Roly Sussex Short Story Award Success

Less than two weeks after the launch of my book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence, I received a phone call to tell me that I had won first prize in the Roly Sussex Short Story Award for 2016. What’s more if I turned up at Government House, Brisbane, the following Tuesday, the State Governor would present me with the award. And so he did. Paul de Jersey AC shook my hand at an impressive ceremony on 18 October and congratulated me as he presented me with the trophy and a cheque.

My short story, The space between, is a fictionalised account of a woman waiting for her husband when he fails to return from an attempt to be first to fly across the Atlantic, and is based on actual events, as they say in the movies. The title comes from a Celtic belief that there is only three feet between heaven and earth, and that in ‘thin places’, the distance is even less.

The national competition is run by the Queensland Branch of the English Speaking Union, and the award is named after a well-known Professor of Linguistics at Queensland University, Roly Sussex. I am honoured to have won the award.

Unfortunately, no photography was permitted inside Government House, but the photo below shows me with Ann Garms, the ESU (Qld) President, on the steps of this impressive building, after the ceremony. (The sight of me in a suit may come as a shock to family and friends, but that is indeed me.)

It was good to meet with other writers who were runners up or had been highly commended in the competition, which has both adult and school student categories.

The English Speaking Union said it intended to publish the selected stories in an anthology sometime next year.

Meanwhile, The Chalkies made the bestseller list at Avid Reader Bookshop, where it was launched, and also featured on the back page of their Summer Reading Guide (next to the butterfly!)


All writers live in hope of being published and then well received, so for a couple of months this author was doing okay in that regard. As all writers also know, however, this is no guarantee that the next piece of writing will be successful. We just keep beavering away, and keep on hoping …

Until next time

Darryl Dymock


What writers say:

‘You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.’ ~ Stephen King



Chalkies book launched

A sizeable and enthusiastic crowd gathered at Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, on 8 October, 2016 to hear Colonel Katrina Schildberger launch my book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence.

It’s amazing how many will turn up when free wine and nibbles are on offer 🙂 Everyone I’ve spoken to said they had a good time, and lots of books were sold.

Colonel Schildberger is Head of the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps, and travelled from Sydney for the occasion. She gave a great speech to launch the book.

The Chalkies tells the little-known story of some 300 teachers who were conscripted into the Australian Army between 1996 and 1972 and quietly sent to the then Territory of Papua New Guinea while Australian troops were fighting in Vietnam. It is published by Australian Scholarly Press, Melbourne.

The conscripted teachers, colloquially known as ‘Chalkies’, were posted to the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps, and their task was to upgrade the educational levels of indigenous troops of the Pacific Islands Regiment in what turned out to be critical years leading up to the country’s independence. For many it was their first year of teaching and their first time out of Australia.

The Director of Army Education at the time, Brigadier Ernest Gould, described the initiative as ‘an educational scheme which for magnitude, scope, intensity and enlightenment is without parallel in military history’.

Yet most Australians have never heard about it.

With the aid of an Army History Research Grant, I drew on the recollections of more than 70 former Chalkies and archival sources to tell the story of how these conscripted teachers (one of whom was me) responded to the challenges of a life most of them never wanted or imagined for themselves. A small go group of ex-Chalkies gave me feedback on my research to help keep me on track.

It was very appropriate that Colonel Schildberger launched the book, because not only is 1966 the 50th anniversary of the scheme’s beginnings in PNG, it is also the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Army Education in World War II.

The jacket blurb says The Chalkies is ‘a unique tale of the good, the bad and the unexpected, told against the background of military and political developments of the day’.

A former Australian Governor-General, Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery, who served two terms in PNG, wrote the foreword.

If you’re interested in reading The Chalkies, in Australia you can order a copy through your local bookstore, or direct from Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane. Alternatively, you could ask your local library to buy a copy. The ISBN is 978-1-925333-77-0.

Till next time

Darryl Dymock


What writers say

By the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it.                                                                                                                 ~George Orwell




New book: The Chalkies

To misquote a well-known saying, the road to publication is paved with good intentions.

