Mears' brilliant career cut short and we’ll be poorer for it
AUSTRALIA lost one of its finest writers and the Clarence Valley its literary daughter this week, when author Gillian Mears died aged 51, succumbing to the cruellest of diseases, a painfully slow exercise in depletion that transformed the physique of this writing giant to that of an injured greyhound.
The body of this once lithe, spirited woman - whose idea of freedom was atop the back of a horse - was slowly drained of its mechanisms to forever entomb a brilliant mind.
Bleak it is, but it's a description Gillian would not baulk at, (but obviously write a much, much better version of), as she expressed such sentiment last year when she launched what will now be known as her final book.
Such was this disease's sinisterness, it cherry-picked at her flesh and muscle, while tauntingly leaving her mental capacity intact until it too could no longer operate on broken down machinery. Such torture to a creative spirit was a betrayal she fought and fought as much as her failing frame would endure.
The first time I met Gillian was in the 1990s when she was 'in love' but incapacitated, after death almost claimed her scalp the first time around. Turns out she lived across the street from me. It was a strange encounter but a memorable one that would be revisited every few years as she continued to win the country's top literary awards, and release her long-awaited books, eventually returning to her spiritual home, the Clarence, to finish her final work and ultimately live out her own epilogue alongside the valley's famous river.
The Cat with the Coloured Tail was a fable released last year again to much acclaim by her peers and reviewers who adored Gillian's ability to tell stories through descriptions so vivid and raw you were left breathless.
Besides the hour or so spent at her cabin on the family's property in the Clarence bushland to talk cats and moon creams, the book's launch at the Grafton Regional Gallery last September was the last time I, along with many others, saw her. She was still in fine form verbally, and keen to pursue another fable as I left there with an open invitation to 'catch up' again.
A few months after an envelope arrived at work, written in a style that appeared to be scribed by a less dominant hand.
It was from Gillian. Inside were photocopies of pages from a personal diary entry she'd found by chance in the Mitchell Library, recording the time I brought her the stray she said went on to star in that book. She had mentioned this a couple of times before, but I struggled to remember with the clarity her notes claimed. This disappointed her, and me, greatly.
From recollection at best, it would have been a fleeting moment with a neighbour desperately trying to juggle a lost feline and a Ridgeback that wanted to eat it, but to her it was a moment she pored over and carried with her like the thousands of encounters she so beautifully drew on to create her intricate passage and prose. It was her last attempt to give my memory a jolt and back up her story.
But the madness of day to day life saw the envelope and its contents sit on my desk until news of her death this week made me excavate it from a pile of rotting papers.
I felt sad reading it again, for not seeing her since, for the fact no-one will read another new thought of hers again, that exquisite vault of vocabulary now locked forever.
We've all been robbed, but Gillian Mears has endured the cruellest theft of all.