Timbergetters, Forebears, Water and BOTS

When we had the farm we became interested in the history of the area and soon realised that my forebears were instrumental in the upstream country where logging the timber with the bullock teams was the main activity. It must have been a hard life with timber getters using a two-man crosscut saw to fell the giant Tallow woods, Grey and Blue Gums, Brush Box and Red and White Mahogany. They would camp out in the bush and the teams of usually eight bullocks would either drag the timber or the cart on which the timber was placed to Boolambyte to the railway tracks for loading onto the carriages for the thirty kilometre journey to Mayers Point. Prior to 1914 horses would drag the carriages on the light rail tracks Allen Taylor Timbers constructed in 1890. Allen Taylor replaced the horses with steam-driven locomotives in 1914. He also replaced some of the bullock teams with steam-driven log haulers which sped up getting the timber to its destination.

© irene waters 2013 remains of the railway line      © irene waters 2013[/



   At  Mayers Point the logs were sawn into hitches and transported by water to Newcastle and Sydney. Some of the timber was used in the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, others used in the Melbourne docks and for purposes of supplying the war effort between 1940 to 1944. Sleepers made from the timbers were also used in the transcontinental Rail line across the Nullabor Plain and for railways in Hong Kong and China.

   I knew that my forebears, the Engels of Tea Gardens, a German emigrant family played an active role in this area. They ran supply boats every Sunday and Wednesday from Tea Gardens up the Myall River to Bombah Point. From there the boat steamed  through Boolambayte Lake to Violet Hill,  Johnson’s Hill, Boo lambaste and Mayers Point before finishing her journey at Bungwahl. These store boats, firstly steam and then diesel, provided their customers, which included the timber getters, saw millers, farmers and fishermen and their families with all the supplies they needed plus their mail and then bought produce from them to take back either to their stores in Tea Gardens or transfer to the Hunter River Steamship Company for transport to the market in Sydney. Without these store boats it would have been very difficult for the people living and working upstream to survive.

   Not only did the Engels provide the upper Myall with provisions, mail and passenger transport, the head of the family George Adolf Engel was a visionary and purchased not only some ocean-going vessels that he could then take goods and passengers directly to Newcastle but also realised that there was a growing timber trade and purchased two larger vessels, S.S. Iluka and S.S. Myall River, to transport the logs down the river system.

George Engel was one of a couple of families that settled the Tea Gardens area. An entrepreneur George not only ran the General Store, and the river trade he or one of the children ran many of the other business in the small coastal community. One of these business was the local cinema. My father told us tales when we were children about the days of the two feature films and his uncle running with the reel of film down to the boat where he set off across the harbour towards Nelson Bay where he would meet the person who ran the cinema in Nelson Bay. On meeting they would swap films and head back to their respective cinemas. Interval, Father used to tell us was an indeterminate time but no-one cared.

Consequently when Charli posted her challenge prompt and I not having a creative bone in my body decided that I would write a Bots. My uncle certainly transported the film in this way but whether he did it in bad weather or not I have no idea. I also have no idea how good his English was nor whether he talked to the chap in the other boat. This story is therefore based on  true story (bots) but is most definitely fiction.

Are most modern memoirs more accurately described as Bots as many now use dialogue and scene description which can not possibly be remembered? Does it matter as long as the story is true? If it doesn’t matter where do you draw the distinction between fiction and non-fiction?


About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I am now nearing completion.
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27 Responses to Timbergetters, Forebears, Water and BOTS

  1. Charli Mills says:

    Fascinating! I understand why you write memoir as you dig in deep and come up to the surface with stories that twinkle like treasure. I was reading, just fully focused and could have read more! I enjoyed learning the flash is a BOTS (and learning a new term).

    The question you pose is actually why I don’t write memoir. I feel stilted in telling the story “just the facts, ma’am.” My mind waxes creatively, and I long to pour in dialog. I’ve been known to make up elaborate stories on my Elmira Pond blog such as imagining dialog. It’s true–I do imagine these things! And I like the creativity to incorporate my meandering imagination among the real events unfolding on the pond. So I have never considered Elmira Pond memoir; I consider it creative non-fiction. Much of my fiction is definitely like your flash–BOTS–but again, I allow my imagination and desire to spin a yarn to get involved.

