Bibliophile | ‘Banjawarn’ leaves its mark on Australian gothic fiction

Banjawarn
by Josh Kemp
UWA Press

Garreth Hoyle has found some success with his true crime book, but his love affair with hallucinogenic drugs has sent him searching for ghosts in the unforgiving desert north of Kalgoorlie. A psychologist in the city once told him that he shouldn’t use hallucinogenics because he had a lot of locked doors in his head – “doors with padlocks on them the size of fists.”

After driving his Prado around the Mallee desert of Western Australia for two months, he found he had unclipped some padlocks and he was even seeing things when he was sober. There are some truths that are “so terrible you hold them at bay your entire life, you shut the door on them.” But Garreth hadn’t been able to keep the door shut.

The Angel Dust brings back the horrific levels of abuse he suffered as a child – locked in a bathroom, still wearing a nappy at seven years of age and being thrown a can of baked beans every now and then to survive on. Garreth is exhausted, having to duck and weave to avoid getting caught in the cruel netting of the sticky residues of memory.

Attempting to get drugs from one of his old friends from his shearing days at Banjawarn Station, Garreth finds an actual locked door. Behind it is ten year-old Luna, hiding in the toilet from the bad men in the drug house with her best friend, a filthy teddy with one eye missing named Gary.

With his new stash of drugs, and after a grisly discovery, Garreth decides to take Luna to search for her father in the mining town of Leonora. Calling in on another mate from Banjawarn for help, Garreth finds out about the abandoned town’s sickness and the reason those mates at Banjawarn he considered friends all hate him.

Buried deep and becoming one with the narrative is the harshness of the landscape and the difficulties faced by animals and humans just trying to survive. Beneath the red dust are layers of remains from the violence of the past that includes the blood and bones from many massacres, pollution from the gold mining industry, and even sarin gas used in an experiment by a Japanese apocalyptic cult.

Wise beyond her years and without traditional schooling, Luna survives by detaching herself from what is happening in front of her and watching it play out at a distance. While Garreth thinks he is on a mission to save the girl, it is actually the other way round. This road trip from hell, littered with moments of dark humour, certainly leaves its mark on Australian gothic fiction.

Lezly Herbert


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