In this interview, Jenny Mosher talks with Tony Pritchard, author of self-discovery, humour and observation, to learn about Tony's creative history and his love for the environment.
If you’d like to learn more about Tony or check out some of his books, then visit IndieMosh.com.au or search for his books at your favourite online retailer.
I'm Jenny Mosher and today I'm talking with Tony Pritchard, author of self-discovery, humor and observation. Join me as we learn about Tony's creative history and his love for the environment, particularly the Darling River.
G'day Tony. How are you today?
I'm well, Jenny. Thank you.
That's good, that's good. Now you're the author of three books with us uh Canoeing Down the Darling, Drifting Down the Darling and Paddling Down the Darling.
Very innovative titles.
Yes, exactly, and as as Eric Morecambe would say, 'All the right titles, just not necessarily in the right order!' But um, I, I'm getting that you're pretty passionate about the Darling?
Yes, yeah, that's um an understatement and I'd be down there now except for the borders and COVID.
Right! So we oh so I suppose even canoeing they're not going to let you across are they?
No no no. I could have could have got across a month ago but I wouldn't be able to get back.
And now the Queensland government's just letting a few in but oh you've got to fly back and you know give blood and whatnot ... it's not worth the pain.
Yeah, fair enough. Um I mean it hopefully it won't be much longer and then you'll be able to get back on the river. So how many, okay, so you've canoed it, drifted it and paddled it. So one question for the novices at home: What's the difference between canoeing and paddling?
Oh the first trip I did in the 70s I had a 10 foot tinny...
... a flat bottom boat, no motor, no oars, it's just a paddle. So I sort of drifted just with a paddle to dodge submarines and things. And then in 2010 I bought a canoe ...
... so I guess canoe and paddling are the same.
But in the 70s I didn't have a motor or oars. You can't go down the Darling with oars, you'll crash into things.
So not quite I don't talk about people or ...
Oh, so a paddle is one at a time?
Yeah, yeah ...
And oars are two at a time.
Yes, yes. And the paddle is a single paddle not those, those double paddles.
Oh so it's not like [demonstrates paddling]
No it's it's lifted out put it in lift it out ...
Right! My god that'll keep you fit!
Um yeah yes.
[Laughs.] Holy cow! So your first trip I think 18 months was it?
Mm. Not quite.
A year and a half? Just paddling down a river?
Drifting down the river.
Drifting down a river. So okay, so logistically I mean, I'm a person if it's not four stars I don't go there. Where do you sleep? Where do you go to the bathroom? How do you eat like, like ... [Laughs]
I had a tent ...
... but as I found out I didn't have a bottom in the tent but that's another story. So a tent on the riverbank each night, some nights I just slept in the dirt.
Um eat food I had, in the 70s we're talking about first of all because it's totally different to now ...
... a bit of freeze-dried food then wasn't as good as it is now. I had a rifle I shot everything I ate and anything that wasn't nailed down, ate fish, flour cooked dampers, go to the toilet, I didn't go to the toilet for 18 months.
Fair enough, I would be the same, yeah!
Shovel dig a hole right up above the water line.
Oh yeah good point, yeah.
Not, not four star, no.
No no no no not my kind of accommodation I'm afraid. Um and so you wouldn't have shaved for that length of time did you ...
Or washed, or washed.
Or washed? Ah joyous! So did you see any other people like, were you lonely?
Yeah yeah I stopped in all the towns ...
... as in Brewarrina, Bourke, Louth, all the towns all the way down, I worked in a few wool sheds, saw a few fishermen here and there, a few locals, yeah, but there were lots of times when there was a great length of time I didn't see anybody.
And I didn't want to but that was, dodgy ...
Yeah, yeah, so you were sort of happy to be on your own?
Yeah, yeah. Fair enough. So when you, when you pull up to go into town ... Oh actually sorry, question. The the whole didn't shower for 18 months whatever it is. Did you swim in the river at all? Like did you freshen up at all?
Um yeah when I when I stopped in the town sometimes I'd stop in a hotel, have a hot shower. But it was it was sometimes four weeks five weeks before I had any sort of wash. Swim in the river? Yeah, I never used soap in the river of course. Um in the hot months, yeah, swim in the river.
Yeah yeah. What about rain? Did it rain while you were out there?
Did it rain in the 70s? It rained every day!
[Laughs.] So you picked the one time when it wasn't in drought?
