Writing & News

Launch speech by Kathleen Mary Fallon for ‘I Had a Father in Karratha’

Kathleen kindly gave permission to reproduce her excellent launch speech for Annette Trevitt for her first book, a work of narrative nonfiction I Had a Father in Karratha. The launch was at Readings Carlton bookshop on 3 April 2023.

Well, isn’t it exciting to be here to celebrate the launch of Annette Trevitt’s ‘I Had a Father in Karratha’, published so well by Terri-ann White’s Upswell Publishing and I’m honoured to launch such a significant book − ‘significant’, ‘honoured’, glib, book-launch words but I hope, by the end of this launch-talk, you’ll realise how right they are.

I have to congratulate Upswell for the careful design which makes such complex material so reader friendly. When Terri-ann rang Annette early one Sunday morning after having read the MS in one sitting – my god that would take stamina – her first words were, ‘It sings!’ And it does! It sings and it pulses like something alive, like a heart that doesn’t miss a beat.

I Had a Father in Karratha is a creative non-fiction unique in that it can be enjoyed by the general reader, across the board to those whose bag is literary fiction and non-fiction. The story’s timeline spans from February 2016 to August 2018 when Annette, as the executor (or ‘executioner’ as one financial institution insists on calling her) of her father Richard John Trevitt’s will, finds herself faced with an existential crisis – the Herculean task of untangling the massive financial mess he’s left behind.

Complicating this is the fact she’s in Melbourne and the mess is in WA and that she’s an overworked teacher, slogging away in the casualised workforce and, also a single mother. However, the force driving her tenacity is her profound love for an errant and absent father who had abandoned the family to bankruptcy when Annette was eight. This Herculean task she undertakes is what makes, to my mind, the book a contemporary epic – perhaps the inaugural email epic – that is, a long narrative in heightened language that recounts the extraordinary deeds of a single, legendary heroine.

Early in the book Annette says it should take a few months to sort out the will – little does she know it will take years of Kafkaesque chaos, obfuscation and almost criminal negligence as she fights with various financial institutions, real estate agents etc. I’m sure everyone of us here has been frustrated, sometimes to tears, trying to get Telstra, Medicare, Centrelink and such institutions to answer emails or phone calls – but this is a doozy, that’s a technical, literary term for this contemporary version of Kafka’s The Castle, and I can almost see poor old Franz Kafka shaking his head in recognition and awe.

I’m thinking particularly of chapter 5 in The Castle when K. finally gets an interview with the Superintendent.

In such a large governmental department office as the Count’s, it may occasionally happen that one department ordains this, another that; neither knows of the other, and thought the supreme control is absolutely efficient, it comes, by its nature, too late …

However, unlike poor old Franz baby, Annette – spoiler alert! – finally triumphs against these bizarre and brutal administrative and bureaucratic forces. And how does she do that? Well, apart from the love (which is nowhere evident in Kafka), one of her heroine attributes is her sense of humour.

‘Does the story bore you? asks the Superintendent.

‘No’, said K, ‘it amuses me.’

But K’s ‘amusement’ hasn’t developed into the relentless and sophisticated humour we find right from the get-go in this book. This is how it starts:-

I pulled over to the side of the road to take the call. Nerida, Marcus and I sat, three abreast, in our dad’s ute, 45 degrees, no air-con, flies and, on the other end of the phone, the funeral director. We talked burial arrangements and then he asked if Dad was a big man.

‘Well, I guess so,’ I said. ‘Yeah, he saw himself … yeah, in this town … in Karratha.’

Nerida leant forward and said, ‘He means Dad’s size.’


Marcus looked at me and nodded.

‘For the coffin.’ (page 1)


The coffin was carried out into the baking heat to Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’. The funeral director, an out-of-towner from Carnarvon, led the procession down the Dampier Highway. Nerida, Amanda and I followed the hearse in a borrowed car. I drove. Ahead of us, the director flicked on the left blinker.

‘Oh no.’ I said. ‘He thinks the Leisure Centre is the cemetery’.

The blinker stayed on.

‘Shit. What do I do … follow him or keep driving straight ahead? Quick, what do you reckon?’

We laughed. The hearse slowed down. As it was about to turn, its brake lights flickered and then the blinker went off. The hearse accelerated towards the cemetery but not before I had pictured the funeral procession doing a lap of the Leisure Centre car park.

You think writing like that’s easy? It aint! I’m reminded of actors who say it took them decades to be able to walk across a stage convincingly or calligraphy masters who take a lifetime to master one perfect stroke. The whole book is this kind of ‘easy’. How can a book that details endless struggles with Tax departments, Probate, Public Trustees, overdrafts, chequebook stubs, share brokers, lost property deeds, strata levies (to name a few) be a real page turner? Well, good fucking writing, writing that knows absolutely what it is doing, crafted writing driven by passion and humour. The subtitle could have been something like ‘fiscal malfeasance’ or ‘for the attention of the financial ombudsman’ and all this in the shadow of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry and Robodebt.

