How a young Yank found his way into an Aussie newsroom, on hardly a dry note

Image result for courier mail brisbane front page

Some recent Australian newspaper front pages, the Courier-Mail among them in the upper left corner. When I worked at the paper, it was grayer and type-dominated, much like American newspapers at the time.

By Kevin S. Giles

We shared a desk maybe four feet wide, sitting side by side. He responded to my questions with grunts and wave-of-the-hand dismissals. He was older and knew the drill. I felt intimidated.

We worked the evening shift at the Courier-Mail, the large morning daily newspaper in Brisbane, Australia. We were “sub-editors,” meaning we edited stories and wrote headlines before the presses started late at night. Our combined desk sat at the end of a long room full of other desks, all empty by that time. We sat alone in this room, known as Trade and Finance, staffed in daylight hours with reporters and editors who wrote the business section of the paper. Frosted glass separated us from several other night editors who cussed and coughed beneath a cloud of blue cigarette smoke.

Geoff was an Aussie. I was a Yank, seemingly a fatal distinction to him.

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Somewhere on life’s long road I lost my wonderful well-traveled friend. Then he died.

Kevin S. Giles

We were friends and fellow journalists for 40 years. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of the big picture. Now it’s too late to fix.

By Kevin S. Giles

Death came too early for my old friend. I knew the news was true. Yet, when I heard of his passing, I searched online for his obituary and read it again and again to convince myself it wasn’t another of his fun-loving pranks.

The truth is that I lost David six years before he died. I lost him as he struggled over his mortality, defying the cancer he knew would kill him. I lost him because he drifted into a pool of bitterness and resentment after devoting a decade to his life’s work, an esoteric multi-generational novel that even he acknowledged left readers confused and indifferent. I lost him because he pushed me away in anger. I lost him because I let him do it.

Long friendships should tolerate misunderstandings big and small. Ours did until, one day, it didn’t.

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Pioneer congresswoman Jeannette Rankin was an early opponent of the Electoral College

Kevin S. Giles, a native of Deer Lodge, Mont., authored the new book One Woman Against War: The Jeannette Rankin Story. It tells of the pacifist convictions of the first woman elected to Congress. Her campaign came just two years after Montana legislators gave women the right to vote. This essay first appeared on lastbestnews.com, Montana’s independent news site.

By Kevin S. Giles

Imagine being the first woman elected to Congress, taking a seat in the US House amid a sea of men on the eve of President Wilson’s appeal to declare war on Germany.

Jeannette Rankin voted no.

Imagine being elected a second time to Congress while Hitler’s Germany rampaged through Europe. Then came Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt asked for a war declaration against Japan.

Again, Rankin voted no.

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot

 

Rankin, of Montana, became a full-fledged pacifist between the world wars. She believed she was voting the will of her constituents back home, which was partly true, but she also objected to government’s close ties to corporations that profited from war.

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Jeannette Rankin’s election to Congress in 1916 gave hope to women who wanted to vote

"One Woman Against War: The Jeannette Rankin Story"

When Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress, people began to believe that someday Americans could send a woman to the Oval Office. (Photo courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center)

By Kevin S. Giles

When Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress exactly 100 years ago, many Americans cautiously wondered whether the newfound vote someday would send a woman to the presidency. (After another election, we’re still waiting on that question.) Rankin’s election to the US House, from Montana, came as women in only nine states and Alaska could vote and the nation didn’t yet have a federal suffrage amendment. Rankin foresaw the power of women as a voting bloc to enact social reform laws and ultimately, stop war, said biographer Kevin S. Giles, who describes in One Woman Against War: the Jeannette Rankin Story, how she became a symbol of that aspiration when elected in 1916.

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Author portrayed murderer Dewey Coleman in a vivid story we’ll never forget.

Montana killer Dewey Coleman.

Dewey Coleman was a suicidal drifter sentenced to hang for kidnapping and killing Peggy Harstad in eastern Montana in 1974. He died in February 2016 in prison custody.

By Kevin S. Giles

When I heard the murderer Dewey Coleman had died, I searched my bookshelves until I found it. There, yellowed and dusty, was the book about the terrible crime he committed in eastern Montana one summer when the grass grew long and green along a lonely highway.

It shouldn’t have happened. Peggy Harstad, just 21 years old and looking forward to her first teaching job in the fall, should have kept driving on July 4, 1974. She was coming home from a rodeo, all alone. Why would she stop to help two scruffy men standing beside a disabled motorcycle along the road?

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In Helena, Montana, it was Louise Rankin Galt helping a young writer get started

Last Chance Gulch in Helena, Montana

Helena’s Last Chance Gulch in the 1940s was a happening place. Fires and urban renewal erased some of the big buildings, but history still lives in this corridor of commerce.

