|Carrie Tiffany started writing Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living after reading an article on The Better Farming Train in an agricultural journal from the 1930s.|
The Better Farming Train was a highly sophisticated government propaganda tool. Staffed with scientifically trained experts on all aspects of farming, the train travelled through the Australian countryside promoting the idea that the land could be tamed and that it was the patriotic duty of every farmer to increase his yields. She started researching the train and came across an early film showing it arriving at a tiny rural station.
“People flocked to it in droves. It was almost biblical. The farmers of Australia thought that the Better Farming Train could save them from the terrible uncertainty of farming. They really believed that science held all of the answers,” she said.
Carrie said there was a time in her life when she also believed in science. She spent her early twenties working as a National Park Ranger in Central Australia. One of her jobs was to plan and implement a mosaic burning program on the national park.
"We were using science to mimic the Aboriginal way of farming – creating a healthy landscape with patches of vegetation at different ages. It was a great job. I got to travel around in a four-wheel-drive with my maps and coloured pencils and scientific instruments. I remember one trip where an Aboriginal elder called Dickie came along with me. We drove for a couple of hours to a particular place I thought might be ready for burning. I got out of the vehicle in my fancy hiking boots, unrolled my maps on the bonnet and started testing the Spinifex to see how dry it was. Dickie went for a short barefoot walk. Then he gave me a thumbs up sign and threw a lit cigarette over his shoulder. It was a moment of pure epiphany. Dickie could tell whether the land needed a fire from the feel of it through the soles of his feet. Here I was with my plans and maps, my Western scientific knowledge, and it all added up to nothing. It was clear to me that I would never be able to understand the land in such a sensual and organic way as Dickie – to understand it through my skin.”
Carrie eventually left the ranger ranks and retrained as a journalist. She specialised in conservation and agriculture and now writes and edits farming magazines.
“I sometimes thought about my experience with Dickie in the desert as I visited farms and talked to farmers. Recently a lot of my work has been about the drought and inevitably I became interested in the history of drought in this country. I was particularly struck by the fact that we don’t seem to have much of a drought memory.”
She decided to try fiction to explore some of her ideas and was encouraged when she won the 2000 Australian Book Review Short Story competition with a story about a snake bite. (She was bitten by a highly venomous Western Brown Snake during her time as a ranger).
A masters degree in Creative Writing at RMIT followed, and in 2003 an early draft of Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living won the Victorian Premier’s Award for an unpublished manuscript. The novel is already receiving positive reviews in Australia and will be published in the UK and the US early next year. The novel has the look and feel of the farming manuals and journals the author used in her research. The narrative is interspersed with experiments, results, charts and enigmatic historical photographs of plants, landscapes and animals.
|This interview was taken from the Pan Macmillan Australia website.|