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“Tell Me Another”– tales of Bourke and Beyond

Paul Roe at Mount Oxley. Paul will be launching his new book at the Back O’Bourke Centre next Thursday afternoon at 5;30, and everyone is invited along. Photo TWH

There are few people who know Bourke as well as outback historian Paul Roe.

His love of the town and its people is there for all to see in the bricks and mortar of the Back O’Bourke Exhibition Centre, which he pioneered almost two decades ago.

Now, Paul has written another ode to Bourke, and beyond, with his first book, Tell Me Another, which he will launch at the Back O’Bourke Exhibition Centre next Thursday September 1.

It is fitting that Paul’s book launch is on the eve of the Henry Lawson Festival. That famous Lawson saying - ‘If you know Bourke, you know Australia’ - could easily apply to Paul, who has an astounding knowledge and deep love for the town.

“The Lawson festival will be quite an event and I’ll be talking for days, from the book launch to the cemetery tours, but it’s going to be a great event and I thought I’d cheat a little and surf in on the eve of the festival for the launch of Tell Me Another,” Paul said.

“It will be held on the deck at the Exhibition Centre overlooking the Darling River, which is very fitting because so much of the book has its roots in Bourke and the whole process of bringing the Back O’Bourke Centre into reality is very much part of the book.

“I wrote the book after a challenge from a university professor while I was writing my PhD thesis in 2006 and he said my passion was for finding rich stories about men and women of faith who had given so much to Australia.

“I felt these stories were being disregarded, disparaged, or buried and my job was not to force religion on people but to tell the story of our spiritual DNA.

“I spent ten years doing my PhD part-time, which was like giving birth to an elephant and I thought I better turn it into a book because people don’t read theses.

“It meant I could stop trying to please academics and write it as my own story, and Bourke was my apprenticeship as an historian - I owe it a great deal for being able to write this book about my country, me as an historian, and where we are headed as a nation.

“It’s my own memories written in a way try to pull together all the things I learnt about storytelling and faith stories,” Paul said.

It is entirely fitting the launch should be on the very floorboards of the place he helped to build.

Paul is quick to honour the tireless work of local historians Bill Cameron and Alan Barton, men who gathered 14 volumes of Bourke history.

But from his own experience, Paul knew people were unlikely to grab copies and plough through such detail. When he was developing the concept for the Exhibition Centre, he knew those words had to be accessible - much as his book is - and came up with the concept of having the historic stories displayed in text on the walls. Today, more than 30,000 people a year go through the Centre and now know the stories and legends of Bourke.

Those pioneer stories, he said, were often about men and women of faith. In the years since and during his research for his thesis, they were the recurring stories he wanted to revive and bring to a wider audience.

“Faith is so woven into our culture, we don’t recognise it, but organisations like the Far West Children’s Health scheme, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Lifeline, Vinnies, the Salvos, that we take for granted can be tracked back to men and women of faith, who decided if they were fair dinkum, they had to do something for others and rolled up their sleeves and did it.

“Methodist Minister from Cobar, Stanley Drummond and his wife set up the Far West Children’s Service, Presbyterian Minister John Flynn saw women in need of help with nurses and baby clinics and so set up the Flying Doctor Service – they were people who used their energy and skills to provide services.

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