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Picture: Gerald Moscarda/The West Australian

For many years, Ian Reid has walked in Wireless Hill Park, site of the former Applecross Wireless Station and now a telecommunications museum, near his home in Perth's southern suburbs.

It's an evocative spot for a stroll and, as a historical novelist, it was surely only a matter of time before it inspired Reid's writing - as is the case of his latest novel, That Untravelled World.

Taking its title from a line in Tennyson's poem Ulysses, the novel follows Harry Hopewell, a fictional young engineer who moves from Sydney to Perth in 1912 to work on the construction of the Applecross Wireless Station.

Ambitious and eager for adventure, Harry meets and rapidly falls for a local girl called Nellie, but her sudden disappearance early in the couple's courtship throws his plans and his sense of certainty in his future off course.

Set predominantly in Perth's southern riverside suburbs in the early 1900s, That Untravelled World paints a vivid picture of the area at the time, including local landmarks such as the Perth Zoo.

While the novel was initially born of a sense of place, the time period in which it is set also attracted Reid.

"The story runs from just before the World War I to the outbreak of World War II and that always seemed to me an interesting period, so that combination of places that I thought probably hadn't been represented much in fiction, and a period that seemed to me to say a lot about important changes in Australia (was compelling)," he said.

The perennial outsider, Harry drifts between places and jobs following Nellie's disappearance, never really finding his niche. His tale of early confidence followed by recurrent disappointment is, Reid said, evocative of the period in which it is set.

"At the beginning of that period when the novel opens, there's a lot of idealism and optimism around which is partly based on young nationhood - after all, it's only a decade earlier than that that the Australian federated commonwealth had begun - and also the technological innovation, the miracle of wireless communication, the air travel and so on," Reid explained.

"But then, with things like the so-called Great War and the Great Depression, a lot of people get displaced and become uncertain about who they are and what they can be doing. Unemployment, of course, was on a huge scale at times, particularly in the early 30s, and many people like Harry just lost their way and lost connections with people.

"So to some extent I wanted the story of Harry to reflect that troubled, formative period of Australia's development, and also to make the reader think about what it is that pulls people apart from each other and what brings some of them together."

With its rapid technological change and economic ups and downs, it's a period which, Reid points out, resonates with our own.

"I like the idea of trying to look at enduring themes of human experience in the light of a different period so that they're both strange and familiar - I think historical distancing can do that," he said.

"There is for me too a feeling that in our own time, too much contemporary fiction seems cramped within the here and now," he adds.

"It tends in many cases to reinforce our habitual attitudes and assumptions, so inventing characters and episodes that are set within the factual framework of times past is, I hope, a way of helping readers to see aspects of their own everyday world with a new perspective."