Barry Wilks was first recognised locally for his chimney sweeping services to Uralla. These days, he is retired and writing books. His first, Come In Spinner, is an autobiography about a boy growing up in Wales and London during World War II. In this interview he talks about his latest book, Dolores.
How did you come to work at the Telegraph newspaper in Sydney?
My first job was at Neutral Bay Pharmacy, two hours after school every day and Saturday mornings from 9am to noon for thirteen shillings and sixpence a week. I saved enough money to buy a portable radio and underwater diving gear by the age of thirteen. Because of an unhappy home life, I left school in 2nd year from Naremburn Intermediate High and became a beach bum for some time, until I was fourteen years of age. Mother found out and encouraged me to get a job. Because my father, Jerry, worked for Frank Packer at the Telegraph as a sub editor, my mother, Dolores, suggested that would be the right direction for me as a copy boy.
What prompted your change of career?
I stuck at the job for twelve months. I became uninterested and needed something more physical. After a number of jobs in the city (without the Intermediate Certificate, there was not much choice), mother found me a job with a building company at St Leonards, and I started an apprenticeship in the plumbing trade. I worked as a plumber most of my life, and the later years I worked for myself as a chimney sweeper in Uralla and surrounding areas.
Upon retirement you took up writing … tell us about your new book, Dolores.
Dolores was born in Barcelona, Catalonia, in 1910, the only daughter of Carlos and Mia De Lanquez, my grandparents. Dolores is the story of their survival in a harsh and fierce social and economic background. It has never been told, even amongst family. Dolores’ journey through three countries will come alive once more, as she takes you from the excitement and ruthlessness of Barcelona with all the Catalan temperament, which remains in the veins of many to this day. Catalonia was before Spain, and the history is long and deep. I had to call my book historical fiction, because Dolores didn’t tell me everything before we all arrived at Uralla in 1983 at the little old gold miner’s cottage. She died shortly afterwards in Armidale Hospital. My research into Dolores’ family history on the internet came to practically nothing, because as my mother Dolores told me long ago, the records were destroyed in the Spanish Civil War.
What brought about your tree change to Uralla?
A recession in Sydney put me out of business in 1983 and with interest rates at 22%, we lost the house at Mona Vale and just managed to pay the mortgage out with only $15,000 left over. Dorothy found an old gold miner’s cottage for sale in Uralla in the Sydney Morning Herald, so we moved up from Sydney, bringing with us my mother, Dolores, and youngest daughter, Sarah. There was no work either in a small country town, so I sold hot dogs at the taxi stand and we went fruit picking in the spring, when it became warmer. Winter time I pulled my drainage rods out of retirement and with a brush on the end and an ad in the Armidale Express, I started sweeping chimneys from the roofs of Armidale. I did so for 28 years, until I broke my leg in April this year falling off a borrowed ladder. My mistake.
What other books have you published?
My first book, Come in Spinner, is an autobiography and is still selling well in the publishers, Sid Harta outlets and bookstores. My second book, Dolores, is based on my mother’s family in Barcelona, Spain. My grandparents’ names are Carlos and Mia De Lanquez. I am presently working on a third book, a novel, called Sunflower Sue.
How long does it take you to write your books?
My first book, Come in Spinner, took me about six months to write, and Dolores took me about eight months.
Where do you source the background information for your stories from?
My wife, Dorothy, is my researcher; she sources some information, and I get leads from the internet.
How can people obtain your books?
The publisher, Sid Harta of Victoria, has them, I believe, in a number of bookstores and on his website at: sidharta.com.au I myself have some hundreds of both books, as I sell them at the markets and door to door when my leg permits me once more. Also, by contacting me on 6778 5182 or emailing:Dorothy
Before I broke my leg on a job in April this year, I sold over 300 of Come in Spinner in Armidale door to door, street by street. I enjoy talking to people, and I enjoy selling. The response of the Armidale people is amazing to Come in Spinner and since coming out of hospital after my leg injury, I have attended three Growers’ Markets and three markets in Uralla with similar response. I think it does help after so many years doing chimneys; my face must be a little familiar to the Armidale people, and I hear a lot of stories and local knowledge as I move through the streets of Armidale.