A Day With Adrian Hyland

Writing this blog for nearly three years now has led to many surprising and delightful encounters, often in cyberspace, but occasionally in the real world as well. I spent a lovely day in Melbourne on Sunday with Adrian Hyland, author of Diamond Dove (Text Publishing, 2006; in the US published as Moonlight Downs, Soho Press, 2007). Diamond Dove is an Aboriginal crime novel, of sorts. It is a story told by Emily Tempest, a young woman who returns after a decade’s absence to the Desert community of Moonlight Downs where she grew up…just in time for the murder of the community’s elder. The plot rollicks on from there, but the true delight of the book for me is in the cast of characters, blackfellas and whitefellas, who could only have come from the most distant corners of the Northern Territory and, even more, in the exuberant language of the narration.Diamond Dove is that truly rare bird: the crime novel that is more enjoyable the second time you read it. Both times you read it you’ll laugh out loud.

Adrian and I have been exchanging email messages for the better part of two years now. We finally met face to face on a chilly, rainy Melbourne winter day, with plans for brunch that quickly escalated into a vigorous walking tour of Brunswick Street from Alcaston Gallery (at no. 11) to Joe’s Garage (no. 366) where we stopped to refuel with an excellent lunch. 

Our walk took us past wrought-ironed terraces and high rise blocks where immigrants settle up through the hippie precincts that were part Oxford Street (Sydney) and part Macdougal Street (New York). Along the way conversation ranged from Adrian’s years in the Territory, working as a stockman and miner and administrator, to the novels of Oran Pahmuk; and from the emergence of the last Pintupi from the desert west of Kiwirrkura in 1984 to Adrian’s plans for the next novel featuring Emily Tempest. (I had a glimpse of a good chunk of the hefty manuscript, which Adrian says is about three-quarters complete, but no sneak preview of pages or plot.) 

He told us the story of the Russell Street bombings (and Adrian’s subsequent encounter with one of the accused). In a less ominous mood, he gave us the lowdown on the sacking of Melbourne’s tram conductors and the attendant loss of local color and character. Adrian also alerted us to the packs of tram inspectors who roam in the conductors’ place, seeking out the hapless and the dishonest on public transport.

Even better, Adrian shared with us a few cultural sites in Melbourne that we might never have ventured into on our own. At the beginning of our peregrinations we stopped in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where a High Mass was in progress, replete with incense and a choir that sounded truly heavenly. Even on a dark morning, the church was extraordinarily beautiful, graceful, and peaceful. 

At the end of our journeys we found a different kind of sanctuary in the State Library of Victoria whose mighty LaTrobe Dome (see below) over the main Reading Room spoke of a more earthly majesty. The Library was Adrian’s haunt as a youth; as an adult, he wrote much of his first novel within it. His affection for the building was evident and contagious.

Author, author: With Adrian Hyland (on the right) in the State Library of Victoria’s Reading Room, under the LaTrobe Dome (left)

I have never before enjoyed Melbourne quite this way and quite so much. Days like today make all the hours spent writing this blog worthwhile. 

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