Author Craig picks up some very odd hitchhickers

Author Craig Cormick… “It is now possible to drive the Hume in about 12 hours, but you’d miss all the stories that exist along the way.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

ON a muggy and overcast Australia Day morning, Canberra author Craig Cormick began his drive down the Hume Highway, picking up hitchhikers Captain Cook, Henry Lawson, Caroline Chisholm and Ned Kelly along the way.

It seems like an unlikely combination of travel companions but Craig, 57, of Belconnen, pulls them together in his new book “Backseat Drivers”, which will be launched on May 10, at the National Library of Australia.

Stemming from Craig’s interest in history and creative interpretations, the book evolved from the idea of travelling with figures from the past, who then comment on the present.

“What would Captain Cook make of Sydney?” he asks. “Or what would Ned Kelly think of Melbourne?”

“The book looks at some key points of Australian history that have occurred along the Hume Highway, including the Cronulla race riots of 2005, the internment of German civilians at Berrima during World War I, and the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria of 2009,” he says.

And, of course, as a Canberran himself, there is a detour through the ACT, where the hitchhikers from the past are confounded by the contradictions of the city.

Craig moved to Canberra with his parents as a high school student, while his parents ran the newsagency in Manuka.

Coming from a family of storytellers, often gathering to tell stories, Craig’s known he wanted to be a writer since he was little.

It was at the age of 30, in 1991, when Craig published his first book, and now, “Backseat Drivers” will be his 30th.

“This book attempts to capture many of those stories that have been bypassed by both the highway and by many histories – but not just captured through my eyes as the author, also through the eyes of these characters from our past,” he says.

Almost like a “join-the-dots” puzzle, Craig links the Hume Highway along the way, connecting small towns with each other, while following the journey of Hamilton Hume and William Hovell.

“They took over three months to walk from Sydney to Melbourne and back – fighting most of the way it should be added,” he says.

“It is now possible to drive the Hume in about 12 hours, but you’d miss all the stories that exist along the way.

“When I went through small communities and talked to people there, I noticed a lot of people live outside the main narrative of Australian politics and economics.

“The Australian society is made up of many diverse voices. It’s important we travel through life with different people who challenge and question our ideas.”

While writing the novel, Craig found that these hitchhikers from the past even challenged his own opinions.

When Craig, who had always been a fan of Ned Kelly, spoke with a police officer while driving through “Ned Kelly country”, he heard from him that he saw Ned Kelly as a “cop killer” as opposed to a “hero”.

“I want people to reconsider alternative ways of looking at the past and present and question what Australia’s future is,” he says.

“People sense Australian history is made up of these big stories but they forget about the smaller ones.

“I’d like people to also imagine making journeys with figures from the past to help them understand Australia’s future.”

In preparation for the book, Craig did a lot of research and read a lot of works written by the “hitchhikers” in order to jump into their voices but it was the initial idea of this book and many others that always gets his writing to the finish line.

“There’s a moment where the idea hits you and it becomes consuming. It stays with you 24 hours a day and writing that book is putting that idea to rest,” he says.

And now that “Backseat Drivers” has been put to bed, Craig is already tackling with a new idea for a book, which features Captain Cook.

“Backseat Drivers” book launch, National Library of Australia, 6pm, May 10.


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