About the author
Fiona Lowe has been a midwife, a sexual health counsellor and a family support worker; an ideal career for an author who writes novels about family and relationships. She spent her early years in Papua New Guinea where, without television, reading was the entertainment and it set up a lifelong love of books. Although she often re-wrote the endings of books in her head, it was the birth of her first child that prompted her to write her first novel.
A recipient of the prestigious USA RITA award and the Australian Ruby award, Fiona’s books are set in small country towns and feature real people facing difficult choices and explore how family ties and relationships impact on their decisions. When she’s not writing stories, she’s a distracted wife, mother of two ‘ginger’ sons, a volunteer in her community, guardian of 80 rose bushes, slave to a cat and is often found collapsed on the couch with wine.
Words // Fiona Lowe
I recently read a book about Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson and how their poems about the Australian bush (Paterson) and the life of the working man (Lawson) filled a niche. Their words captured the imagination of an Australian public used to being fed English prose. In the late 1800s, with the push for Federation gaining momentum, Australians were looking away from England, valuing themselves and wanting to hear their stories—Australian stories—and celebrate our national characteristics. As our multicultural nation is constantly evolving and changing, we’re redefining those national characteristics, but our thirst for local stories remains strong.
I’ve lived in Papua New Guinea, Canada and the USA, but I call Australia home. Step off the plane and I’m deafened by the raucous squawk of the many varieties of parrots and serenaded by Magpies. Oh, how I missed the maggies when I lived overseas, and oh how noisy our cities are with bird life compared with other countries, let alone the cacophony of the bush. When I write books set in Australia, part of my heart goes onto the page and that’s exactly what happened with Home Fires.
I live close to the Victorian Otways; a moderate mountain range and a temperate rainforest that rolls down to meet Bass Straight. With its forests of towering Mountain Ash, ancient Beech Myrtle, pristine waterfalls and massive tree ferns, it is a peaceful oasis and I love spending time there. However, it’s not immune to being at risk of bush fire and fires have roared through there many times, the most recent being Christmas Day 2015.
For many Australians, living in the bush far from a city is something that’s highly prized but it means that bushfires are a way of life. And you don’t have to go too far bush! With climate change, we’re seeing the outer suburbs of major capital cities being at risk of bushfire. Remember Canberra? As I write this, a corridor community just outside of Melbourne is being evacuated due to an out-of-control grass fire. Each fire season brings with it a sense of unease and a huge sigh of relief when it’s over. For some, that stress eventually outweighs the other benefits of living where they do. For others, it’s no contest—home is home and they’re not moving.
Granted, wild fire exists in other countries too, so they are not unique to Australia, but how we respond to them is, because our bush burns very differently. Volunteering is the backbone of country Australia—the volunteer fire brigade, the Country Women’s Association, and the SES are all quintessentially Australian and they are there in a crisis. But Australians also know they need to depend on themselves too, just in case their friends and neighbours are caught up in their own fire. Living with the threat of fire shapes lives and fire is very much a part of the Australian psyche. In that way, it’s an Australian story worth telling.