The life of a migrant

KIAMA Downs-based author Noel Beddoe has drawn on his experience as the principal of Warrawong High School as inspiration for his new novel, On Cringila Hill.

To be released this month, the novel, set in 1991, looks at the lives of the migrant families and their descendants who made a home for themselves in Wollongong's southern suburbs.

"In the '50s and '60s, thousands of migrants came into the Illawarra to work at the steelworks and do the jobs that were too menial for white Australians to do," Beddoe said.

"At that stage, the steelworks employed something like 30,000 people, now it's at something like 3000 people and many of those migrant families who helped build the wealth of the area were the ones made unemployed.

"When I was the principal at Warrawong, I found the young people there to be extremely studious students - so many ex-students went on to become doctors, lawyers, journalists, dentists.

"They were beautiful and wild people, but they lived in an area where wild things happened and some of them happened to my students."

Beddoe used On Cringila Hill to examine the Illawarra's contrasts.

"There was always a range of human activity, there was young people who were getting caught up in petty criminal activity compared to devoutly religious, deeply studious ones," he said.

"Then you look around and you see the beauty of Port Kembla Beach compared to the ugliness of the steelworks, it's a region of vast contrasts."

While Beddoe has a sequel planned for On Cringila Hill, his next work, to be titled Leaving the River, will look at the conflict between union and non-union workers on the docks of Fremantle in 1919.

He was recently awarded a $40,000 grant from the Literature Board of the Australian Council for the Arts to help him complete it.

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