Yeah yeah, it did. The river went over its banks. It went down in, in that time I was there. It went over the banks, that was '76, '77. '74 the big floods of course.
I was in Brisbane at that time.
Right ... wow wow ... So so what is it about the Darling?
Oh wow, how long have we got?
Oh well, you know, half an hour if we can do it!
All right. I grew up in Dubbo on on this river they call the Macquarie River and I spent half my life either in the river boating on it or fishing or whatnot, so the love of the river, so I wasn't a city kid who went to the bush. And then my dad was a house painter with the Public Works and he went to all, the, western New South Wales, and he came back with stories of the Darling and I just had to be out there as my dad was my idol and I wanted the the experience. So, that was it. I had to go.
And you weren't disappointed?
Oh no no. 100 times better than I thought.
That's fantastic! What, what's so good about it?
It's ancient, it's slow, it smells good, the river is beautiful, bird life, the fish, it's quiet, it winds a lot, there's no, there's a few fast bits through rocky bits, but it's as slow as slowest flowing river on the planet I think.
Yeah, something like that. It falls one inch to the mile that's, the fall.
Wow ... so it wouldn't be fast?
In flood it moves along, don't get me wrong ...
... but it is some, but there's enough current there just to drift. I was doing about, I don't know, four or five road miles a day. The Darling winds incredibly. Sometimes it's ten to one, it's usually two and a half to three to one, it winds as the crow flies.
You could walk it faster, couldn't you?
You could walk it a lot faster, yeah yeah, but that would be boring.
Is there a walking track?
Do people walk it? No no.
No. There might be a fellow walking it in a couple of years. I emailed him the other day. Um what did you say before?
I can't remember ...
Sitting! Oh I was gonna say when you're sitting in the boat in the canoe now with no motor and you're silent and you're drifting and you make no noise, you drift right next to emus and brolgas and kangaroos. They just look at you and I think, 'What is this thing floating down the river?'
Yeah, they probably do, don't they? So when was the last time you went down the river?
Um the Darling we're talking about?
Yep, the Darling, yeah.
So what's that? Three years? All right, so so even then the wildlife was still there?
Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah.
Good good, yeah um so it'd be flowing pretty well now, wouldn't it?
It was dried up in waterholes and we had that rain uh what was it, early 2020 I think just before the COVID thing hit and it's another fresh, it's flowing, Menindee Lakes are currently full 100 per cent ...
... um the river is currently pretty good.
Yeah, yeah, so you're you're just hankering to get back out there again?
Yes, how'd you know?
I could see it in your eyes buddy!
Yes, you're right.
Um so the next trip that you do - how long, will you do the same route that you've done in the past? And how long would you, how long do you tend to take?
Well roughly now what I do, I would drive say to Bourke and I'd paddle to Louth and Tilpa to take me, on the river would take me uh five or six weeks.
That's what I do.
Years ago I went from Menindee to Pooncarie to Wentworth. I've done that trip six times. That's about 500 k's - river kilometres and ABC interviewed me and the lady said, 'My boss wants to talk to you.' Righto. He said, 'I got a couple of personal questions.' I thought, here we go! This was live on radio ...
... and he said, 'Did you ever get sick of it?'
I went, 'Yeah yeah, every second day I'd cry a lot.' But I said, 'It's okay.' And he said, 'What did you do out there? The Darling is exactly the same - one bend looks the same as the other.' I said, 'No you're completely wrong.' I said that as quietly as I could. I didn't swear.
It is so different every bend. But it is exactly the same from Bourke all the way down. It is. You've got sandy beaches on the inside bend, 15 metre banks which is the, you know, the river red gums on the inside the coolabah then the black box on the outside. It is similar all the way down but it is so different when you sit and be quiet on a river.
And you just observe.
Observe. Sit there and you go inside your head a bit.
Yeah. Well it ... can you go too far inside your head out there?
Oh yeah, oh yeah.
[Laughs.] Yes. And I, oh definitely. I still haven't come to terms with how much solitude I can have before I go nuts. So it's either, it could be a week, it could be six weeks - there's no cut-off point.
If you know what I mean. There's no, 'Okay it's two weeks I better talk to someone.'
I, I can't ...
So it varies from time to time?
It varies and when that time comes I gotta talk to someone, a fisherman or go to town or try and ...
... ring or something.
