Alex Miller migrated to Australia himself as a lad of 16 and worked in Queensland as a ringer before putting himself through night school to get into university where he studied English and History. He did it the hard way, and it's perhaps those formative years as a ringer which has shaped who he is - certainly, his early days have shaped his writing.
Protagonist Bobby Blue tells his story in a colloquial style (with the poor grammar of his station) of how he falls in love with 13-year-old, Irie Collins. Irie is the daughter of Bobby's boss - Mount Hay's police officer. Constable Daniel Collins is full of book learning, but not much else, unlike Bobby - who knows the secrets of the district and what he doesn't know, he's sensibly wary of. Trouble brews when Constable Collins clashes with Bobby's life-long friend, Ben Tobin, and the tragedy that unfolds is heart-wrenching and unstoppable. Set in the 1950s in the Central Queensland interior, Coal Creek shows what can happen when misunderstandings occur, prejudices are held and the wrong questions asked.
The winner of the 2014 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards (yes, they still have them), Coal Creek is full of wisdom and is beautifully written. Like when Bobby Blue and his horse come across a playground used by the Old Murri People ...
"The scrub came to a sudden end and that wide open space was shining white in the light of the stars in front of us. The starlight was always brighter over that playground. I do not know why that was. But it was something that always impressed me whenever I seen it. It made you stand and puzzle at it, and it made you know there was a lot of things in the life of the scrub you did not understand or have no knowledge of, even though you and your dad before you had spent your entire lives in it."I raced through Coal Creek in a couple of days, knowing all the while I would regret not spinning it out, like something delicious but at the same time incredibly healthy and good for me. That's not to say I didn't savour it. I just regret the experience was over way too quickly, because I may have to wait another year or so before Alex Miller's next novel. Although, he does have an impressive back catalogue I could easily dive into.