    Great thoughts and reflection. I’d like to come back and read other comments, too.

    • Of course you are welcome to come back Charli. Memoir is a sub-genre of creative non-fiction and according to the man, Lee Gutkind, whom I consider one of the Founding Fathers of the creative non-fiction genre in his book “You can’t make this stuff up: the complete guide to writing creative non-fiction from memoir to literary journalism and everything in between” defines it as “true stories well told.” The creative referring to the use of literary techniques to make a true story come alive. The most important aspect of creative non-fiction is that it is factually correct, a true story allowing that perceptions of the story will differ. He says of manufactured dialogue “the idea is to replicate the conversation vividly and to mirror memory and speculation with trust and good judgement.” Cowser and Yagoda both have slightly differing views of dialogue in memoir with Yagoda in 2011 devising a fun tool to determine the level of fictionality of a work. Mine was definitely BOTS.

      • Charli Mills says:

        You’re very knowledgeable in this area of writing. I should have you give me an assessment of what my Elmira Pond ramblings would be classified as. They’re factual, just told creatively or include my meandering thoughts and imaginings. My McCandless stories I would consider BOTS. I do make up details, but base the stories on known ones.

    • I don’t know that I am that knowledgeable in this area but it is the area of my study so I have read a fair bit. It becomes very confusing as there are two distinct view points and I am trying to work out what my thoughts are and what tack I am going to take. Did you see the comment I made to Geoff about the continuum. In creative non-fiction a view point is essential so your meandering thoughts and imaginings (if it is clear that they are imaginings) is probably okay. I’m looking forward to reading the Elmira Pond story one day. McCandless I think is definitely a BOTS

      • Charli Mills says:

        I think I’m beginning to get a feel for this now that I got to express my angst over memory! When I write Elmira Pond, I try to do so that day so the experience is fresh and told in present tense. Really, I just intended it to be a private place to practice “voice.” But I got caught up in all the experiences of the migrating waterfowl and was surprised when people started reading. Now I think it could be a project of creative non-fiction with some research into the history of place and the science of migration. It could tie into ideas of what is “home.” Whose home was it first? What other species do we share space with? Thanks for helping us non-memorists better understand the continuum!

    • That sounds like a really interesting work could come from that. Look forward to the end result.

  2. TanGental says:

    Great Irene and I love the history lesson; we really get a sense of what it must have been like; determined people (‘hard’ would be the way they might describe themselves even though today that sounds uncaring whereas I expect they were just being realistic given what it took to survive). And like Charli, thank you for ‘BOTS’. Not heard that before. As to where to draw the line, I hadn’t ever given this thought until I stumbled into blogging but I like the idea that autobiography is the facts and memoire is memory, fallible and inevitably sanitised. If adding dialogue (that probably didn’t occur as written on the page) gives colour and keeps the specific memory within the broad facts then it is, I would contend, no different to remembering what someone wore without being certain; it’s not distorting the essential truth and makes the memory more accessible. Perhaps Charli strays too far in her ‘little elaborations’ (as my Gran used to call the stretching of the truth employed by my uncle when telling a good story and making it ‘better’) but creative non fiction is going much farther from the truth I suggest. I’ll be interested to see what others post.

    • Thanks Geoff, I watched a documentary on the settling of rural Western Australia by English emigrants who had come to Australia after WW1. A lot of them were vaudeville actors and the like with no rural experience and seeing the hardships they endured, never letting on in their letters back home, was eye-opeing. All these pioneers must have had a tough life or just been tough to survive.
      I agree with all you say apart from creative non-fiction going further from the truth. In creative non-fiction every fact that can be verified should be validated prior to publication. The creative part comes not from making up the story but from using techniques from creative writing (literary crafting) to present a factual narrative in a way which is vivid, compelling and dramatic. Crafting non-fiction so that it reads like fiction (but is true).