I first met Annette when I moved into the same block of flats in St Kilda in the early 90s. We were neighbours and mates there for a number of years. At that time she was mainly making animation shorts as well as writing short stories. She’s a fabulous artist/animator and perhaps it’s this sense of the visual that gives her this spider’s eye acute sensitivity for visual/affective detail.

I’ll give you an example – one day she said she’s just seen a man, a fat man (oh! can I use that word, ‘fat’? Maybe I should say ‘adiposely challenged’) mournfully standing at his window waiting for his Lite and Easy delivery. That image has stayed with me every time I see a Lite and Easy ad on TV. This visual acuity is imbricated in her love for her father.

We spent hours, days, weeks in the campervan, second-guessing Dad. He loved to quiz us and to test our powers of observation.

‘That house we went past on a hill a mile back ,’ he’d ask, ‘How many lights were on?’

‘What did that last number plate add up to?’

‘The driver of the yellow car, four cars ago, what colour was his shirt?’

I scrutinized everything as a possible object that could come up in a question a few miles later.

(pages 52-3)

What I love about this book is it is actually doing something, not just talking about … It’s performative in that it can make you SEE the world around you and each other in a more alert, human way. I know I SEE things and think ‘ah! That’s an Annette!’ And this SEEING comes with an emotional charge, an empathy, a much needed radical empathy that requires the sort of attention you’ll acquire reading this book.

When the published copy arrived through the mail I had some trepidation. It’s one thing to engage with and enjoy a friend’s manuscript – and Annette acknowledges the editing work done by myself and Alistair Stewart – but here was a new beast. Would it, as a published book, live up to my belief in it? I sat to read it and was gratified to realize that it was even better than I remembered. I found myself again crying, laughing, laugh-crying with a lump in my throat. The whole book wobbles precariously on some kind of emotional funny bone as it keeps you on your toes the way a good conversation does or an excellent suspense film.

Yes, there’s holding-your-breath type suspense.

By page 39 the tension starts to build:-

The bills accumulated daily. The bank overdraft kept on increasing even though Dad was dead. They went on charging fees and interest even though probate hadn’t been granted for me to sell anything.

By page 44 there are ominous signs:-

The overdraft was increasing. The bank wasn’t returning my calls.

Despite this, by page 45 Annette makes her decision—

I never considered the option of not doing it. What would that look like? The Public Trustee take over and everything is lost through a fire sale and administrative costs. I didn’t want history to repeat itself. I didn’t want Dad to end up bankrupt again. He had appointed me executor and I would see it through.

After that she’s in the belly of the beast and we’re in there with her − deep in Kafka territory, Monty Python territory, Laurel and Hardyland – ‘Here’s another fine mess you’ve got me into.’ as disbelief, anger and exhaustion start to set in.

The suspense keeps building to a sort of hysteria and you’re rooting for her so hard, longing for some relief, asking yourself, ‘how can she keep going?’ Godot territory, ‘I can’t go on. I must go on.’

On page 114 she writes:-

I looked like a hostage victim, held at gunpoint in the Andes, whose family have said, ‘No.’ to paying the ransom.

Then on page 199 she says it all:-

Dad had trusted the bank in the same way he would have trusted a bank in the 1970s. A time when the bank manager would have formed a relationship of integrity with the customers. After dad had shot through … she went to the bank. The branch manager worked with her. He understood. He showed compassion. He gave a shit. The banking world changed without Dad in tow. It turned into a deregulated corporate industry with a culture of greed from the top down and a bureaucratic system that no longer acted on empathy. A system that appeals to the worst in people. Misconduct was rife. Unethical lending practices went unchecked, and customers were blatantly disregarded. This combined with the mining bust, Dad’s age, and his profound, possibly pathological difficulty in letting go of anything dug him a hole from which he couldn’t escape.

All this hard yakka and suspense are relieved with delicate descriptions of the landscape around Karratha again seen through her father’s eyes − why he loved the country. And I was particularly interested in Annette’s insightful observations of the men, like her father, who choose to live in these remote Blokesworld places such as mining towns. If you’ve been watching ‘Married at First Sight’ there’s a perfect example in the Darwin bloke, Cameron.

I’ve suggested Annette send copies to the financial ombudsman, all the Board members of the particular bank, and the CEO. I also think she should get one of those Governor General’s bravery awards.

In conclusion I’d like to read something from one of Annette’s stories from the 1990s. This is the precise moment her heroic, life-long quest to reclaim both her father and her ability to trust, begins:-

She was eight. She had gone into her parent’s bedroom and over to her father’s chest-of-drawers to get a hankie out of his hankie drawer. She always used his hankies. She opened the drawer. It was too high for her to see into so she had to feel around for one with her hand. The drawer was empty. They were gone. All of them. Along with that piece of her. It dawned on her that that was when she had lost trust. How would she ever get it back?

In I Had a Father in Karratha she has got it back and she has also got back her father. This book is a memorial to Richard John Trevitt. Annette has saved her father from a second bankruptcy and in doing so has saved herself and her family and her extended family from emotional bankruptcy. If this isn’t the definition of Redemption I don’t know what is. Everyone can now rest in peace. Job well done,Annette Trevitt.

Kathleen Mary Fallon