|Sue Woolfe is probably best known for her 1996 novel Leaning Towards Infinity, which won the South East Asia and South Pacific Region Best Book award in the 1997 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and the 1996 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction. She has just published her latest novel, The Oldest Song in the World, and she spoke to Linda Morris for "the Age":|
The extremities of Australia's interior and the blunderings of well-intentioned whites are what salt Woolfe's fourth novel, The Oldest Song in the World, a departure of backdrop and topic for the award-winning novelist who has tended to familiar urban settings in her long fascination with frustrated genius and the bonds between mothers and daughters.
Woolfe's first novel in nine years begins as a familiar fish-out-of-water tale before opening out into a novelistic exploration of the disconnect between black and white culture via a heroine marooned by personal adversity.
The interior first beckoned in 2005, two years after publication of her third novel, The Secret Cure, while on sabbatical from the University of Sydney, where she teaches creative writing. Her daughter, Kitty, had been offered work experience in a remote Aboriginal settlement in the Northern Territory and Woolfe accompanied her for an initial two-week sojourn, then stayed for more than a year and a half.
In that dry brush country, nursing children in her lap, Woolfe would muse for hours on what drew the eyes of indigenous women to the horizon, how Aboriginal culture valued companionable silence over idle chit-chat, and the complex web of kin that leaves little room for friendships.
All the while Woolfe wrote, without once inciting curiosity about the thoughts she put on paper. It occurred to Woolfe, a writer by stubborn temperament and profession, that this was a truly non-materialistic, paperless culture. ''I remember walking up the road and it was a sunny afternoon, not too hot, and all the women of the family were lying on a verandah, a lot of undulating bodies, and they were chatting about this and that, and I had this immense sense of what a lonely society we are.''