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The title Shee-Oak

Posted By Geraldine Star  

Choosing a title can be an exciting, 'nail-biting' occasion for an author because not only does it encompass the story but it identifies the book in bookshops, libraries and on reading lists forever more. Sometimes the title appears without effort and an author knows as soon as they write what the title will be, while other times there are lots of versions before the right name emerges.

For me, this is how the title Shee-Oak came into existence. Like many authors, I had a working title for my manuscript Riding the Storm, and I used this for each of my drafts. I didn't worry about changing the name as I wrote because I focused on the unfolding story. However, as the publication date got closer, I found the title no longer fitted the story. I continually brain-stormed the possibilities, but nothing suitable emerged.  One day I was gazing out the kitchen window of a friend's apartment and saw a mysterious-looking Sheoak tree below. Immediately, I knew I was somehow going to incorporate this name in the title of my book. I dashed home to do some further research and discovered Sheoak could also be spelt with a hyphen. The 'she' could be changed to 'shee', the two 'ees' representing the two women characters, and for me, the 'oak' symbolised strength, wisdom and healing.

Sheoaks (Allocasuarina verticillata) are interesting Australian trees with a rounded crown and drooping branches and timeless whispering sounds. I love to walk through groves of them when there is a breeze. To me, their sound is reassuring yet eerie and in the inland, the trees have a sound that reminds me of the coast and the sea. Some Indigenous groups believed this sound was the ancestors speaking to them.

On Wiradjuri land in south-western NSW where I grew up , the Indigenous people called the Sheoak trees Birradhang and used the wood to make handles for stone axes, elsewhere they were used in making boomerangs.

In Australia, these trees are drought-resistant so have been able to survive and adapt to the changing conditions.