There’s a fountain I run past in the mornings, up high behind my house on the hill that leads up to even more hills. Switzerland is full of both hills and fountains (you can even get empty water bottles from the tourist information offices so you can fill up as you go).
I usually pass this one on my way back home from my morning run and stop to have a drink. It’s surrounded by farmland and gorgeous old houses but there’s forest just off to the right and, on a clear day, an incredible view of the alps off to the left (Ah, Switzerland, how beautiful you are!)
But what I love especially about this particular fountain is that it has the date it was made carved into the front: 1881
This is the year in which my novel is set, and I marvel every time that two places could have such a different history and at exactly the same time.
Trust me when I tell you that colonial Far North Queensland, Australia, did not have many big stone fountains spouting beautiful crystal clear drinking water.
Every land has its own history of violence and betrayal, and Switzerland is certainly no different, but 1881 in Far North Queensland was getting towards the tail end of a time of extreme violence, of ‘dispersals’ and out and out war against the indigenous population, who were almost wiped out as a result. It’s a history with which many are not familiar, which some have tried to forget or deny but that many fight just as hard to have remembered.
Alongside this are all the personal histories of both the indigenous people who struggled to survive and the Europeans hoping for a better life than the one they already had, like my mother’s grandmother who was born to English parents in Croydon in North Queensland and lived and worked for a while on the nearby goldfields before marrying in 1896 when she was only sixteen.
It’s hard to reconcile your own family history, a history that seems so personal and preordained (at least from this side of it) with this other history of violence and aggression but, once you know about it, it becomes very, very hard to ignore.
So when I stand out of breath in front of my fountain here in Switzerland and glance at the date etched in the stone I find myself not only wondering what it was like in 1881 and in the years since, both here and in Australia, but also wondering how it could have been different.