Yeah, yeah. And I think you, you, yeah, you need to, you need to, it's hu- it's human nature. We do need to connect somehow from time to time.
Well I don't like people.
No, no, there are times I can live without them, too, but as a sort of a, an extrovert introvert yeah um I haven't suffered too much this last year being, you know, being forced to keep away from people. Um but the thought of yeah opening up again and facing people again, yes. I think there's a lot of us are sort of like, 'Oh God I don't know what to say to anyone!' Yeah yeah. Um okay. So have you ever been inspired to write about anything other than the Darling?
Oh yeah. Yes yes I've got my fourth book finished. It's about living next to the rainforest in solitude for 30 years.
It's, it's got about 80,000 words. It's finished but it's got a lot of - I need another three, six months to bring it together. And it's driving me nuts.
But that's the hard part of writing a book. You go, you get the creative, then you hit, we only get two words a day and then so I've got to plug at it so I'm hoping to have it done by this Christmas which is what? Two, three, four months, haven't we?
Um about 10 weeks, buddy.
Oh ... same thing.
I've got 15 short stories done. I've got 15 travel stories done. I got 15 erotic stories done. I got 20 poems-
Sorry, I'm sorry. Was that neurotic or erotic?
Oh okay, cool, cool! We can go with both genres.
I'm enjoying writing them very much. I've got a prequel to the rivers done. It's a ...
... 60,000 words.
Yeah I've got stacks, stacks. If you were rich you could you give me 30,000 a year so I can pay my bills and just write.
Wish I could. I wish I could. Um so what i- when did you start writing? Have you always wanted to write? Like ...
Um I think since um 1957, 1958 when I was in second class.
It's Miss Hogan's fault because,
for ruining my life, because what we did in class we did arithmetic right which is your basic mathematics. This is in second grade, second class, at West Dubbo Public School - there's a plug for you. For everything else we did there was no science, social studies, sport, PE. There was nothing. All we did was composition, reading, spelling, writing, all literacy.
And we, parts of sentences, I just, you know the eight parts of speech - I still dream about them. I know I need to get out. But what she said, she showed us how the words that we were using, that real writers used them, and she showed us the links. And those days we had what Enid Blyton and Biggles. Now the books that are available for primary kids or high school kids is incredibly brilliant.
And she looked at us and she said, 'You can be writers, too.'
That's it. I was gone, totally finished for the rest of my life.
Yeah, yeah. That's great to have a teacher that tells a child that they can be anything they want to be.
Oh and show us how to do it!
And show you how, yeah.
My first short story I sent to a competition before I done my Bachelor of Ed um it was handwritten of course. This is pre-, the computers were down that day. And so they wrote to me and said - four judges - it was 20 dollars as first prize and publication.
Anyway, the, she said three judges wanted it to be the winner, one wasn't sure, so he didn't win the twenty dollars. But if you don't mind could we publish it anyway?
I was, that was it. I was done. I was a world famous writer. Since then the next thirty years I entered competitions: poetry, radio plays, now and then, I got nothing. Nothing for 30 years. But the first one, I must have nailed it.
Yeah, just had- Have you still got that that manuscript?
It's framed on the wall and her letter.
Oh good on you, good on you. That's, that's great because that's a little piece of gold.
Yeah. How lovely? Um so Miss Hogan, West Dubbo Primary School was it?
What happened to her, do you know?
Well, when ... I fell in love with her. In those days you're allowed to love your teacher.
It was okay then.
But I was seven or something. But she was really old, you see.
But she wasn't of course because anyone, you're seven or eight, she was probably in her 20s, I don't know.
And 50 years later there was a reunion.
And my kids were little, we had no money, one car, living in Queensland, couldn't get down there.
Guess what? She turned up.
And she asked, 'Where's that Pritchard kid?'
I know. I just felt awful. And she died just after and I just, I know, the biggest shame of my life that I didn't make an effort to see Miss Hogan to say, 'Thank you for ruining my life in a beautiful way.' Because I have to write. It's like dancers have to dance or whatever sport you, that thing in your life that drives you nuts if you don't do it, you you're in trouble.
It's like that drug, isn't it? You just gotta do it, yeah, yeah.
Yeah. So you're, you're still, do you write now? I mean, you're still working aren't you?
I do teaching, relief teaching. I do two three days a week.
Right, right, so you you get time to write, on your own.
