The events at Meckering on the morning of October 14, 1968, when a massive earthquake ripped through the Wheatbelt town are knotted into the fabric of Julie Raffaele’s family history.
“I was only one and have no memories of it but my mum does,” she says. “We were living in Kalgoorlie at the time and mum tells me that dad was outside on a ladder and she didn’t know whether to save the children or what to do. There was a lot going on, children in high chairs and that kind of thing.”
A few years ago, Raffaele started writing a short story based on her imaginings of the day. The Best Australian Yarn competition provided the perfect opportunity for her to go back to her unfinished work and complete it.
“I honestly don’t know why I started writing it,” she says. “I think like a lot of things, various elements compost in your mind. You read stuff every now and then because they still have tremors out there, so I’m sure something had come up.
“When I re-read it — which I did the other night — it still brings up a lot of emotion for me. I don’t know why that is but I think it is about the characters.”
“I just thought about the way they would have experienced it, and really all of them are quite challenged – if that’s the word – in different ways, particularly the woman who is alone in the country.”
None of the characters is based on a real person. “The country publican, I’ve met him many times,” she laughs. “I don’t know where the idea of the shopkeeper being chased by the viper came from, but that seemed very natural.”
Raffaele is a film-maker who was born in East Fremantle. She remembers being an avid reader as a child and having an affinity with literature-based learning at school. Her university career took her to Curtin, to what was then Swinburne College in Melbourne and eventually back to Murdoch University to do her masters degree in film-making.
She describes her writing for her work as a film-maker as pretty heavily researched-based and enjoys the freedom of writing short stories.
“It’s a purer form of an idea, more imaginative, not constrained by fact,” she says. “Any research has to be spot on. You can take some liberties once you have done the research but a short story comes comes from a place of invention.”
The Best Australian Yarn, which is run by The West Australian in partnership with Minderoo Foundation, was launched in February and allows professional and amateur short story writers to compete for a $50,000 prize pool, the richest of its kind in the world.
Raffaele and the other authors in the Top 50 have the opportunity to win the $30,000 major prize. Nine other finalists shortlisted for the overall prize will receive $1000 each, the top WA entrant $4000, the best Australian regional entry $3000 and the best youth entry $2000.
The prize jury is chaired by the editor-in-chief of The West Australian, Anthony De Ceglie, and includes Minderoo Foundation co-founder Nicola Forrest, author Robert Drewe and publishers Terri-ann White and Rachel Bin Salleh.
The winners will be announced on November 18.