by Josh Kemp
Garreth Hoyle enjoyed some success with his true crime book, but his love affair with hallucinogenic drugs led him to hunt for ghosts in the unforgiving wasteland north of Kalgoorlie. A city psychologist once told him that he shouldn’t use hallucinogens because he had a lot of locked doors in his head – “doors with padlocks the size of a fist”.
After driving his Prado through the Mallee Desert in Western Australia for two months, he found he had unclipped padlocks and was even seeing things when he was sober. There are truths that are “so terrible that you keep them at bay all your life, you close the door to them.” But Garreth hadn’t been able to keep the door closed.
The Angel Dust brings back the horrific levels of abuse he suffered as a child – locked in a bathroom, still wearing a diaper at age seven, and being thrown a box of baked beans every now and then to survive. Garreth is exhausted, having to duck and squeeze to avoid getting caught in the cruel net of sticky remnants of memory.
Attempting to obtain drugs from an old friend of his from his mowing days at Banjawarn station, Garreth finds a real locked door. Behind it, ten-year-old Luna hides in the dope house villain bathroom with her best friend, a dirty teddy bear with a missing eye named Gary.
With his new stash of drugs and after a gruesome discovery, Garreth decides to take Luna in search of his father in the mining town of Leonora. Calling another fellow Banjawarn for help, Garreth discovers the disease of the abandoned city and the reason why those Banjawarn buddies he considered friends all hate him.
The harshness of the landscape and the difficulties faced by animals and humans simply trying to survive are buried deep and become one with the narrative. Beneath the red dust are layers of remnants of past violence that include blood and bones from numerous massacres, pollution from the gold mining industry and even sarin gas used in an experiment by a doomsday cult Japanese.
Wise beyond her years and without traditional schooling, Luna survives by detaching herself from what is happening in front of her and watching it unfold from a distance. While Garreth thinks he’s on a mission to save the girl, it’s actually the other way around. This infernal road trip, strewn with moments of black humor, certainly marks Australian gothic fiction.