I do, and I read a thing about a short story writer - I can't think of his name. He's won every Australian award, it was on ABC online, and he said there's two things to do the short stories, which I love writing. You see one is to have a crazy imagination. I have got that. It's just I make up stories all the time. He said the second thing is the discipline of writing and I'm, I've invented this new thing. It's called 'procrastination'. I'm getting royalties. So I, I did have, have had it from time to time, but you've got to have a pattern and you've got to sit down, you've got to do it. And sometimes you'll write five pages, sometimes you write three words. It doesn't matter.
And I'm, I'm just getting back into that again now because I want to finish this other book.
Yeah. So as long as you write something.
Yes, yep. Even if you do a bit of editing and punctuation and stuff you'll, yeah ...
Yeah um ... I think in the public service they call it 'small steps improvement'. As long as you're going, you know, just just doing something every day, you do get there. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
If you don't ...
If you don't - nothing.
Then start to do all that later. I trick myself. I'll say, 'Right, I'm just going to, I will sit down for half an hour or do an assignment for uni, whatever you've got to do, and it's just you really don't want to do it. Trick yourself and say, 'I will just do half an hour, the book's there.' And I reckon eight times out of ten I'll just keep going for hours. There is a couple of times you go no, I'm, I'm going.
Yeah, yeah. And if you give yourself permission to go as well ... Like if you say, 'Half an hour', you know, um most people can find half an hour in their day. You just wait for Netflix, you don't turn it on so early in the evening.
How can you afford Netflix? You must be rich!
Yeah, yeah. I don't eat.
It's like me [indistinguishable]
Sorry, it's like you on the river?
Yeah. Don't eat.
Yeah, don't eat. What about food poisoning? Is there any risk of that on the river?
Um I don't know. No. I drink the Darling River water. Every river I go on, if I can't drink the water straight out I don't go on it. I've just come from the Paroo River. I spent three weeks camped in the one spot which is really new for me, because it's only in waterholes. It's a, it's not a big, big river but the waterhole was 50 metres 60 metres wide and about five, six k's long and it wasn't flowing either into it or out of it. I just drank the water.
Just got a bucket I drank it. Food, I I didn't get food poisoning. I eat anything.
Yeah, yeah. And I suppose the water out there is so far from most civilization there's not that many pollutants out there?
There's a few but yeah, on the Darling there's a few, with a few chemicals and stuff but I ... But I know, I've met people on the river and I had my 60 litre drums, plastic drums with stuff in it, and he said, 'Oh is that your water supply?' I drink out of the back of the canoe. And he's, he can't drink, he ends up in hospital if he drinks it.
He just got a severe ... Another guy down the river, if he cleans his teeth in the Darling of the water he gets sick.
Really? Wow ...
I'm very fortunate that does not happen.
Cast iron guts?
Hmmm ... think so!
Yeah yeah, you're lucky. So all right, so you're, you're a relief teacher. Have you always been a teacher, when you haven't been a writer?
No, I'm a tradie. No, when I, that first short story when I was then a famous writer and rich after the first one where I didn't get the twenty dollars ...
... some years later we moved from the bush
to Brisbane, I did my Bachelor of Ed - I went to uni when I was 42.
God on you!
So I did my a four year Bachelor of Ed and became a school teacher. I, I love teaching, love it to bits! Don't start me on the system we could be here for a bit.
I'd probably join you, yeah ...
Yeah, well we won't go into that. But interacting with the kids and colleagues I absolutely love it to bits.
Oh that's great! That's great! Um high school or primary?
Oh, primary kids.
Primary kids, yeah.
Year Three up. I'm early childhood trained but don't tell anybody because I don't like little kids, they're awful. I've done, I started teaching Year Two and I'm still in rehab.
It's just, any that, this is the plug teachers - P to Three three um just doubled your pay.
And your own coffee machine, whatever you want. And ratio 1 to 15. We'll stop there.
Actually that would be, that'd be great a ratio of 1 to 15 for that early age group.
Oh they need it. They work, I mean all teachers work hard, I know because I do that for school but the the vital, the importance of that P to Three ...
Yeah, yeah. What's P? Preschool is it?
Oh prep. Okay. We don't have that New South Wales.
I don't know 20 years been going up here or something. I can't remember.
It used to be Kindy, Preschool, Year One.
And now you can get child care and kindy, but it's Prep. It's part of the system up here.
