There’s something about Kuranda in the far north of Queensland that draws me back every few years. It’s a green jewel of a town up on the Atherton tablelands, peopled by Aboriginal Australians, potters, painters and pie makers. The tiny railway station nestles in a culvert draped in rainforest trees and vines. The miniature St Saviour’s church is built from logs, its delicate stained glass windows recording its history and benefactors.
It’s here that I staged the eccentric romance at the heart of The True History of Jude which reimagines the story of Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Kuranda couldn’t be more different than Hardy’s Christminster (a thinly disguised Oxford), where the naive working-class stonemason Jude travelled to find his cousin Sue and to study theology. My Jude and Sue are part of a remnant population in an Australia wrecked by climate change and abandoned to mineral exploitation. My Jude escapes a government-controlled refugee camp at Orange that has evolved into a matriarchal society with its own creole language; Kuranda is an outlaw community ruled by a patriarchal religious sect. And like Hardy’s Sue, my Sue is married to an old school teacher.
I’ll leave the back story here to focus on my literary remodelling of Kuranda. The BP service station on Coondoo street is now the Blessed Prospect Church where divine singing mixes with the tropical breezes; you can just discern a petrol tanker among a tangle of vines out the front. There’s a train rusting on the railway station tracks, which are boarded over to form the yard of Slab, an odd-job man who employs Jude. He’s the nearest Jude can find to a stonemason, a New Zealander librarian once press-ganged to be trained as a drone operator protecting mine sites in Australia. And there’s the seedy end of town beyond the contemporary Foodworks store, where I located the public latrines and a bar. It’s here where Jude, drunk and despairing, was reunited with his first wife Arabella and his twin daughters Sorry and Anger.
Those familiar with Jude the Obscure will recall the tragedy that took place in the closet-room in Christminster, but I’ll avoid a spoiler for those who aren’t and just mention that I found an excellent location at the Barron Falls lookout.
A friend put me on the spot the other day: Why did you choose Kuranda of all places? I can concoct half a dozen post-hoc rationalisations, but in the end it must have been a mystical intersection of two emotional planes – my inexplicable obsession with Hardy’s novel and my instinctive attraction to Kuranda. The idea just fell into my mind six years ago. And when I sat drinking a coffee in Coondoo Street in June this year, I looked around and knew it was right.
You can find The True History of Jude in ebook and paperback here.