I certainly had good intentions about maintaining this blog more regularly this year.

My excuse is that I have been too busy doing other things, including quite a lot of writing.

And I am delighted to tell you that one of those writing efforts has been rewarded with publication:

My non-fiction book, The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence, will be published by Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, on 1st September, 2016.

Chalkies front cover

Here’s the back cover blurb:

‘Two years isn’t a long time in your life, but at age 20 it can be significant.

Between 1966 and 1973, while Australian troops were fighting in Vietnam, some 300 conscripted teachers were quietly posted to Papua New Guinea. Colloquially known as ‘Chalkies’, their task was to raise the educational level of troops of the Pacific Islands Regiment in what turned out to be critical years leading up to the country’s independence.

Drawing on the recollections of more than 70 of those National Servicemen, Dr Darryl Dymock, a former Chalkie, tells the story of how these young teachers responded to the challenges of a life most of them never wanted or imagined for themselves, in an exotic land on Australia’s doorstep. It’s a unique tale of the good, the bad and the unexpected, told with flair and insight against the background of political developments of the day.’

Papua New Guinea flag

Papua New Guinea flag

Major-General Michael Jeffery, a former Australian Governor-General, and an Army officer in PNG twice during the Chalkies’ time there, has kindly contributed a foreword.

The book can be ordered from Avid Bookshop, Brisbane at a special pre-publication price.

The Chalkies: Educating an army for independence

Darryl R Dymock

ISBN: 978-1-925333-77-0

Australian Scholarly Publishing

Format: Paperback

Publication date: 1st September 2016


Pre-publication offer: $35 if ordered from Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, by 31st August 2016 (RRP: $39.95)


Go to:

Avid Bookshop, 193 Boundary St, West End Qld 4101

or call (07) 3846 3422

What’s the point you’re making?

‘Two years isn’t a long time in your life, but at age 20 it can be significant.’

That’s one of the comments I received in response to a survey I did last year of 180 ‘Chalkies’, conscripted Australian teachers who were sent to Papua New Guinea as part of their two-year compulsory National Service between 1966 and 1973.

Papua New Guinea flag

Papua New Guinea flag

My survey of that 180 resulted in 73 returned questionnaires, a 40% response rate, which any researcher would be pleased with. Those 73 Chalkies provided such rich replies that I’ve been working for months (in between other commitments and travel) on pulling their story together.

Actually, I should say ‘our’ story, because I am also one of those Chalkies. And one of my dilemmas in writing the Chalkies story from those years was whether I was writing ‘their’ story (as an informed insider) or ‘our’ story. After listening to me present part of that story at an international adult education conference in the UK last year, a colleague persuaded me that it should be ‘our’ story. So now I’m in it too.

The advantage of having an ‘outsider’ read or listen to any story we write was brought home to me recently, when I read a short extract from the Chalkies account to two work colleagues. It was, I thought, a pretty interesting non-fiction ‘short story’, involving possible military intervention in a civil dispute that seemed to be getting out of hand, and a prime minister intent on getting his own way.

When I had finished reading the story aloud to my two friends, about 2000 words, one of them said, ‘So what point are you trying to make’? I was a bit taken aback. Wasn’t this a good story in itself, which people would be interested in hearing, especially as they may not have been aware of the machinations that went on at the time? My research had found that detail.

My colleague said he didn’t know how my story fitted with the rest of the book, but was I just going to ‘hang the story out there’ and let people make of it what they will. He asked me again, ‘What point are you trying to make?’

I didn’t have a ready answer but as I drove home from the meeting, I thought about his question. What point was I making? Why was I including this anecdote at all? How did it add to the overall story? I ruminated on this the rest of the journey, and came to a decision.

Back in my study, I scrawled on a square of paper: ‘What’s the point you’re making?’ and stuck it above my desk. Then I sat down at my laptop and wrote a heading: ‘What point are you making in this book?’, followed by my dot point answers to that question.