Yeah okay. Yeah, I, I mean, you know, kids go from small groups and, and, and like if they're in child care or if they're, if they're not in care, you know, they're with their families, and then they go to school, and then they're fighting it out with 30 other kids ...
... and it's got to be overwhelming for them?
It's some huge adjustments so ...
You're watching the workload on the teachers and teacher aides ...
Yeah, yeah, yeah ... good point, good point. So, sorry, you were 42 when you did your your Bachelor of Education?
So what did you do before that, can I ask? Or you ...
Yeah, yeah, how long have we got? Another only a half an hour?
Yeah yeah, we've got about five minutes left ... no, no, we've got good time.
I unless left school when I was 15. Did not like high school, it was awful.
Primary school was wonderful.
And I always did well at school. It wasn't that I didn't do well but high school you were graded as in, what's the word? Streaming? No, no - is that, not, what's the word where you put the bright kids up here, right down to the ...
A, B, C, D - we had A, B, C, D.
That was it, yeah. I was in the A class, I did well, but all my mates were down the bottom and I just didn't like all these other kids, they were awful.
And so I left school as soon as I could - 15. Did a trade a trade - I'm a roof tiler, I was 19. Travelled the world, went around the world a couple of times in the 70s, did stuff, then came back went on the river ...
Didn't get married 'til I was 32.
Yeah ... there's some long stories in there. And then I went up to the rainforest into a place in South East Queensland. I won't actually name it because it's in the book, this next one called 'The Creek' which is coming out ...
... gotta finish it by Christmas which is two years away.
So yeah I lived there for five years by myself.
Mate I lived up there for 14 years at this place, this gorgeous creek next to a rainfall. Then I moved to Brisbane, did my Bachelor of Ed there. I'd looked after the kids, my wife worked.
Right, right, yep.
The babies, yeah, which was wonderful.
Yeah, yeah ... we did a similar thing when ours were sort of in early high school, we swapped for about four years and um, Wayne always said it was the best, best four years.
As soon as they were weaned, even before that, I took them into ballet, I was, ended up in the ballet with them for goodness sake.
Yeah it was just beautiful.
Yeah, it's, it's - you can't buy it, can you?
No. I still can't sleep properly, mind you.
I can't sleep properly now.
Really? Why is that?
Well because when you've got little kids if a leaf falls on a roof you wake up.
Now, I go to sleep really easily but if something happens if a truck goes through the front window I don't wake up. But if a stick falls on the ground about a kilometre away I wake up.
Oh, that's interesting!
It's fun sleeping on a riverbank when that happens.
Yeah yeah, I can imagine! Have you been down the Darling or been canoeing, whatever, after floods? I mean, you know, when you've got all the debris and everything?
Isn't that dangerous?
Oh okay, cool. [Both laugh]
Yes, I came unstuck on Cooper Creek last year. I've been on the Paroo a few times and Cooper Creek um it was crazy.
Um because the coolabahs, the Cooper, Cooper Creek or Cooper's Creek, depends on who you talk to, in the channel country, it's the big water holes similar to the Paroo but a bigger river and it breaks up into channels: the Channel Country. But I didn't know. I did some research but when it breaks up into the channels, it's really fast, like 20, 25 k's an hour water, brown swishy water, going through big coolabah trees. If you hit one of those sideways in a canoe, well you're in the water.
And I nearly drowned a couple of times and it wasn't very enlightening for me. And that's in a canoe.
Well that's scary, too, because if you hit your craft into a tree and it becomes unsea-worthy - I don't know what the thing unriver-worthy - you're out in the middle of nowhere, you've got a boat that's going to sink, you've got these drums of food ... and possibly ... Do you have mobile reception? I mean the 70s you wouldn't have - you wouldn't have had a mobile phone.
You had to make a trunk call ...
If you can get to a town.
Um oh things I did in the 70s, like the trees I climbed and make ... the pigs charged me, I got bitten by a snake. I would, I'm too old now to do that. It's just like, I'm mortal.
I've got a satellite phone now and I phone lots of people and text and my position to the police and stuff.
Yeah, yeah, because of course you wouldn't have done that in the 70s, either, would you? You would have just taken off and ...
I just used to pull up and see a nice mountain in the background or a gully. I'd just pull up, tie the boat up and go for a walk. No hat, no shirt, no nothing - I'm paying for it now. So I'd go for about four miles in a big circle and come back to the boat. Now if I'd have fallen or broken my leg up there that was it.
