrors.

The bloke behind the bar—Sandy, I assumed—wasn’t quite as polished: still youngish, but with an air of general disintegration. He had a DIY haircut and the fiery complexion of your everyday outback alcoholic.

He spotted me, and his eyes flicked at the dog-box window by the bar. A lot of these places still kept one for the blacks. His mouth started to move.

‘Don’t even think about it,’ I warned him.

He suspended his instincts for long enough to look at me properly, changed tack.

‘What would you like?’

‘Some respect. And while you’re working on that, five steaks. I’m with the police’

He went to the kitchen window and said something to a steamy man in a once- white singlet whose appearance brought to mind my father’s advice regarding roadhouse cuisine: always check for body parts.

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Gunshot Road

Gunshot Road

Adrian Hyland

$19.99Buy now

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