WHO IS ROBERT LEE JOHNSTON?
As a commercial white water rafting guide, the coolest job in Australia; my office was the wild rapids, rivers, waterfalls and rain forests of Far North Queensland. The highest rainfall in Australia supplies a steady flow of flooding white water and endless thrill-seeking customers.
I was badly injured, on river, just over ten years ago. And I will never raft professionally again.
During the first few years of healing/medication, I call that period "The Opioid Invasion." Drugs and constant pain drove me mad. I became vengeful, hateful, self loathing, bitter, bold and selfish. But mostly hate and anger were my go to pavlovian responses. Constant agony was like your everyday garden variety ancient and consistent Chinese torture procedure with a nonstop, never ending horizon.
So, when I had moments of clarity within that mess, I wrote.
Throughout healing I was transformed, inevitably, into a full time pharmaceutical junkie. Not the fault of our medical system at all. They were trying, kindly, to manage pain levels and comfort me. It was then I wholly embraced anger, pain and hatred. I gave to my pain, a name. I gave to agony and suffering, human faces. I started to write when I was tortured or angered. And found out years later my writing was a very accurate account of those emotions.
Love was especially hard to see or sense from my then unenviable low vantage point. But it was definitely love and patience that helped the most. Strangely enough, love was the exact opposite cure to what I had instinctively medicated myself with. I believed, to win, to finally beat pain, I must fight it, be angry at it, become insular, inward and surly. It took many years to succumb and stubbornly change my tune. I wish I could say nobody close to me got hurt or disappointed, but that would be a lie.
I still live in the house that my wife and I built on a thirty acre farm that we scratched out within the tropical embrace of Queensland's two tallest mountains. Alongside the farm a moody, cantankerous river winds its way into the coral sea.
WHAT INSPIRED TRIBUTE?
My best mates.
I bore easily with books. I'm easily bored with life too!
I tend to move fast and in any which direction. This is not a desirable trait nor is it one I am proud of. I dislike cliché, predictability and cannot read writing that doesn't quickly move me one way or another. I wanted my debut novel to be uncomplicated, gripping, distinctly Australian, and divisive. All the while retaining a fast moving, absorbing read with easily recognisable, identifiable characters that are familiar to people living in, and visiting our country.
I wrote about what I know. I wrote an Australian tale about mateship, love of country, shitty luck, loyalty and lack thereof. A universal tale about a bunch of friends with a fighting chance, who defy what others refuse to see, believe or even imagine. The characters flawed, ingrained, dogmatic ways make the protagonists human and show us who and what they truly are in times of crisis.
To willingly and forcibly remember people from a tortured, horrid place that I inhabited as a young 'busted' amateur, teenage pot head was no small feat. That miserable place of boredom. Its stories, its reputation, its threats, its promises, and its many secrets. The things I noticed never left me. The
people, the myths, the truth, the lies and the many, many inmates overheard. Un-ignorable conversations I stowed away in a reluctant region of my subconscious, waiting for a long wet season, or old age to one day digest them all.
Tribute is an X-ray, illuminating brightly and indiscriminately upon villains and those who predate on us. I purposely exposed the shadowed, blackened bones and the animalistic souls residing inside those hideous creatures. Locked away in numbers, festering in those places, awaiting liberty from
their abysmally low sentences. Only for them to be released to society and sadly, more often than not, continue to destroy our innocent.
Tribute begs the questions. What won't we do to protect our children, to protect those we love? And is it time for an Australian society to put in effect an efficient, fast acting, no chances, no returns policy? Must we admit, we got it wrong? Is now the time we should change our rehabilitation based method of justice towards heinous, guilty beyond doubt criminals filling our already over populated prison systems? Or are the victims, the perpetrators, us, you, happy with the status quo?
Some may think Tribute's writing and Cozy went too far. Some may believe Tribute and Cozy didn't go far enough.
Muscular story telling. With tough questions and even tougher answers always makes the reader in me happy.
Thank you one and all! For bravely looking into and taking a chance on this unknown independent Australian writer.