No one ever would have known.
You're blessed! Can, can we share a lottery ticket?
Yep, no worries.
I'll send you the, I'll send you the dollar ... Oh wow ... So do you reckon you'll ever stop doing that or the trips just get shorter as you get older?
Um I'll stop when I'm in one of those boxes.
Um, no no. My little philosophy in life from way back was 'do while you can' if that makes sense, because if you say, 'Well I'm going to travel overseas in four years' time', all of a sudden it's 2020 and we're locked down, 'Oh whoops!' Stuff happens. If you can, I can't do it when, I haven't got quite enough money ... Get out there and do it because life, you get one chance and it's pretty short.
What's caucasian male 83 and a half, 84 or something?
Something like that, yeah.
I'm coming up 70, so I've got 14 years.
It's like, oh yeah and I'll keep doing river trips. Normally my, what I like to do is to paddle four to five weeks on the river, taking three four days to get there, do the three, four or five weeks and come home. That is really good.
Yeah, yeah. Um, so taking four or five days to get there? Is that driving there? Getting you ...
I, in the old days I could drive 12 hours a day. Now I do about five and I stop and have a cold beer and go to sleep.
Yeah, freshen up.
I can't do long days.
Logistics. I'm, I'm, I'm a maths person so you know, yeah, so you drive to the river and then you start paddling down it for a couple of weeks ... How do you get your car back? You don't paddle back up the river, do you?
No, no, I don't paddle upstream. That, that is the most asked question that I get, uh 'What do you do out there? How do you, where, how do you get back to your ute?' In the 70s I didn't have a ute for starters, I just had the boat.
So that wasn't an issue. Um okay, for example
if I go to Bourke to Louth which takes me three weeks on the river, give or take, um there's a, you can camp on the river near Louth which has got a pub - that's about it - and the mailman goes up and down three, four times a week. And so you ring and you book and you normally have to chip in and pay and they take me and my gear back up to Bourke to my ute.
That's, that's one. That's actually a prepared one, but I've I paddled from, on the Paroo River from Hungerford to Wanaaring which took me a few weeks, and I got to the pub at Wanaaring, had no idea how I was going to get my ute back which is at Hungerford at the pub. So I pulled into the pub and had a cold beer and there's three or four people - this has happened so many times - and 'Were you from?' Just that small talk ...
... and I said, 'Oh you know, I'll book a room please.' 'Yep, no worries,' and 'How are you going to get your ute?' I said, 'I don't know. I'll have to hitchhike back or something.' And then a guy across the bar said, 'I live up near Hungerford. I can take you back if you want.' I went, and he said, 'I'm leaving in half an hour.' I said 'I'm with you.'
Cancel that room, buddy!
No, no. I stayed. So that night I, he drove me back up to my ute. I chipped in for petrol money. I drove back to Wanaaring which took me - I don't know, it's an awful bumpy road - took me a couple hours. So by dark that night - I'd pulled in about two or three o'clock - by dark that night I had all my gear with me ...
... at the ho- I went and picked it all up and loaded on and I was back at the hotel.
Oh beautiful! And then you sleep in a bed. So when you, when you sleep in a bed for the first time after a trip like that, or during a trip like, is it like, 'Oh yes, a bed!'
No, normally sleep on the floor next to the bed.
It does take a while and you know when you come back to civilisation you've got to shower and stuff and you've gotta do small talk ...
... I look wistfully out the window at the trees and the birds when that happens.
[Laughs.] Fair call. So do you sleep on the floor at home?
Um every month or two I sleep on the floor for about a week, just crunch my back and, yeah I do.
Yeah, yeah. I love the idea of it, the concept but I would be too terrified to even consider it. Um ...
What would you be scared of? The snakes or loneliness or hurting yourself?
Probably not the loneliness, but the hurting myself um yeah. Just that, that I'm really, I was brought up to always look out for the freak accident. My mother could see the freak accident in everything. Um so I, I, yeah, I think of all that sort of stuff and, and what you're saying I cannot believe that in all those trips and all those years you can just go for walks in the bush the way you have, by yourself, and and you're still here - I'm talking to you today! Like the potential for disaster is just huge. My mother would never have coped if you'd been her son.
It is huge, yeah. What I do, when I go out because I'm, now I realise I'm mortal ...
