Water Access Only 2: The story behind the stories

The story starts in Sri Lanka, if you go back a bit, where author Juliette Robertson was born. She didn’t grow up there however, moving to Australia with her family when she was only two. As she grew up she heard wonderful stories from her relations about their lives in Sri Lanka and, as an adult, decided to preserve some of those precious memories. A family anthology, Journeys, was the result.

Journeys was compiled on Scotland Island, where Robertson and her husband, Guy Towner, had recently moved. She was pregnant with her first child, who is now 19, and had “this real sense of history and wanting to capture my family background for my children”.

At Scotland Island her present and past faced one another in a way. Just across the water at Rocky Point stands one of the area’s best-known old homes, Trincomalee – which happens to share its name with the port in north-eastern Sri Lanka where Robertson was born. “The Pittwater area is very much like the Trincomalee Harbour. It’s very beautiful. There was this whole sense of synergy,” Robertson says. She was inundated with material for Journeys and it was a huge task to manage. It didn’t put her off though. “After that I thought I’d like to do [something similar] for the community here”.

Robertson asked Scotland Island and Western Foreshores residents (former residents were also welcome to participate) to write about what it is like to live an offshore life and received the same enthusiastic response she’d had from her extended family. She set up a project team and off they went. It took about two years to get to publication but in 2009 there it was: Water Access Only – Tales and Images from Pittwater with contributions from more than 60 offshore residents. It was a smash hit. Thousands of copies of the 160-page book were sold.

Now The Adventure Continues, as the subtitle to Water Access Only 2 puts it. Following many requests for a sequel, Robertson has sent out the invitation again and plans to have the book ready by early December in time for this year’s Christmas market. First round submissions close on February 28, the second round on March 31st.

Non-fiction personal experiences of what it is like to live an offshore life, local history, tales of adventure, amusing anecdotes, sad memories, poems, artworks, photographs and all manner of reminiscences are sought. Follow-up stories from the first volume would also be welcome.

Robertson’s intention now, as before, is to include as wide a variety of work and as many people as possible to “create a really rich level of content”. Contributors need to understand that their work may be edited to ensure a consistent high quality, a very natural, colloquial voice and for pieces to be easy to read. Robertson is keen to have children’s perspectives and the experiences of people who have moved away and can offer a different view.

Robertson found her way to Scotland Island by chance in a way, as many people do. She was newly married and “living the corporate life in a high rise” in Lane Cove. But babies beckoned, and Robertson didn’t want the high-rise life for her children. The couple discovered Pittwater and the island during sailing races from the RMYC. Then, when Juliette was working for AMP a colleague came to work with the exciting news that she’d bought a house on Scotland Island.

“I nearly fell off my chair, because we’d been sailing around it thinking, we should go there one day and have a look. She said come up for lunch and see what I’ve bought.” Robertson fell in love with the place and immediately rang her husband to say he should take a look. “He came and loved it, so that was it.” It was 20 years ago this month.

The couple was very involved from the start. When her husband joined the Scotland Island fire brigade, Robertson – who was working in marketing – suggested putting together a calendar featuring the firemen in a stripped-down state, literally. Not surprisingly it was hilarious, sold well and it proved to be a very good way to meet the community.

Community is, of course, the foundation of this project. Water Access Only – Tales and Images from Pittwater was edited by Robertson, the late John Hoffman and Edna Carew. This year help comes from Carol Floyd and Jane Rich, who are professional editors, and Jane Matthews who will manage the design and layout. As Robertson points out, there is no shortage of experience and talent in the area.

Some of the story-telling talent will be on show during a series of monthly speakers’ nights at Scotland Island ahead of publication. They are fun nights – “it really encourages writing and creativity and laughter and community”.

Robertson hopes to market the book online as well as selling it via more traditional outlets. Pre-orders for Christmas will be taken to help defray costs.

Details on how to submit short stories, poems, photos and artwork can be found here:

The adventure continues …

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