Raymond M Oliphant
Ray Oliphant was born in Brisbane and lived in several country towns. He was educated at Brisbane Grammar (along with David Malouf), later at State High and Teacher’s College.
Ray later abandoned teaching to join the Army as a musician and after 5 years playing band music, joined the Education Corps which gave him a commission and provided funding to complete tertiary education: B Ed, BA. He was Eventually promoted to major and took an early retirement option.
Later, in Victoria, Ray joined the TAFE as a teacher and taught English, Politics, History, Management Studies. Also taught English, math and science in Singapore and the UK. Enjoyed adult education classes, both as student and teacher.
He retired early to pursue musical interests, to travel widely and to write. Ray has worked on six books in the last four years - The Silt Jetty is the first to reach final form. Other books are varied in theme.
Ray has four adult children and one very precocious grandson.
His interests include history, literature, science, cosmology, philosophy, politics, current affairs, German language, music (clarinet, piano) and, of course, writing.
READ A SAMPLE:
She was standing at the door of
one of the cabins - you know the sort of thing - all-metal pre-fabs, forty
dollars a night, bring your own sheets and blankets. She was saying to a stout,
“Oh please, Mr Schultz, not
tomorrow. That’s impossible. My husband won’t be here until Friday. I got a
letter from him only this morning. Definitely,
Friday. Then we will pay the bill and go. Please, we have no car and nowhere
else to go.”
“You said Friday this time last
week, Mrs Sanders - and the week before. You owe me for three weeks now.
That’s six hundred and sixty at the weekly rate. I can’t be expected
to provide housing for trailer trash. It has to be tomorrow.”
“Trailer trash! That’s a very
cruel thing to say. We’re not trailer trash, as you put it. Six hundred
and sixty will be no problem when my husband gets here. He’s up country in
West Irian at the moment, trying to spud in a new well. They had a breakdown and
they’re waiting on parts. Come on, now. We’re ladies in distress. Can’t
you just let us stay on for a bit? I’ll pay you the daily rate if you insist.
Just a few more......”
“Mrs Sanders, you have told me
all that about ten times and now I have to tell you, enough is enough.
I will give you a lift to town and you can talk to the people in
Centrelink if you’re without funds, but you can’t stay here. Somehow I just
can’t believe that you have a husband who’ll come and get you. I’m sorry,
but I have a business to run, not a charity, and you’ll have to leave those
rings as security. Okay, tomorrow at 9am. No more argument.”
I stood on the other side of a
trellis, not intending to eavesdrop, but suddenly
aware that the feeling was stealing over me again. It was the Port Arthur
syndrome, no question about it. It was like being an actor in a TV drama and no
longer in complete control, for the script had been written by someone else.
When the Caravan Park manager had departed, I walked to the sliding glass door
of the cabin and knocked. A voice, a little girl’s voice, said:
“Go away! You bad man! You made
my mummy cry! Go away!”
I knocked again. This time the
door opened a little bit and a pair of eyes topped by a red thatch of hair said:
“Mummy, it’s a man! Another man.”
Then mother came to the door, a
tissue mopping up tears. It was a face of a woman about thirty and she was tall
and also redheaded, but the light was not good, so the first impression was that
of a rather drab female, no make-up, no attempt at being pleasant. It was the
face of someone who had run out of options. She looked at me through the
flyscreen wire and said:
“Yes, what is it?”
At that point no words were in my
mind but it was the same feeling that I had felt when I had started writing The Innocents . But this time there was no PC in front
of me, no screen to be filled with words. There was just the three dimensional
reality of a dark and rainy day, now closing in to become a cold and miserable
evening. My mouth opened and I heard myself say:
“I’m sorry to disturb you. I
couldn’t help overhearing. My name is Paul
Dixon. I’m a writer. I can show identification if you wish. I just
happened to overhear what you were saying. Are you in a bit of trouble? I’m
sorry to be nosy, but perhaps we can help each other. I too am in a bit of
trouble - though of a different kind.”
