Family inspired

Portland Jones

WRITER, horse trainer and literature lecturer Portland Jones will immerse herself in the historical surrounds of Peninsula Farm as a writer in residence.

Dr Jones will use the time to work on her third novel, which harks back to 1860s Perth. 

Her first novel Seeing the Elephant was praised as a sensitive and lyrical Vietnam War-era examination of learned helplessness, which was explored through the relationship between a Vietnamese translator and an Australian soldier sent to the Vietnamese highlands to recruit and train the local hill tribes for the war effort. 

Her second novel Only Birds Above follows a blacksmith who served in the 10th Light Horse Regiment in World War 1 and explores the impact of war across generations. 

For her third novel Things of Whim and Bone, Dr Jones has looked deep into her family’s history for inspiration. 

Her 15-day residency at Peninsula Farm is part of the third year of the Inspire Writers in Residence program run over summer by the National Trust WA and the state culture department.

NTWA CEO Julian Donaldson says “connecting artists with heritage is an important way to take a new look at the shared stories that bind us and connect generations”.

Things of Whim and Bone

by PORTLAND JONES

FOR an historical novelist your own family is a rich seam to mine for stories. 

My great-great grandfather John Kirk arrived in WA as a convict in 1865 aboard the Vimeira. 

My name, Portland, he gave to his first-born daughter and was the port in England from which the Vimeira sailed. 

I’ve always felt a connection with John because he was a blacksmith and worked with horses, as I do. 

The Vimeira’s manifest also records that he was literate and had lost a toe in an accident – another connection, as I have similarly lost a thumb. 

The novel I am currently working on, Things of Whim and Bone, is partly set in Perth in the 1860s. 

The opportunity to immerse myself in the history of the Peninsula Farm building is very exciting. 

In the 1950s and ‘60s the farm was used to keep and train racehorses and this, to me, feels like another significant connection. 

I am fascinated by the stories that are not always privileged by official histories, by the stories of women and those of the original custodians of the land, the Whadjuk Noongar people. 

I’m also interested in the mighty Derbarl Yerrigan, which flows past the farm, it is both constant and ever changing and reminds me that against the backdrop of nature our own lives are insignificant. 

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