By Kevin S. Giles

When I began researching the life of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, I went to the law offices of Louise Rankin Galt. She was a block off Last Chance Gulch in Helena, Montana, continuing the practice she once shared with her late husband, Wellington Rankin.

In the years after Wellington’s death, Louise had married rancher Jack Galt, but she very much remained a link to the famous Rankin family.

Louise Rankin Galt

Louise Rankin Galt as a young woman. She died in 2013.

Louise gave me a withering look – or so I thought. She was stern, both in appearance and by reputation as Montana’s first female county attorney, and it was plain she meant business. What was I writing? Why was I writing it? What did I expect people would learn from my research? I didn’t have much experience with aggressive attorneys back then. I realize now that Louise was showing me her softer side. She would tell me years later that she approved of me on sight.

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Author of ‘Summer of the Black Chevy’ talks about the story behind the novel.

Kevin S. Giles

After floating the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, in western Montana, with family.

What’s happened in the four months since you published Summer of the Black Chevy?

I’ve found that I did OK with my first attempt at a novel. Right before it goes on sale, you know, there’s that twinge of regret that the story isn’t good enough, that it won’t pull readers through, that it will be greeted with stony silence.

Did that happen?

To the contrary, it’s receiving positive reviews. Sure, some people read it and stay quiet afterwards and I figure it didn’t resonate with them and that’s fine. Nobody agrees on everything. Writing, like any form of the arts, is a subjective craft. Of all the compliments I’ve heard, I value two the most. The first is when people say they identify with the characters, reminding them of people they know. The second is that the novel takes them back to remembering the pendulum swings of their own teenage years. Nobody forgets growing up. For each person those memories might warm that heart or they might bring hurt. Summer of the Black Chevy explores both of those themes.

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Childhood houses, changing times, and the meaning of being at ‘home’

Here's my final home in Deer Lodge, Montana. It was the last of six houses where various stages of my youth took place.

Here’s my final home in Deer Lodge, Montana. It was the last of six houses where various stages of my youth took place. I returned here many times, but as an adult. It was a homey place, a refuge.

By Kevin S. Giles

I lived in six houses in the 12 years I spent in public schools, all of them in Deer Lodge, Montana. Each time we moved I left a piece of me behind, less perceptible than the pencil marks on the walls where my mother measured my escalating height. Scattered behind me, like pages ripped from a diary, were memories formed by physical proximity. They linger in the shape of walls and size of rooms, and the number of rooms, and stairwells and pantries, and dim lights that made it tough to see a textbook at the kitchen table after dinner. Physical spaces frame events and interactions that make us who we are. It’s destiny to find our more mature selves in unfamiliar rooms of the next house.

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Atop the prison wall during a riot: A memory captured for the ages

1959 Montana prison riot

Officer Murry Giles, kneeling on the wall outside Tower 7 at Montana State Prison, steadies a ladder for ascending state troopers who arrived in Deer Lodge on April 16, 1959, after inmates took control of the prison.

By Kevin S. Giles

A front-page picture from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shows my father crouched atop the wall surrounding Montana State Prison. It’s dark, and he’s reaching to help rifle-bearing Highway Patrol officers climbing ladders in the glare of floodlights. That clipping made him proud. He kept it folded in an envelope in his closet, evidence of his participation in quelling a prisoner takeover in 1959 that included the gunshot slaying of Deputy Warden Ted Rothe.

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot

 

Children of prison guards never knew much of what their parents did — and still don’t. Drama behind walls and fences and bars is the stuff of compelling stories but seldom does any of it emerge into public view. Rarely does a prison guard at work hit the papers as explicitly as when a news photographer captured my dad, Murry Giles, helping those state troopers scale the big sandstone prison wall.

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Two books, one small Montana hometown, 800 pages of storytelling

Main Street in Deer Lodge, Montana, photo by Pat Hansen of the Montana Standard

Main Street in Deer Lodge, Montana, as it looked in 2013. This photo, by Pat Hansen, was published in the Montana Standard with a story about guided walking tours.

Since I wrote this post I’ve published a third book of interest to Montanans: my biography, One Woman Against War: The Jeannette Rankin Story.

By Kevin S. Giles

A wise uncle told me once that when I found a good place to live, don’t blab about it. There’s no faster way to ruin paradise, he counseled me, than putting it on the map.

Sorry about that, uncle. The secret’s out.

I’ve written about Deer Lodge, Montana, in my two latest books, which I imagine is just about the most anybody has written about a hometown anywhere in Montana. I doubt either book will start a stampede to Deer Lodge. Word’s getting around, though. It’s a town that’s climbing in the search engine rankings, and in today’s digital world, that’s something.

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