      • TanGental says:

        Irene you are a star. I had a completely fallacious notion about creative non fiction – as must be apparent it isn’t an area or genre if that is the right word with which I am familiar. I had been conflating it with the sorts of fiction that takes real events, sticks with them and weaves a ‘what might have been’ around them. Which is very different I now see. I suppose memoire can be a personal type of creative non fiction depending how it is written. I learn all the time.

      • Thanks Geoff. Most definitely memoir can be creative non-fiction. If you had a continuum with private at one end and public at the other memoir would be the private side of the line where as true story of say a football club or heart transplants or NHS would be at the public end. The creative non-fiction work will have the most impact the closer to the mid point it falls. That is if memoir contains some researched history, background behind an event etc it will move towards the middle and if the public football or NHS story contains some personal input it too will move in that direction.
        I don’t know where the UK is as far as creative non-fiction and it is certainly more a force in the USA than in Australia but even before it was given a name in the 70s people such as Hemingway and Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) were writing Creative non-fiction.
        If only I had started learning when I was younger. I just find that the older I get the more I learn there is that I want to learn and the time is getting shorter in which I can do it. I enjoyed my youth and there is nothing I wouldn’t have done but gosh I think now I wasted it.

      • TanGental says:

        Education is so wasted on the young…

    • Charli Mills says:

      I should “qualify” my elaborate stories comment. I don’t distort the facts, I just include my over active imagination…like telling the story of geese “as if” they were Canadians playing hockey on the iced-over pond. But I don’t say they are. I just use metaphors or let my imagination have voice (to which I include, “I imagined…”). Don’t want Geoff’s Gran thinking I stray too far! :-)

      • TanGental says:

        I think, perhaps, I ran away with my comments here; suitably chastened I will withdraw to my desk! This whole memory/memoire thing is complex. I doubt many if any of my earliest memories are actually true in the sense that if there was a film of them they would look different to how I describe them. They were long ago, my mind was still absorbing so much and the facts have been forged and beaten in the steel mills of family lore. How much is implanted and how much truly remembered? I don’t suppose it matters greatly for a private history of a nobody but when it relates to some public figure it can be quite important. And then of course, at least here in the UK, memories are being dragged over historic child and sex abuse scandals when it becomes fundamental to justice to get it right. Hey ho. Maybe I’ll scrap my plan for a memoire and just stick to fiction!

      • Charli your geese are the perfect example of a creative telling of a true story. The visual picture created really lets takes the reader to your iced-over pond. A memoir is exactly that Geoff. A memory. Your memory and it will differ from others memory of the same event and even if it is planted there from family stories or photos it has become a memory for you. I agree it is a worry with these child and sex abuse scandals. Look forward to reading whatever you write whether you stick to fiction or find succumb to memoir.

  3. Great historical perspective! I could almost see it. This was also my first introduction to BOTS – what does it stand for? Thanks, Irene. I love the history.

    • BOTS – stands for based on a true story. Many films have this under the title and I think that a percentage of books should also bear this label when the bones of the story are true but scene, dialogue and compression are used to make the story read well. I love the history as well. It is always the first thing I do when I go somewhere new is to find out the history of it. It gives a greater understanding and involvement in the place.

