Tony Moore Answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |May 20, 2010

The Booktopia Book Guru Asks

Dr Tony Moore

author of

Death or Liberty:
Rebels and radicals transported to Australia 1788 – 1868

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Wollongong NSW, raised in Port Kembla and Dapto, industrial and mining communities beautifully appointed between the great dividing range and the sea, with plenty of bush and beaches. My parents were working class people who encouraged learning, humour and imagination. Movies, TV, teachers and reading introduced me to the wider world, which was reflected in a school playground populated by immigrants from all over Europe.

In high school I edited a Monty Pythonesqe school newspaper that had a centrefold entitled ‘thug of the week’ – the tough guys were so keen to be featured they left me and my mates alone. This was also the groovy ‘sex ‘n sin’ era of Number 96 and Alvin Purple, but I was a more a nerd – until leaving the blonde brick burbs of the Gong for inner Sydney Newtown and university, where I forsook Ancient Rome and horror movies for post-punk bands, left politics and posh girls.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was 12 I wanted to be a primatologist and study apes in Africa like Jane Goodall, and saw my future in science. I was fascinated by the connection between apes and people and was keen on the idea of jungle adventures.

When I was 18, in the dull Fraser years between Gough and Hawkie, I wanted to go into politics. I was attracted to the romance of radical politics, and thought Labor was the best vehicle for changing Australia for the better.

When I was thirty I wanted to be a television documentary director, married and a father, and achieved all three in the next couple of years. I had always loved TV and cinema, and was working my way up through the ABC with my eyes on the prize. I met my wife at the ABC too.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I had a lot of faith in big government led by enlightened politicians as a progressive force for good, but the last decade knocked that illusion out of me. Now I’m more of a DYI guy: people and communities need to take charge of their own lives. I’m still on the left, but now much more of a libertarian.

4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

One of my favourite books was To Kill a Mockingbird. I like the way Harper Lee evoked a sense of childhood’s long summer and the child’s perception of the adult world. Australia-wise I love the romancing of the city in Kenneth Slessor’s poetry, and the heroism of little things in Henry Lawson’s short stories of bush life.

I enjoy the joie de vivre captured by Toulouse-Lautrec in his posters and paintings of the Moulin Rouge. Through colour and movement he evokes the carnivalesque quality of Parisian bohemia, and writing about Australia’s bohemians past and present has been a long term project of mine.

Music-wise I was influenced by English late 70s/early 80s band The Jam who elegantly combined social critique redolent of Shelley and Orwell (big influences on singer/songwriter Paul Weller) with the celebration of youth and Beatlesque melodies. In Australia my favourites are 80s innovators The Triffids, The GoBetweens and Mental As Anything (it’s my dream to write a ‘Mentals’ musical)

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I didn’t. (BBGuru: Ahem!) I’ve written a narrative history, but I hope it tells its stories and characters in the style of a novel.

6. Please tell us about your latest book?

Death or Liberty is the story of the many political prisoners transported to Australia as convicts in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Australia was the involuntary home to nearly 4000 exiled liberals, democrats and republicans; English machine breakers, trade unionists and Chartists; radical journalists and intellectuals; and of course Irish, Canadian and even American revolutionaries.

Criminals and traitors in the eyes of the law, many of the political prisoners were heroes and martyrs to their people and are today revered in their homelands as freedom fighters and patriots, eloquent idealists and brave revolutionaries, yet in Australia, memory of these martyrs has dimmed. Beginning with the Scottish and Irish republicans sent in the early years of the Sydney settlement in the 1790s and concluding with the daring escape from Fremantle prison by Irish rebels in the 1870s I seek to bring new life to their stories, and restore them to their rightful place in Australian history.

Along the way the reader will discover inspiring and often dashing ‘bravehearts’ that sacrificed their freedom, and sometimes their lives, for the liberty and rights we today enjoy.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Few Australians are aware that their homeland was once the British Empire’s Guantanamo Bay, or that we had political leaders exiled here who at the time enjoyed a stature as martyrs not unlike Nelson Mandela. They had an enormous influence on both world and Australian politics and culture, from democracy and free speech to larrikinism and the fair go.

I hope Australians will celebrate and commemorate the political convicts in part because their often inspiring stories link us to the great revolutionary movements then sweeping the western world, but also because these rebels and reformers contributed much to who we are and bring to passionate life an Australian and empire history that is wrongly thought of as boring. The past is closer than we think- in researching the book I discovered that a French-Canadian revolutionary transported in 1839 was buried in a cemetery in my childhood town of Dapto. Why didn’t I learn that at school! I particularly want to enthuse young people about our past so they can see how we can change the present.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

At the moment it’s probably 19th Melbourne writer Marcus Clarke, because he tried his hand at almost all kinds of writing- journalism, satire, theatre, musicals, essays and the ground-breaking novel Term of his Natural Life. But like Oscar Wilde his greatest work of fiction was himself.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To complete my next book, a history of Australian bohemians and iconoclasts entitled Bohemian Nation, and to make a documentary film about Marcus Clarke.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

1. be curious and open minded – absorb as much life experience as you can.

2. step out of your comfort zone, cross borders and try not to write about yourself – there’s a million untold stories out there.

3. Don’t believe the critics.

Tony, thank you for playing.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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