Best of Times, Worst of Times: I was too fantastical for her tastes: Thomas Keneally talks to Danny Danziger

I FIRST met her at the little school; she was an unattainable seven-year-old, lanky and handsome, and blessed with a natural grace.

Sydney is a very allergic city, there's too much pollen and too much dust, and when I was a kid my nose used to drip uncontrollably, so I was literally a snotty little bugger. She was a haughty creature whose nose never dripped: she transcended mucous.

At about the same time as my first sense of Pamela, I met this formidable galleon of a woman, an old Irish nun called Mother Benignus. Around the time the Japanese were threatening Australia, and Singapore was falling, Mother Benignus found out that some of the boys were having peeing contests up the walls. She drew a white line and said: 'Any boy who pees above that line will be in trouble with God. . . .' She turned micturition into a sort of test of cosmic forces.

Time goes on, and we're both 16, Pamela and I. I went to a monastic school in the western suburbs of Sydney, and a few miles away, Pamela was head girl of Santa Sabina Convent in Strathfield, New South Wales, Australia. The universe, in the days of Menzies, when we didn't know which end was up. We were very innocent, I mean we were primitively innocent in that early Menzies Australia.

The works of Gerard Manley Hopkins had an enormous impact on me, and I carried his little Oxford University edition around in the breast pocket of my school uniform. I was enlivened by Hopkins, and I constantly wanted to read him to Pamela.

I thought these poems were the greatest tricks on earth. In the Peter Weir film Dead Poets' Society, the teacher asks the kids: 'What's the purpose of poetry?' They begin making up all these reasons - that none of them believe - and he astounds them by saying: 'No, the purpose of poetry is to woo women . . .' And that's pretty well how I saw things.

I was a little disappointed that such a beautiful creature would not take off and bounce around the ether with me, my balloon was up there, but she was too sensible, too practical.

I was too fantastical for her tastes, melodramatic, given to overinflated emotion, overinflated language, and there was something about that, quite rightly, she didn't trust.

Nevertheless, we're getting towards the big one, the hand hold.

At the same time, Mother Benignus was dying. She was dying in a very grand manner, there was incense and prayer and sacraments. And Mother Benignus told Pamela, maybe not quite with her dying breath, but in her last day of life: 'I want you to take my name on, and became a Dominican nun.'

I heard that particular news walking home from school. I met some girls from the convent, good, solid girls called the Raffertys, who used to go around with my friend, and they said: 'Hey, you know what? Mother Benignus asked Pam Davis to take her name]'

And, as they say in Australia, bugger me dead, she did.

The day she entered the noviciate, we all went up in our school uniforms to Newcastle, which is north of Sydney, and watched her go into this medieval enclosure. It was an awesome thing. I remember her father, who was a very quiet, gentle man, weeping. And in a way so was I, although, of course, I was conditioned not to cry.

Thomas Keneally won the Booker Prize for 'Schindler's Ark' in 1982. His latest novel, 'The Place Where Souls Are Born', is published by Hodder & Stoughton (pounds 17.99).

(Photograph omitted)

Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

    £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

    Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

    C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home