By Michael Carolan
It’s been a long voyage for Stephen Zemek, but now at 70, the Noosa resident has finally realised his dream of becoming a novelist. His first book, A Pelican from Heaven, (published by Niche Press) tells the story of Bluey Leyton, a wharfie with a larrikin streak, who after one too many beers at lunch‐time, falls out of his straddle crane and staggers into heaven. Bluey doesn’t quite fit in up there, so God calls him into his reading room and offers him the chance to return to earth as a pelican to compile a report on Climate Change, but there are conditions – Bluey is only allowed to talk to animals and birds during his six weeks back on earth. Bluey’s special assignment leads to a raft of encounters as he journeys from Bribie Island off the Queensland coast down to the pristine Tarkine Rainforest in Tasmania, through the beautiful lands and waterways of the Australian east coast.
Stephen’s early career saw him in hectic professional roles in sales and marketing, but always simmering just beneath the surface was his calling to be a writer.
“When I was about 16, my parents took me to see a Vocational Guidance Officer. The conversation started affably enough but didn’t end so conveniently. The man led with the standard ‘what do you want to do when you leave school?” type of question.’ ‘Of course, full of youthful enthusiasm (and probably a touch of naive arrogance) I replied quite directly that I wanted to be a writer.’
“Don’t be stupid lad. That’s not a job. You have to do something sensible like teaching, or carpentry, or you might like to be a mechanic. Let’s try again; so what do you want to be when you leave school? Well, if I can’t be a writer, I’d like to be a pelican.
“The interview ended abruptly. My parents weren’t happy but they understood.”
In 1955, the seven‐year‐old Stephen was paralysed from the waist down for three months due to a virus. He recalls being visited each day by a kookaburra that would fly down and sit on the windowsill and take meat from his mother’s hand. Then one day the virus disappeared ‐ and so did the kookaburra. ‘In my child’s mind, I believed the bird was coming to listen to my hopes for a recovery,” he said. That very day, Stephen started to write. “I felt compelled to write. It wasn’t a choice, more like a calling.”
More than 60 years later Stephen has woven a lifetime of experiences into the allegory of Bluey and the animal characters he meets on his journey to investigate Climate Change. One of the pleasures of the book is in its descriptions of the natural beauty encountered along the way.
“Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of boating and fishing along the shores of Fraser Island with my father and elder brother,” he said. “In the late fifties, before the commercialisation of whale watching, we often put out the dinghy and rowed around among the whales. With no other humans in sight, the whales came over very close. It was a magical time. At dusk we would throw scraps of fish to white‐breasted Sea Eagles and pelicans. The friendships formed with those whales, eagles and pelicans are a very large part of who I am and how I think.”
A Pelican from Heaven allows the animals that Bluey meets to ‘stand in our place’ and offer both a reflective and refractive view of the best, and worst of humans.Because of Stephen’s fascination with pelicans, Bluey Leyton became a pelican – “a bird that by its very nature shows the mastery of one’s own seeming awkwardness”.
A Pelican from Heaven will be launched on Saturday 21 April from 2-3.30pm at The Boat House, 194 Gympie Terrace, Noosaville.