While I was writing Starling, I had a problem with the hero of the story, Alasdair. He needed to appear intimidating to my heroine but not to the readers. With this in mind, I decided he had to perform a mighty deed to show that, beneath his emotionless exterior lurks a man with a heroic character.
In the days of the early colonial settlement of South Australia, aborigines lived in and around the site that Colonel Light, the city planner, had decided to use as the capital city, Adelaide. Because hills lined the coast, the new settlement would be constructed in a long line in front. In those days, the River Torrens (named after the man who invented the Torrens Title, used worldwide) was the only close source of fresh water.
Collecting this water was a problem. Justifiably annoyed by having their land invaded, the native tribesmen kept in sight of the riverbanks, finding the desperate settlers easy targets for their spears. Not about to be defeated so easily, the settlers built tunnels to the river. They also built wells close to the banks for the same reason, using guards while the water was being drawn.
Thirty years later, after the city of Adelaide had been developed, and the wells and tunnels disbanded, my hero in Starling, Alasdair Seymour, has to rescue a child trapped in one of these disused wells. Knowing the well was too narrow for an adult and that the child was wedged, he tunnels beneath the child and drags her out via his tunnel.
This story was inspired by many stories of the same sort of rescue, one in Australia about the time I was writing the book. I’m not sure who the rescuers were, but a group tunneled overnight to get a child out of a pipe. It was televised and took many hours. Like the rest of Australia, I cried when the child was pulled out alive. The strain on the faces of the men, the lack of light, and the sheer heroism of this act was inspiring and of course I want my heroes to be inspiring.
Alasdair had made his fortune by tunneling, though for profit until he needed to help the child.
Picture - The first bridge built in South Australia in 1843 with South Terrace in the background. Artist Alexander Murray.