... is like camping next to the Paroo for three weeks, it's not a great danger. Mind you I saw five brown snakes near camp ... it's, I move slowly. Literally. I do not run in the bush or climb big trees. You are, you will come unstuck. In the 70s you wouldn't, 70s was different - you're allowed to do that.
Now you're not. You're mortal and you'll - so I literally move slowly and I'm picking up a billy full of boiling water, I assume I'm going to drop it on me.
So I move back. So little things like that. I guess maybe it's called maturity. I don't like it.
That's no fun, is it?
It's just, it's awful, it's getting soft !
I know, and I find I'm forgetting things as well which I, I hate. I've always had a really good memory and um yeah it's, it's annoying.
I did a talk, I do talks in libraries and schools about my trips and writing ...
I did a, I got invited to a talk at a school ...
Do it free of course which I'm happy to do for the minute.
And there was, it was a writing class. There was about, I don't know, 15 kids from all different grades and they asked me questions and they were just the loveliest bunch and I did it and it was really exciting, they all got inspired. Anyway I was at the school a week later and the boss said, 'Oh the kids really enjoyed your talk.' I said, 'That's, that's lovely,' and he said, 'They got one special thing out of it,' and I thought, 'Ah, beautiful - I've inspired a new generation, blah-blah-blah.' He said they could not believe you didn't have a wash for a week.
And I said, oh, I said, 'A month, next time you see them.'
I know, I know. And I think about my grandparents, you know, my mother had a - my grandmother had a bath hanging on the nail in the backyard and it got brought in once a week and they all shared the bath water.
Yeah, I know.
Um and the cleanest went first.
Yes. We waste water now we ... you know ... awful.
I know, it is, it is, and our skin doesn't need it but ... Mind you, I have to say the thought of not having a shower every day is just ... you get used to it.
You know what happens? Well if you go out in the bush, right, you can have a bit of a hot wash if you need which I have done occasionally. If you don't wash your hair for example, right, after the first week you are going nuts. You're scratching it, there's spiders come out of it, and scabs and it's greasy. After 10 days, depending, a week, 10 days, and you get a bit of rain water on it, or you pour creek water, it is beautiful and glossy.
And then I did a walk on the Larapinta trail some years ago, three weeks by myself - no the last 12 days by myself - no shower, nothing. So I got to the end camp and these three young ladies from Melbourne came up and said, 'Can we talk to you about the camps and the trek?' I said, 'No way.' So I said, 'Don't get too close, I haven't had a wash.' And they said, 'You don't smell - you smell like gum trees or the earth.' And that's the same thing: the first week you will stink like anything. After about a week, depending, 10 days, you do not stink ...
... earthy. I know, people don't believe me but ...
Try it one day.
Yeah, yeah, sure, um I'd love to say yes but yeah, ain't gonna happen. Not in my world! But um ... so ... clothing? Do you wear all natural clothing? Like all cotton? I mean in the 70s you probably would have because we didn't have the polyesters, but do you make an effort to avoid synthetics now?
Um yes and no. Yeah, yes I do but certain shirts or clothes if they, if they make me feel hot or they burn - you know what I mean by that?
Yeah. I just wear a blue singlet. Footy shorts and a blue singlet.
If it's cold, a wool, an old ex-army wool thing which you could wear in Antarctica.
Yeah, yeah oh fair enough. Yeah, yeah ... I um, I would burn. I'd be burnt in two minutes if I, if I didn't, yeah I'd have to cover up.
I'm paying for it dearly at the present moment but never mind.
Yeah, yeah well keep getting those skin checks, mate. Um so the next book is called 'The Creek'?
At this point it's called 'The Creek', yes.
Not Canoeing down the Creek or Paddling down the Creek or anything like that?
Oh no, nothing to do ... the Darling River gets a mention because it's part of the story but there's no river trip, nothing. So it's a fiction. It's 90 per cent true but because I stretched, I was there for 14 years, only first five by myself. This is 30 years alone next right so it is a fiction ... and it's a fantasy. So it's all it's about building the house, building a house, living, all that that goes with the bush walks up in the middle of nowhere ...
It's a love story and it's, you know how you've got ratings on things? You've got MA and all that?
R and then you go X, right? Well mine is beyond X.
So that ...
X plus and it's also that search for the real self through solitude.
