Award-winning author Patrick Holland was raised in Roma, where he grew up doing horse work for local station owners.
As a kid without a lot of money in a small town, Patrick Holland often felt subject to the law without access to justice. “I’m sure the experience is common,” he says. It’s no wonder then that Holland’s latest book, One, is a raw excursion into the fine line between law and justice, peace and violence. In One, policeman Sergeant Nixon from tiny Upper Warrego Station hunts down James and Patrick Kenniff, the last bushrangers in Australian history. Holland sees the Kenniffs as symbols of a transitive age. “Like many rebels and outlaws of the time, [they] thought they were the harbingers of a new age, when … they were relics of one near vanished,” he says.
Located around 350 kilometres inland from Toowoomba, Holland’s childhood town, Roma, is true outback country — “the same country of the Kenniff brothers’ escapades,” Holland says. His lyrical minimalist writing style mimics this harsh landscape. One drenches the reader in dust and whiskey, horse hooves and gunshots, and searing sunburn. “I wanted to write a novel built of the simplest possible verbal elements, that would nonetheless resonate with readers, and be immersive,” Holland says. “My writing is always inquiry — inquiry into a particular landscape and people … inquiry into what aesthetics I require to pull the work off.”
One is not the first book that Holland has ‘pulled off’. He’s won numerous literary awards for his previous work, including the 2005 Queensland Premier’s Award for Best Emerging Author with his debut novel, The Long Road of the Junkmailer. Holland has since honed his craft in the transition between Junkmailer and One until he resembles a modern Australian Hemingway. In fact, Holland describes himself as “a devotee of Hemingway”. He’s also a lover of East Asian art, haiku poetry, and modern minimalist music such as Arvo Pärt’s and Giya Kancheli’s: anything that can give him space. “I love a work that I — as a reader or listener — can inhabit; a work that allows me to move around and participate in the creation of the aesthetic event,” he says. “Such work brings me great peace and a sense of wonder.”
Perhaps for Holland the peaceful space of minimalism serves as a subtle reminder of the rugged, sprawling Roma of his youth. The author says that of his characters, he identifies most with Jim Kenniff, the resourceful leader of the bushranger gang who also hailed from the outback town. “Then, I hope very much that I have inhabited the character of Nixon — the policeman who hunts the Kenniffs — to the extent that people sympathise with him,” Holland says. “I certainly did while writing him.” He was successful. The book’s twin focal points make readers hope both that Jim Kenniff escapes and that Sergeant Nixon will catch him.
As the year’s warmer months depart, snap up a copy of One to head back in time to the heated, savage and tumultuous world of Queensland’s warring policemen and bushrangers.
Words by Taylah Danae Baggs | Images supplied