He climbed over the fence and bent to point out a small brick-red bud. ‘The orchid makes itself look like a female wasp and the male wasp flies down, thinking he’s about to get lucky, and gets a face full of pollen instead.’
Sally-Ann Jones, ‘Hammer Orchid’.
Sally-Ann Jones’ Dad taught her to read when she was about four, but didn’t have much luck teaching her anything else, such as maths, or how to drive a manual car. But reading was all that mattered and words have always been like oxygen for her.
Growing up in Katanning in the WA wheatbelt in the 1960s—a town too far away from the big TV tower at Mount Barker to get much of a television signal—was the best place for a budding writer to begin.
Neighbours from everywhere—Italy, Albania, Yugoslavia, Holland, Britain, Rhodesia (as it was then)—and Aussie friends with big lakeside farms provided plenty of fodder for her stories. Her short story ‘Hammer Orchid’ grew out of this childhood and is a love-story written for the real place, with its precious and endangered ecology, as much as for the fictional characters.
When she was seventeen, one of her friends got a cadetship on the local Great Southern Herald and Sally-Ann, going out on jobs with her occasionally, knew that journalism was the perfect career for her. After driving the cadet counsellor at The West Australian nuts for a year by constantly begging him for work, she became a cadet on the State’s daily and, forty years later, is still working as a freelancer for The West while also working in media liaison at The University of Western Australia.
Loving novels and poetry, Sally-Ann studied part-time for an arts degree at UWA and went on to do a Masters and then a PhD, both supervised by author and critic Brenda Walker. Brenda’s influence and advice, ‘be subtle’, helped to hone Sally-Ann’s writing.
Having five children (all moved out of home now except the twenty-one year-old youngest), Sally-Ann’s writing and reading perhaps helped to keep her relatively sane during the hectic years of motherhood. Today she tends to write in her back garden, surrounded by rescued pets of furred and feathered varieties.
John Boland has this to say about ‘Hammer Orchid’…
…the lovely slow burn of Sally-Ann Jones’s ‘Hammer Orchid’, which sizzles across a racial divide, an age gap and decades of elapsed time, and is reminiscent of Alex Miller’s Journey to the Stone Country in terms of feel even though it’s set in WA.
Kerenlee Thompson has this…
Sally-Ann Jones has given us a hint of star-crossed lovers of different shades. A ‘Ten Pound Pom’ (130) and an older Aboriginal farm hand. Love barely hinted at, barely understood. ‘Biscuits’ (as the farm hand is known) is cool and knowing; he’s warm and open, he’s understanding and closed. ‘Don’t look at me, kid,’ he tells her (136) when ‘she was sixteen and he was twenty-four’ (135). And much later when she goes to visit him, he warns her to stay away. She tries to entice him into what she has always yearned for on the eve of her wedding. ‘It could be a wedding present,’ is her desperate enticement. ‘No’ is his succinct response (138-139). Sexy. Intriguing. Sad, in a way. But is it optimistic as well? Maybe.
Sue Terry, this…
It spans thirty odd years in the lives of a young woman and an indigenous man. It starts ‘when she was eight and he was sixteen’ and ends when they are fifty and fifty-eight. Set in Western Australia, it tells the story of a young girl’s crush and a young man’s recognition of the boundaries that need to be maintained. It gently encompasses issues like the patronizing ‘naming’ of indigenous workers (‘Bill’ is called ‘Biscuits’ by his employers) knowing country, and environmental protest, all tied together by Levis and a silver belt buckle—but, beyond that, my lips are sealed.
And, Meg Hellyer this…
‘Hammer Orchid’, by Sally-Ann Jones, tells the tale of a love spanning a lifetime, beginning ‘when she was eight and he was sixteen’, and concluding ‘when she is fifty and he is fifty-eight’. Set in Western Australia, it is a tale of a young girl and an Indigenous young man separated by age, social class and skin colour. A beautiful, touching tale.