I then went to each draft chapter and typed: ‘What point are you making in Chapter 1?”, and so on. I then provided dot point answers to that question for every chapter. In most chapters, I thought I had made the point sufficiently clear; in a couple of them, I felt I needed to spell out more clearly the point of the chapter, and not just leave it ‘hanging out there’. I was able to shape the final chapter with the question in my head.

As for the anecdote that had started the process, I cut it back considerably, so that it had a sharper focus within the chapter it was part of. I think it now has a point.

So, I am arguing that the question ‘What’s the point you’re making?’ should apply to the whole book, and to each chapter. In this case it was for a non-fiction book, but it seems to me that it wouldn’t hurt for a fiction writer to ask, ’What’s the point I’m making in this chapter?’ as a way of keeping focussed and also distinguishing the discrete purpose of each chapter within a cohesive whole.

My Chalkies book is now a draft manuscript of some 68,000 words and I’m exploring publication options with my agent.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock


What writers say:

‘And if a man would ever sit down and study his life in a practical good-sense way, he would … understand that nothing in his life ever ended. Things only changed and grew up into something else.’ ~ Richard Ford: A piece of my heart (Bloomsbury, 2006)



A different sort of revolutionary road

War and peace

It was 15-year-old Igor Labzin’s first day at high school and he was in trouble for walking on the neatly mown lawn.

‘Stay off the grass,’ the principal said.

‘Thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal frowned. ‘I said, “Stay off the grass”.’

‘Thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal’s eyes widened. ‘You don’t speak English, do you?’

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.*

The principal was right. It was March 1962, and Igor and his family had just arrived in Brisbane from Indonesia. He could speak Indonesian, Dutch, Russian and a bit of French, but had no English.

Four years later, Igor graduated from the top class at high school, did an engineering degree, and then embarked on a successful career as a structural engineer in London, Montreal, and Canberra, and he continues to work in that profession.

The other evening my wife and I went to a launch of Igor Labzin’s book, Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

Igor Labzin

Igor’s father graduated from the St Petersburg Naval Academy in 1918, just months after the start of the Russian Revolution. He had the wonderfully Russian name of Boris Martemianovich Labzin.

The young officer decided to support the White Army rather than the Communists, and Igor’s book traces his father’s life through the ensuing turmoil of civil war and escape to Manila and Shanghai in the 1930s, Indonesia in the 1940s and 50s and finally to Australia.

We knew about the book launch because Igor and my wife Cheryl were in the same class at senior high school and we met him recently at a school reunion. He still lives in Brisbane.

Igor was off the next day to launch his book in St Petersburg, at the invitation of the State Museum of the History of St Petersburg. How’s that for an immediate international audience (although the book has still to be translated into Russian)?

The Australian launch was at the wonderful independent Avid Bookshop at West End, Brisbane, which is a great supporter of new and existing writers. Digital publishing may be gaining ground (and I’ve published online myself), but there’s a lot to say for the smell and feel of a bookshop like Avid, with ‘real’ books.

Igor’s introduction to his father’s life was fascinating, and I’m looking forward to reading Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

The Hinkler cake

Regular readers of this blog will know of my book, Hustling Hinkler, a biography of the pioneer Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler.

At the abovementioned school reunion, one of my wife’s other former classmates, Narelle McTaggart, told me about a ‘Hinkler Cake’ which had apparently been devised especially for Bert Hinkler’s triumphant return to Bundaberg, Queensland, his home town, in February 1928, after his record-breaking solo flight from England to Australia in a single-engined biplane.

The recipe came from members of the Bundaberg Branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association, an enduring community organisation that has branches in every Australian state and parallel organisations in other countries, including the Women’s Institute in Britain.

Narelle subsequently sent me the recipe, which is reproduced below. I am hoping to have a go at making a Hinkler cake, but haven’t yet got around to it.


1/4 pound self-raising flour                 2oz butter           

2 teaspoons sugar                               Pinch salt

Mix with a little milk. Roll out paste very thin, put in flat buttered tin and spread with raisins, dates and currants

Sponge mixture

2oz butter                                            2 well-beaten eggs (or 1 egg & a little milk)

½ cup sugar (beaten to a cream)       4 tablespoons of milk Eggs

1 cup self-raising flour

Beat and spread on paste and fruit. Bake in a hot oven. When cool, spread with lemon icing.