So I, I have finished it and I'm really enjoying it and I'm just starting to, I've come back off the river a few weeks ago, I'm getting into that and I just love, love writing it. So that's, it's finished, but as I said I need yeah a little bit longer to...
Yeah, you've got to go over your work. You can't just ...
I've got to get it together - there's holes in it and yeah ...
Yeah, yeah, um ... and you've got to like your own work. I think, I was talking about this with I think John Wenitong last week - if you don't like your work why would anybody else like it?
Yeah all the stuff I've read about beginning writers, which I, I'm a beginner writer, including the Eat, Pray, Love girl, they say write for yourself, don't write for the market, write ... Don't listen to anybody who says you've got to do this or ... you've gotta have professional editors, I agree with that ...
... so actually last night I stayed up late reading parts of my first book. I was, I got some laughs.
Oh good, good!
I love it.
Oh that's good, that's good when you can go back and you still care for it, it's ..
... still do that for you, yeah, yeah ... Oh good on you, good on you! So now you're getting into fiction? That'll be interesting.
Well I've got short stories which are crazy and the travel stories which are really wacky travel stories. I don't want to be a guidebook. Like, I've said the town, I've said the Paroo River stories which I'm, I've got three Paroo River stories - not the one where I canoed. I went last year, I went in July this year and August-September this year - different places.
It's about, when I, when you travel, you play tourist, right? You go toyour Eiffel Towers or whatever and you also learn about the culture and the food and the dress of that country. But if you don't learn something about yourself or reflect on your life, I think you've missed something pretty, pretty important. So I, I combine the three things.
I've got three things in these short travel stories. Who's the - Glenn A. Baker - have you read his short travel stories?
No, I haven't actually.
Rock and roll, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
He's won every award on the planet for his short travel stories.
Okay, I'll have to check that out, yeah.
All he's done - I've got, I've got all his books - he's got like 'Condoblin 1960' ...
... and that's his heading and away he goes.
So I've done a little bit of the touristy stuff but it's how I react to the river and I try to include the reader. I am really enjoying writing travel stories.
Yeah, because it's, if you don't, as you say, if you don't get something out of it for yourself, if, then you're just an observer, you're not a participant.
That's right and yeah and try to interact with the locals a bit. Well mind you I like camping by myself ...
Yeah, yeah, look if you don't, if you don't interact with the people that are there, again you're only observing. You're not you're not integrating at all, you don't, you get, you just get so much more out of a place than just looking at it if you actually yeah make the effort to talk to people, yeah ... Oh good on you, good on you. Well I might leave you in peace now because this is your day, this is your day off, isn't it it?
It is. Actually I list on my teaching Monday to Thursday. I leave Friday spare ...
... but main reason is they do inter-school sport like I've got a metal knee and I can't run. I used to do lots of sports and coaching and stuff but I can't run. And sometimes there's sports, sometimes there's not, so I thought, 'Nope, I'll have Friday off.'
Hang on, if you're the teacher, why are you running?
Uh because if you happen to get a relief, a Year Six class, and that teacher goes and does touch football, you're it.
Yeah. But I used to ref touch footy, yeah and it makes it awkward and I can't put on there 'I'll only go to schools where there's not a school sport' or that teacher ... it's not worth it. It's not anyone else's job to do that so I go, 'Nuh!' So yeah!
So Friday's your day. So, so today's your writing day.
Today's my writing day. So I want to thank you and Ally for looking after me. You've done brilliantly, thank you.
Thank you, thank you for trusting us with your books!
Oh no it's been wonderful. And my thousands of questions you so diligently - I'm waiting for a bill [Both laugh] ... but you must spend so much time, so thank you so much.
Oh look it's, it's not until you publish a book I think that you understand what actually goes on.
I had no idea, no idea. All the the work and the stuff that, that you do, it's just, I wouldn't do it. I mean, I couldn't, wouldn't have the intelligence or the patience. I just need to write.
I think you'd have the intelligence and I think if you can float down a river you probably have the patience, but it's the people. You've got to want to be doing that sort of stuff and we, we love doing that for you so, um yeah, hopefully 'The Creek' one day!
Yeah. All right, well thank you. Have a great day writing and uh safe paddling.
Thank you, talk to you soon.
You've been listening to an IndieMosh Interview with Tony Pritchard. If you'd like to learn more about Tony or check out some of his books then visit indiemosh.com.au or search for his books at your favorite online retailer. I'm Jenny Mosher, thanks for listening.