Mariah Sweetman on Robert Runs

Article | Nov 2023

MARIAH SWEETMAN is a proud descendant of the Ugarapul people. Her novel Robert Runs is based on true events and looks at the Deebing Creek Massacre and the tough reality of mission life. Good Reading for Young Adults caught up with Mariah to talk about her book.



Robert Runs is a fast-paced thriller based on the author’s great-great grandfather, Robert ‘Goupong’ Anderson, who was once the fastest man in Australia and world-record holder. Goupong, his little sister Dot, and his best friend Jonathan belong to the Ugarapul people, the Green Tree Frog tribe, and live with their families and others within the harsh confines of the Deebing Creek Mission – a place run by the malevolent Boss Man.

Goupong and Jonathan are focused on winning the mission’s biggest running race that year, but when mysterious noises, unexplained occurrences and biblical events begin to plague the local area they are forced to investigate.

Robert Runs is a poignant look into the Deebing Creek Massacre and the tough reality of mission life. Weaving fact with fiction, this compelling story details the events leading up to that fateful day.

Will Goupong and Jonathan be strong enough to defeat the monster in the bush, or are the real monsters closer to home?



robert-runsYour novel is based on your great-great-grandfather, Robert ‘Goupong’ Anderson. What can you tell us about him?

Goupong was a tribal man who grew up on Deebing Creek Mission. He was a Ugarapul man who excelled in many different sports and won numerous competitions for his athletics. He was most well-known for beating the fastest man in the world in his time in a 100-yard sprint. 


Robert is an incredibly resilient character. Overall, what do you hope readers will take away from his journey?

I hope that readers will come away from the novel with a respect for the complexities of Australia’s history and the events that have led to where we are today. I would love for readers to research their own local history and inquire about the traditional owners of their lands. 


As this novel is based on true events – what did you find most challenging or rewarding about this writing process?

The writing process was very healing for me as I was able to place myself in the situation and imagine what it would have been like. For me, it was a process of weaving together my academic knowledge with personal history and my imagination. 


Your book is set at Deebing Creek Mission – how did you go about researching the background and setting for this book?

My foundational knowledge was from oral stories passed down about what happened on the mission. I learned some truly alarming stories about methods of punishments, in particular. I also had foundational knowledge of Queensland-wide policies and practices that impacted Indigenous peoples on the missions. Visiting some missions in Queensland and learning about the practices that affected the everyday lives of our people gave me a great launching pad for my fictional retelling. With a mixture of the oral stories passed down, my education about Queensland policies, my own personal research, and my imagination, I created the story. I was also able to meet with my Ugarapul Elder to ask permission to share a fictional retelling and use Goupong’s name and the Ugarapul name, and I received more information as well. 


The story sheds light on the brutalities of the past. Why was it important to you to explore this?

In my educational history, I received a whitewashed version of the past. I learned that Indigenous populations decreased due to introduced diseases because of a lack of immunity in their communities. However, that was not the case for many Aboriginal communities. We now have access to many accounts of massacres and brutalities on missions, and it is important to shed light on those things rather than deliberately downplaying them. I believe that to highlight the strength in overcoming, we need to know what our ancestors had to overcome. 


Who did you write this book for?

To start, I wrote this for my family. I have just one perspective and my own personal storytelling to honour Goupong. I would love to see a hundred more stories in different varieties and flavours that honour this patriarch. However, as I continued, I wrote the story for young Australians who have a hunger for the truth of our nation’s past. 



Mariah Sweetman is a proud descendant of the Ugarapul people. She is passionate about First Nations histories and engaging young people with stories. She loves to create with words and paint; often writing poetry and painting in her free time. She is a teacher by trade with Bachelor in Education and Arts, Master of Education, specialising in Indigenous Education.

Follow Mariah Sweetman on Instagram

Author: Mariah Sweetman

Category: Children's, Teenage & educational

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Magabala Books

ISBN: 9781922613387

RRP: $22.99

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