Colly Campbell – The Capricorn Sky

book coverThe Capricorn Sky

Colly Campbell (author page)

Stringybark, 2020

There’s a lot to like in The Capricorn Sky but unfortunately there’s more than a little to dislike, too. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first.

It’s Campbell’s first novel (nothing wrong with that) and it’s self-published. The book’s unpolished design (fonts, text spacing, margins, etc) sends up the first warning signals and suggests immediately that it has missed out on the benefit of experienced editorial eyes and hands. Furthermore, Campbell has chosen to write in an invented future English in which hyphenated words are replaced by camelCase, “qu” by “qw” (qwite, qwiet, etc), and there are other neologisms and re-spellings. He probably intended that it would help place the action where it’s set, at the end of this century, a tactic which can work well in the hands of an experienced writer (Burgess’s Clockwork Orange and Hoban’s Riddley Walker come to mind) but this reader, for one, found it merely distracting.

And that’s a pity, because Campbell has set a good story in a worryingly plausible future North Queensland.

In the last twenty years of this century, Northern Australia (now East and West Capricornia) has basically been ceded to the millions of climate change refugees from Indonesia and our other Northern neighbours, although it is still ruled by Australia in a power-share arrangement with the newcomers. Southern Australia has merged with New Zealand and tries to maintain stability in its former territory. The Townsville climate is ferocious (normal daytime temperatures are in the forties) and sea-level rise has turned Pallarenda into an island (no surprise) but Cape York is barely survivable in cyclone season.

In this challenging world, a talented, charming but overconfident young hacker attracts the malevolent attention of Chinese and Brazilian corporations, and is both pursued and protected by AuZgov agents. The chase takes them to an outlaw village on the Cape and to Hobart before ending where it began, in Townsville.

With attractive protagonists, plenty of action, some novel tech gadgets and a colourful (and thought-provoking) background there is, as I said, a lot to like.

Zeehan and Queenstown

We stopped in Zeehan on our way from Cradle Mountain (posts about which are yet to appear) to Strahan, and passed through Queenstown on our way from Strahan back to Hobart. The two towns have similar histories, having prospered – boomed, in fact – because of mining in the late nineteenth century but dwindled during the twentieth. In this they resemble Charters Towers and Ravenswood in the Townsville hinterland, and all four towns have public buildings out of all proportion to their current population.

Zeehan PO and Grand Hotel
Zeehan Post Office (foreground) and Grand Hotel and Theatre

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Strahan and Macquarie Harbour

A North-South line through Hobart and Launceston divides Tasmania fairly accurately into the settled East and the wild West. The West is wetter and far more mountainous, and much of it is wilderness (and long may it remain so!). Macquarie Harbour opens onto the middle of the West coast and was one of the most isolated outposts of the early colony. Its main township, Strahan, did well enough from fishing and timber-getting to survive but is still a tiny spot of humanity in a world of mountains, water and trees.

Strahan

Strahan is now a pretty little town strung along the northern coast of Macquarie Harbour. Fishing and timber are still important but tourism, exemplified by day-long harbour tours on big catamarans, has become a major activity.

strahan beach
Looking along the Macquarie Harbout beach from Strahan caravan park towards the centre of town

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Cygnets in Cygnet

Cygnet is a pretty little town south-west of Hobart (map). It’s on a sheltered bay so it’s a yachting town as well as a farming town. It welcomes tourists, of course, and I know it as the home of a very good post-Christmas folk festival (still going ahead this summer although in a much reduced format).

wire sculpture
Wire sculpture in the courtyard of one of Cygnet’s cafes

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Friendly Beaches and other places near Freycinet

There aren’t many campervan sites on Freycinet Peninsula (previous post) and over-casual visitors are bumped out to free camping areas on the Friendly Beaches or near Moulting Lagoon, or to commercial van parks around Coles Bay. I therefore spent one night at each of the National Parks locations before heading North to Bicheno and then South again to the Three Thumbs and the Tasman Peninsula.

Moulting Lagoon

Lurking quietly between Coles Bay, Bicheno and Swansea is a large shallow estuarine area, a RAMSAR-proclaimed wetland and bird sanctuary. As Wikipedia says,

It comprises two adjacent and hydrologically continuous wetlands – Moulting Lagoon and the Apsley Marshes – at the head of Great Oyster Bay, near the base of the Freycinet Peninsula, between the towns of Swansea and Bicheno. Both components of the site are listed separately under the Ramsar Convention as wetlands of international significance. Moulting Lagoon is so named because it is a traditional moulting place for black swans.

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