Stephen Scourfield’s new book, Isolation, all about Western Australia, is published today.
For WA’s story is shaped by isolation and in this remarkable coronavirus year, what has often been our disadvantage has become a big asset.
Stephen takes this unique moment to consider WA’s isolation … for it is the bedrock of this western third of the continent.
It is the foundation stone of its remote country towns and communities and the frame around the isolated capital city of Perth.
Isolation is as ingrained in its ancient history as it is in its modern and unfolding story.
Stephen is usually travelling the world from Europe to Africa, Asia to the Americas, but he returns home to the remote, to contemplate the very nature of Western Australia.
And he distils the massive story of this unique place into a concise, readable 144 page book, which is also themed by his black and white photographs, taken in WA
This is the one informative and entertaining keepsake you need from 2020.
This is the book that captures the isolation of Western Australia.
GET YOUR COPY
Isolation is $18, including delivery.
It is $14 for Gold Members of West Travel Club.
For any bulk orders of 10 or more, you will receive a free copy, signed by Stephen Scourfield. ORDER NOW – GET IN EARLY FOR CHRISTMAS.
If you are a West Travel Club Gold member, click here to get your discount code.
If you are not a West Travel Club Gold member click here.
Or call 1800 429 000 from Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm to order your copy.
ABOUT THE BOOK
By Stephen Scourfield
We are all people who have chosen to come to Western Australia, to stay here, or to return here.
That makes us an unusual bunch, for this is a curious place, isolated between ocean and desert, surrounded by a huge scarcely inhabited frame, here in a remote part of the planet.
And WA’s singularity has become even more obvious to us during this odd year, when we’ve stayed home, and then moved around our western third of the continent.
I chose to come here. I was recruited by The West Australian, and brought from the UK. Then I chose to stay.
I chose to learn the place from the ground up (from geology to vernacular) and consider it an advantage, as learning a place in a conscious way is different to absorbing it by osmosis, as we do where we grow up, when we are children. It is more structured and conscious; more encyclopaedic.
It is still possible to take half a step back and view this place from slightly afar, as I do the many other countries that I know and travel in. I can still see WA as a subject, as much as a home — to be objective, and not influenced by personal feelings, as much as subjective, and influenced by love.
These various levels of connection to this place have resulted in a lot of travel writing, and two published novels and four novellas, all set in WA.
And from all of this is born a new book, Isolation, which is officially published today.
Isolation is a word that has taken on new meaning in 2020, if course, but it is also a word that is intrinsic to so much of what makes WA what it is.
And so, these two aspects combine so appropriately in a book about Western Australia, written in this moment.
It contains 34 years of extraordinary education here, through the writer’s privilege of always being on assignment, and always having access to the inner workings of a place and its people, and not just “driving past the gate”.
Isolation considers our geology, on this trailing edge of an ancient planet. We have the oldest the oldest material of terrestrial origin on Earth — 4.4 billion year old zircons in the rocks of the Jack Hills, in the Mid West, dated to just 100 million years after the planet’s creation and one of the most important finds about the history of Earth.
We have the valley where life on Earth began, in the Pilbara.
The isolation gave us 12,000 species of plants.
After walking in across the continent of Sahul (rather more than a land bridge), Indigenous Aboriginals were isolated here after sea levels rose, about 12,000 years ago, after the last ice age. The 1000 islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago in the Kimberley were once the tops of ranges that overlooked productive valleys grazed by megafauna.
Convicts were sent here from England largely because of the isolation. The remoteness was part of the punishment.
Isolation breeds innovation and self-reliance, and this was certainly part of the western settlement’s reluctance to join the Australian Federation. There was a sneaking suspicion that we’d send more resources east than would come back west.
Isolation was largely responsible for the British government choosing the Montebello Islands for nuclear testing in the 1950s.
In the 1960s, Perth’s isolation led to the city winning renown after we lit the city up at night and John Glenn, orbiting in the Earth in the spaceship Friendship 7, spotted it in a frame of velvet darkness. Perth became known as the City of Light.
The innovation that come from isolation is part of the Australia II story in 1983, and the invention of the winged keel that helped little-old-us take the America’s Cup from the New York Yacht Club, which had held it for 132 years.
For the frame in which a portrait hangs contributes to that portrait.
The desert to our east, the tropics of the north, the Southern Ocean and more benign Indian Ocean are the vast frame around our State, and more specifically, our glimmering city of Perth.
If Melbourne was where Bunbury is, and Sydney was where Kalgoorlie is … well, Perth wouldn’t be Perth quite as it is.
And that’s why choosing to come here, or stay here, or to return here, makes us an unusual bunch. Yes, this is an unusual place.
Isolation is not just part of Western Australia’s DNA. It is Western Australia’s DNA.
And, of course, the book brings in thoughts about the wider world. For in thinking about the specification here, I can’t help thinking about Madagascar.
In thinking about isolated communities in our +40C, I can’t help but revisit isolated Artic communities in -40C.
But don’t be scared. All these thoughts, and more than a few humorous encounters and poetic descriptions and reactions, are contained within 144 pages of an A5 format book.
This is what I call “espresso writing”. I aim to give big thoughts in a small book, having grown tired of big, fluffy cappuccino books which offer the opposite. (There, I said it out loud.)
It is a manageable book, I hope, which contains much of what I know and feel about Western Australia. For all the places that I know and love and in which I live temporarily, it is the one place that lives in me.
And, for me, it is as if all that is caught in amber between the book’s covers, at this very particular moment.
This book could not have been written in quite this way at any other moment, in any other year. For, as much as being a book about Western Australia, it is a book about 2020, this extraordinary year when what has, in some ways, been WA’s geographic disadvantage became so advantageous.
Extract from Isolation
by Stephen Scourfield
Isolation. It is the story of Western Australia.
Isolation is ingrained in the unfolding narrative of this trailing western edge of this ancient continent.
It is the foundation stone of its remote country towns and communities.
It is the frame in which we perfect the portrait of the isolated capital city of Perth.
Isolation is intrinsic to the history of humans who crossed the land bridge to live here, the chronicles of criminals cast here, settlers who arrived here, and the narrative of us, native to this neighbourhood today.
It is the bedrock of all the yesterdays of this ancient western third of the continent; which is almost as big as western Europe. It is woven into the fabric of the story of today.
Isolation is not just part of this place’s DNA. It is Western Australia’s DNA.
For it has long been an island on an island. a country on a continent … even tens of millions of years BC (Before Coronavirus).
The story of Western Australia is a story of splendid isolation.