Title: Coal Flat

Author: Bill Pearson

Publication details: Paul’s Book Arcade, 1963, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Paul Millar

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Coal Flat

[inside front cover]

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A ‘different’, isolated yet intensely human community is the subject of this novel. Between the high barrier of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea lies the strip of New Zealand which is the only ‘West Coast’ in the world to its inhabitants. Coal Flat is a Coast mining town. The name is not on any map. But the lines and features of its life are marked on the mind of every ‘Coast’ dweller; the small close-knit community, the traditions of unionism, working together, and hospitality.

‘You have achieved in Coal Flat something found only in the classic novels, you have created a whole society,’ remarked an American reader who saw the manuscript. Bill Pearson is indeed well qualified to become the first novelist of the real West Coast, so different from the Coast of popular New Zealand legend. He was born and grew up there. His perspective cleared and widened in his years of war service, study and teaching overseas. Bill Pearson’s Coast is flattered by no haze of nostalgia for he has revisited it many times in recent years.

Coal Flat is longer than many novels are in these days of quick impressions and impatient readers. Its technique is unusual. Yet it is classical in its scope and its variety of openly drawn characters. We meet the miner, the dredge-worker, the priest, the doctor, the teacher, the pub-keeper and his wife and their family. Near the heart of it all is the troubled young child of an unhappy home.

Paul Rogers, a young teacher, returns to Coal Flat from the army and is unwillingly involved in a strike crisis, which at first he cannot take seriously. Because he tries to bring to Coal Flat knowledge and experience gained in his years away he finds himself in conflict with the township which claims his love and loyalties. His own emotional life is also deeply involved.

This novel explores in breadth, depth and subtlety the relation of an individual to his community, and shows incidentally the relation of a community like Coal Flat to the whole of the country.

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