I don’t know if Bert himself ever got to sample a slice of the Hinkler Cake. If any reader wants to be the first to try out the recipe, I’d be delighted to hear about it on this site, crumbs and all…

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

* The ‘facts’ of this story are as I heard them, so this retelling may be a version of the truth.


What writers say

The true unreliability of everything written down utterly fascinates me. Even the person who has set down the so-called facts will still get it essentially wrong. ~ Sebastian Barry





China’s one-child policy and why older people can’t find work

Regular readers of this column will know that I recently wrote a book about working into later life, Extending your use-by date. Strange as it may seem, the theme of the book is linked to a recent change of policy in China. That country’s government has recently announced the end of its controversial one-child policy. Couples will now be allowed to have two children.

The reason for the Chinese Government’s reversal of policy is not a sudden concern to meet parents’ wishes, but because it has finally realised it needs to do something drastic to address the ageing of the population and the lack of young people coming through to replace them in the workforce.

One child policy

This is not a problem only for China.  According to the United Nations, the proportion of the world’s population aged 60 years or over was 12 per cent in 2013, and is expected to reach 21 per cent in 2050. The spread is uneven, however, with the least developed nations less affected.

Examples from developing economies include: Singapore: by 2030, one in five citizens is likely to be 65 and above as compared to one in nine in 2015; UK: in the next five years, the total population is forecast to rise by 3%, but the numbers aged over 65 are expected to increase by 12%; USA: by 2060, the numbers of older people is forecast to reach about 98 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2013.

Adult students in a computer lab

In Australia, the proportion of Australians over the age of 65 is around 13%. In the next 40 years or so that figure is expected to almost double to about a quarter of the population – around eight million people. At the same time, the birth rate is declining.

For China and Australia and other developed countries, one issue is that there will be fewer people in the workforce, which has implications for both maintaining productivity and for the amount of revenue raised through taxation.

An ageing population will also potentially place heavier demands on health services and, in countries that provide government pensions for their citizens, on the welfare budget.

That is why some countries, including Australia, the UK, and France, have announced an increase in the retirement age, i.e. the age at which such a pension becomes payable.

Keeping older people in the workforce is therefore arguably something to aim for, especially as people are now living longer, and hence potentially capable of continuing to work.

The potential benefits are that the level of productivity is maintained, taxes are still being collected, and older workers have more money in their pockets, and are arguably more content with their lot. I say ‘arguably’ because some people hate their jobs or have health issues and just can’t wait to retire.

OW job ads

Here there comes the hitch, the fly in the ointment, the snag, the unexpected obstacle: age discrimination.

In the same week that China announced the repeal of its one-child policy, an Australian report revealed that a Government scheme to encourage employers to take on older workers had been a flop.

Introduced in 2014, the Restart scheme offered employers $10,000 over two years to employ people over 50, who had been unemployed and on income support for at least six months. The intention was to jack up the Australian mature-age workforce by 32,000 every year but, according to the New Daily, the actual number was 2318, around 7% of the target.

The $ amount was never enough to entice employers over a two-year period, and from November 1 the Government has reduced the period to 12 months, but not increased the figure to employers.

The real stumbling block, however, is not the money, it’s employer (and social) attitudes. Older people consistently find it difficult if not impossible, to be re-employed after leaving work voluntarily or through a redundancy.

This is despite the mounting evidence that people are capable of learning and training into older age, and that they have built up skills and knowledge that can contribute significantly to an organisation’s well-being.

This is not an issue only in Australia. The Huffington Post reported that a Georgia Institute of Technology review of the U.S. government’s 2014 Displaced Worker Survey found that someone 50 years or older is likely to be unemployed for almost six weeks longer than someone between the ages of 30 and 49, and close to eleven weeks longer than people between the ages of 20 and 29.

The study also discovered that the odds of being re-employed decrease by 2.6 percent for each one-year increase in age.