The woman looked at me for what
seemed a long time. Then she spoke:
“Well you don’t look much
like your photo, but I suppose it was retouched.” I could see a paperback copy
of The Innocents in her hand “Yes, I know who you are Mr Dixon.
I don’t know how I could possibly help anyone - unless you want to offer me a
job. But I’ll want to know what your proposition is before I’ll let you into
our little metal castle.”
A fine drizzle had started to
fall, but my rain hat and my Dritex jacket stopped it easily. My tongue began to
wag again as I improvised effortlessly.
“My latest book is about the
oppression of women. I’ve constructed a story
on various assumptions, hoping that I can resolve all the conflicts and
come up with some kind of realistic ending, but it won’t seem to work. I’ve
decided that the problem is that I have little real first hand knowledge of the
kinds of oppression experienced by women.”
“I see. And you see me as a
victim of male oppression? Are you switching from boy convicts to abused and
“Honestly, Mrs Sanders, I
don’t know. I just had this feeling that you were in trouble and that in
helping you, I might just gain a few insights in return.”
Mrs Sanders began closing the
door. “Well, Mr Dixon, thanks for the offer but I’m all fresh out of insight
material at the moment......”
“Please don’t close the
door,” I pleaded desperately. “What I’m doing now is on pure impulse.
Whether you can help me or not, I’m quite happy to help you. How about we tell
each other our problems and then you can decide...”
She stopped retreating and moved
closer to the door and I could see smoky grey eyes giving me a long once-over.
Then she seemed to come to a decision. She had decided to let me explain myself
a bit more. I had, maybe thirty seconds to make my point.
“Okay, so you want to help me.
And how do you think I can help you, Mr Dixon? And the big question is: what‘s
it going to cost me?”
My problem was that the speech I
had just made about my next book was total improvisation - a complete pack of
lies. My latest book was a novel in naturalistic mode, set at the time of the
land boom period of Melbourne in the 1880s and was about a master crook who had
ripped off thousands and made a fortune. It was a novel with real and fictitious
characters mixed up together, with a love affair between the master villain and
the daughter of a working-class hero, a migrant
anarchist from Germany. It was modelled on the technique of one of my favourite
authors, E.L. Doctorow. I had no book on battered wives planned. I had decided
to take the advice of my editor and keep away from victim themes for a while.
And now I was standing in the
rain, mouthing words which were not passing through my brain, but coming out of
my mouth as if they were sincere. The red-headed woman took another long,
searching look at me and then said, not very impressed.
“I still can’t decide about
you, Mr Dixon. There’s nothing on your book jacket about you being a rapist or
a paedophile or a serial killer, but then I don’t suppose you’d let them
print that, would you? Tell me how I can help you. Maybe that will help me to
“As I have said, my problem is
that I have only a theoretical grasp of the oppression of women. I have done a
lot of reading, but I need to focus in on someone who has been through it and
had managed to survive and even to get out from under, if you see what I mean.
If I can interview you, I might be able to persuade you to sell me your story. I
suggest that this might help you out of your present difficulty. As a writer I
always function best when I have real human experiences to work with. Yours
could be most useful to me if you don‘t mind talking about them to a
I was still adlibbing without any
real idea of what this was all about. My actual self seemed to be little more
than a spectator to this exchange, though I knew that I was excited and
stimulated as I had not been for many months. The red-headed woman began to edge
away from the door. I was just a bit too much. Caution is never far away when
the safety of children is a factor. She said:
“I’m sorry Mr Dixon, but I
don‘t think it is going to work. I can’t…..”
“I understand that you may not
care to be a case study in a book.” I gabbled on desperately.
“Well, don’t worry. I came here to make enquiries about a friend. I
believe he lives in these parts. I’ll go away and ask my questions at the
shop, then I’ll tap on your door again. If, after thinking it over, you
don’t want to be interviewed, of course I’ll go away. Agreed? You’ll have
about ten minutes . Am I allowed to come back?”
She smiled, and in the gloom I
saw a wide pair of lips and a perfect set of very white teeth.
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