  4. Sherri says:

    Irene, I read this post and all the comments with huge interest as I’m sure you knew I would and I’m only just now getting over here to reply. I wish so much that I could talk to you face to face about all of this, what you share here is fascinating. I realise now that the story I wrote last week about my granny was a BOT and I did wander after I’d written it whether it could be classed as true fiction, based as it was on what my granny actually did, as in disobeying her mother to run away to become a nurse. I had no idea what a BOT, having never heard of it either. I wonder, as I write my ‘memoir’, a true story about events that actually happened during a three year period when I was 18 – 21, that I’m doing just that – telling a story, as I would tell a story on my blog. I remember specific facts and details, all of which are true but some of the people I have to write about as relevant to the story I haven’t had any dealings with for over 30 years and I have no idea are dead or alive. It is my personal reflection of that time and all that happened and to the main person about whom I’m writing (my then young husband, who died). Is this true memoir I wonder? Of is it creative non-fiction? As you and I have discussed before, I freeze when it comes to fiction. I marvel at fiction writers, and that is why I’m enjoying Charli’s flash challenge so much because it is making me thinking outside the box and create ideas for, as she said to me today in her reply to my comment, that opens up possibilities for future story submissions, whether short stories or a novel later on. I have discovered a love for flash fiction since blogging and since having the opportunity to write some. I had no idea what it was until a few months ago when I first entered a flash competition over at another blog.
    Yet, true story telling is my bag, where I feel most comfortable, as you know from my blog and the way I write. That is what I want to create, written stories as told from my experiences, memories, good, bad and the ugly, to share with others and hopefully bring an emotive responsive, one way or another! But what of dialogue in memoirs? Does this change the story into more of a creative non-fiction? I have so far used only a little dialogue in my story, to elaborate the development of the scene, and of course can’t possible be verbatim. Is it then my reflection on a true story that I am telling, just as it happened, all those years ago?
    Your explanation to Geoff about the continuum I found so helpful and interesting. I haven’t ever heard memoir writing/creative non-fiction explained or described in this way before.
    Love the history of your ancestors and your back-story to your BOT for Charli’s water flash challenge. I’m gripped by this discussion and you’ve really got me thinking Irene!

    • Sherri I would so like to have a face to face chat over a cup of coffee rounded off with a walk. All the work that I have read of yours so far I would say is definitely memoir with some movement of differing amounts depending on the post to the middle of the continuum line. Even your granny is based on your memory so is definitely memoir. Memoir can be written about yourself or about someone you know. You can’t write a memoir about someone you didn’t know as the main focus is your memory. If you didn’t know the person then you are writing a biography. You write great memoirs (which are creative non-fiction). My flash is a BOTS because I didn’t know these relatives. So the facts had to be researched and the dialogue and possibly the story total fiction but it was based on a true story. I am probably just confusing everyone because I am trying to work out where I stand on the subject of manufactured dialogue and scene and I think with all this discussion I am coming closer to agreeing that these things can be manufactured as long as they follow what memory (or reasonable assumption) dictates would have been said. Facts are never permissible to be made up. I’m with you that fiction is not something that comes easily and I too am enjoying the flashes but I am starting to think that I may really enjoy looking at a creative non-fiction work like Charli is talking of with her geese. An interesting creative non-fiction work to read if you feel like a bit of immersion in the subject is a book by Rebecca Skloots – The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks.
      Cheers my friend :) <3

      • Sherri says:

        Irene, I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long to get back to this thoroughly fascinating thread. I wanted to take my time and read your response to take it all in. I’ve also read Charli’s other comment below and your reply and re-read the others and oh how I would love for us all to get together and talk more about it all! thank you once again so much for clearing up about BOTS and memoir, and creative non-fiction. I think I’m finally beginning to ‘get it’ at atlast. Charli’s example of the geese certainly is a great one to go by and I will definitely take note of the book you recommend, really appreciate that.
        I understand totally where Charl is coming from with the memories, having some bad memories of my own too and then wanting to create good memories for my own children. I realised when I started blogging and writing about my family memories, that I was able to see that actually there is some really good stuff there and it has helped me see how far I/we as a family have come and that despite all that went wrong, there is still an awful lot of good to write about. I think the key is claiming ownership of our memory and standing by it even if there is a risk of others saying it isn’t true. I suppose what it boils down to is how comfortable we feel about what we share. There are some things from my past that I will probably never write about, here on my blog or in a book. I can see why Charli says ‘fiction’ is safe. There is no risk of anyone telling you that it’s not true. In my case, with my memoir, I have no fear of that because I have a strong sense of ownership of the story. There is nobody else who can tell my story. I know I couldn’t do it otherwise.
        It’s wonderful that we have this mix of memoirists and fiction writers here Irene, and what a fantastic dialogue this has been. I wonder if you and I have a novel in us yet? You never know! Thank you so much for taking the time to give such helpful, informative and valuable responses to everyone. It’s helped me tremendously as I find my way along my writing path.This writing business certainly keeps us on our toes…and I LOVE it :-) :D <3