In Australia, the Human Rights Commission found that more than a quarter of 2000 workers surveyed said they had been discriminated against because of their age.

So, although the workforce is ageing, older people are living longer (and staying heathier too), and the proportion of younger people is declining, it’s still tough for older people to get back into work once they’ve left it, because of employer and societal attitudes.

The big question is: will those attitudes change in the face of a changing population age profile, and of the potential for productivity and hence the standard of living to drop because those older workers who want to work are being denied the opportunity?

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

What writers say:

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. ~ Barbara Kingsolver

Until you know what it is to be a pea …


And the winners are…

The Queensland Writers Centre and the publisher, Hachette Australia, recently announced the successful applicants for their 2015 joint Manuscript Development Program, now in its ninth year. They are:

Patricia Holland’s literary fiction manuscript ‘Lochwall’ (QLD)
Victoria Carless’ literary fiction manuscript, ‘The Dream Walker’ (QLD)
Wendy Davies’ romance manuscript, ‘The Drover’s Rest’ (VIC)
Susan Pearson’s historical crime thriller manuscript, ‘River is a Strong Brown God’ (QLD)
Mary-Ellen Stringer’s contemporary literary fiction manuscript, ‘A Beggar’s Garden’ (QLD)
Angella Whitton’s contemporary fiction manuscript, ‘The Night River’ (NSW)
Kali Napier’s historical fiction manuscript, ‘The Songs of All Poets’ (QLD)
Susan Fox’s commercial women’s fiction manuscript, ‘Mine’ (VIC)
Imbi Neeme’s divorce lit manuscript, ‘The Hidden Drawer’ (VIC).

I remember the excitement I felt when my name appeared on that list in 2010 for my non-fiction manuscript of the story of the Australian trail-blazing aviator, Bert Hinkler, which was published by Hachette Australia three years later as Hustling Hinkler. I also remember the anxiety I felt as I realised I had to polish my work to the highest standard for publication, and then submit it to public scrutiny.

Dawn Barker's book, 'Fractured', was chosen for the Manuscript Development Workshop in 2010, and later published by Hachette

Dawn Barker’s book, ‘Fractured’, was chosen for the Manuscript Development Program in 2010, and later published by Hachette.

From the experience of writers selected for the Manuscript Development Program in the past, not all the authors on the list above will see their books published by Hachette. Some will go on to other publishers; some may not make it to the point of publication, for various reasons.

Whatever the final outcome, selection in itself is an acknowledgment that the writer stands out from the crowd, and has something special to offer. So that alone is an encouragement in an industry where ‘getting a start’ is tough.

I know a writer whose application was unsuccessful this year, and I know how much work she put into the manuscript and how she drew on professional advice to help her shape her story. Even though she missed out on selection, this author is not giving up – she has a back-up plan to seek publication in other ways.

Some of the readers of this blog will know that one of my favourite quotes about writing is from the late science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov:

‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’ Isaac_Asimov

Read, and think, and listen to silence

I’ve been reading a biography of an author who won four Miles Franklin Awards*: Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather by Karen Lamb (University of Queensland Press, 2015), and came across this advice from the distinguished Australian author, Patrick White (1912 -1990), to Astley in 1961:

‘I think you should write nothing for a bit. Read. … Read, and think, and listen to silence, shell the peas, not racing to begin the next chapter, but concentrating on the work in had until you know what it is to be a pea … Then, when you have become solid, you will write the kind of book you ought to write.’ (p. 137)

Fire on the horizon

I was recently in Adelaide, South Australia, taking to ex-Chalkies about Army Education in Papua New Guinea (see previous blogs) and couldn’t resist taking this pic of the jetty at Glenelg around 8 o’clock on a Saturday night.

Glenelg Jetty Adelaide 8pm in mid-October

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

*The Miles Franklin Award award, now worth AU$50,000, was bequeathed by the will of Australian novelist, Miles Franklin, for a ‘published novel or play portraying Australian life in any of its phases’.  All entries for the award must have been published in the previous calendar year.