A touch of Oz in a corner of Bethnal Green

by Julia Gregory IN THE CORNER of a park in Bethnal Green a plaque and eucalyptus tree mark the final resting place of an Aborigine who came over to England on a cricket

by Julia Gregory

IN THE CORNER of a park in Bethnal Green a plaque and eucalyptus tree mark the final resting place of an Aborigine who came over to England on a cricket tour in May 1868 and died here just one month later.

When East London based writer and artist Ed Hillyer stumbled on the tale little that was known about the cricketer Bripumyarrimin or 'Brippoki' who is buried in Bethnal Green's Meath Gardens he started to imagine what that trip was like.

The result is his first literary novel The Clay Dreaming which had a ten-year genesis , including two to three years of research and writing.

The book blends the real diaries of Joseph Druce, a sailor, whose manuscript The Life of a Greenwich Pensioner is now part of the archives in a library in Australia. Hillyer said they include the ravings of a man who was ignored, but reveal his stories of trances and dreams as well as the experiences of a sailor emerging from humble origins in the East End.

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There two stories collide as arriving in England to play cricket Brippoki is drawn as if in a vision to Druce's grave and a quest to discover more about him.

He recruits help in the form of Sarah Larkin, who works unpaid in the British Library as a research assistant for her father at a time when women of a certain class could not work and also to help Brippoki get to the bottom of his connection with Druce.

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Hillyer said: "What I put into Sarah and Druce and Brippoki was showing what their positions were like as being marginalised."

But Hillyer deliberately leaves loose ends and unanswered questions, preferring a more ambiguous ending and scope for a sequel.

The book explores the Aboriginal concept of Dreaming, a form of beliefs or spirituality and the Dreamtime, a 'once upon a time' era when the spirits formed creation as it collides with the world view of nineteenth century London society.

Hillyer, who lives in Wapping, has already made a name for himself as Ilya for graphic novels including The End of the Century Club and an adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear for Manga Shakespeare.

He fitted in his work on the new novel after his studio based day where he wrote at home "in absolute silence".

The book won his praise as one of Waterstone's New Writers and he is due to speak at the Shoreditch Festival on July 17.

He said: "The germ of an idea comes completely out of the blue. Nobody had asked what it was like for these cricketers coming over from Australia. I did as much research as I could and parts come from my imagination."

He researched the cultural differences and even went to the length of checking on the stages of the moon, to ensure that when he said the tide was out on a certain day and his character was walking along the shoreline - it was possible at the time.

The result is a highly atmospheric novel, which is meticulously researched.

Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer, Myriad Editions, �11.99

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