      • I thought I had missed your comments until I realised that today is the 23rd July. You can see where my head is. I have some stuff on memory and memoir going round in my head at the moment that I know is just bursting to get out however I have to be clear myself what it means. I agree with you totally about being comfortable telling your story and the bits that will never see light of day. It’s interesting though – Elizabeth Gilbert did an interview following the release of her latest book – a novel. She stated that if you want to know her as a person read the novel, it is much more revealing than either of her memoirs which she says have been severely censored. In the writing of a novel she let her guard down and it gives much more away of her than she likes.
        Glad the bit on dialogue helped. It helped me as well.
        It is a great group of writers of all types and they all make you think which is really good. Yes it keeps us on our toes. Cheers my friend :) XD <3

      • Sherri says:

        Fascinating about Elizabeth Gilbert. This really makes me think even more about the difference between memoir and fiction. Oh we could talk for ages about all of this couldn’t we? I hope you will be posting more on this subject Irene, your work and your knowledge is so in-depth and and I am truly inspired by all that you are teaching me. Thank you so much and I look forward to ongoing conversation about all of this with you and our little writing group. Cheers to you my friend, catch up soon :D :D <3

      • Most definitely to everything. I’m enjoying the discussion as well. As with everything there are so many different opinions and slants that can be taken and exploring the possibilities and coming up with a position is an exciting process. Must be how explorers felt. Have a good sleep. Strange to think you’re sleeping, I’m walking. Cheers :)

      • Sherri says:

        PS Meant to say that I found your reply about dialogue very helpful too. I can see the way forward much clearer on that subject now. Not made up per se, but of course not verbatim either as that would be impossible unless it was in writing. Manufactured so long as it follows the reasonable assumption from the memory. Seems so much clearer when you put it that way! Thanks again my friend and cheers to you too :-)

  5. Charli Mills says:

    It’s fascinating how deep the study can go, yet I admit discomfort over the whole issue of memory–what it is, what it isn’t. Memory can be triggered by smell, sound, stories. It can be visual without words to describe it. It can be felt in the emotions or in the body. It can be partial, whole or wholly influenced. Childhood memory is a bad place for me. Yet, I worked hard to create moments with my children that would be “good memories.” I like to create things that are “memorable.” I’ve come to realize that I experience life deeply and I want to share those experiences. So when it comes to writing memoir I have stayed away from it as if it were a rabid cowdog. It’s not that I don’t want to remember; I don’t want my memories to be discounted, denied, minimized, doubted, treated as imaginative or told that they are only based on something when to me they are the something. Like Sherri, I write from an experiential perspective–I resonate with what she says, “That is what I want to create, written stories as told from my experiences, memories, good, bad and the ugly, to share with others and hopefully bring an emotive responsive, one way or another! ” Me, too! But I don’t want someone saying it isn’t true. My experience is my truth. It’s how I feel and communicate life. Fiction is so SAFE for me because we all accept up front that it is “made up.” I don’t have to defend my imagination or creativity, and I get to explore experiences by displacing them to other characters, or explore ideas without being wrong. This post has not only been educational, but it’s really helped me understand my own preferences for writing. And I’m very happy that memoirists are trying fiction and fiction writer are trying memoir! And, Geoff, no chastisement meant! And I’m with you–let’s stick to fiction!

    • I loved this comment Charli. Memoir is of course your memory which is all the things you describe above and no-one can take your memories and tell them they aren’t correct because they belong to you and you own them. As such you can do what you like with them. I firmly believe that the majority of fiction is based on memoir. As I’ve said – I don’t have a creative bone in my body so to make up a story for me is next to impossible unless of course I use my powers of observation (which are acute) and my memory of people and their personalities and my own experiences and the stories of others from reading (I don’t watch much television but if I did I’d probably take stuff from there also), put it all in the mixing pot and manage some fiction. But if I’m honest when I write fiction I know that although the words and technique may be mine the rest is ….. I’ll choose to stick with memoir although your geese/duck story has me enthused to perhaps try a public creative non-fiction work in the near future.

  6. Pingback: August 13: Flash Fiction Challenge « Carrot Ranch Communications

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