About Me

I was baptised Steve Tolbert many long years ago in Los Angeles, California. Apparently I cried a lot as a baby and a few months later my parents split up. My father went to Alaska to live a semi-reclusive wilderness life, while my mother stayed to live the big city life in Southern California and in Seattle, Washington.


I migrated to Australia in 1969 and since then I’ve taught English, Social Science and Indonesian in high schools in Sydney, Derby (W.A.), Perth, and at various places in Tasmania. In June, 2002 I bought a Bernese Mountain Dog / Labrador cross pup and partially retired to feed it. In 2009 I fully retired.


My other big interest continues to be Asia. For a long time I’ve hoped Australian students would feel inclined to learn more about the region. Hence, my stories have strong Asian themes and tend to deal with spiritualism, racism, culture clash and cultural adjustment.

Nowhere Man and the Roadkill Lady

Adult Novella

In January, 2024, local Hobart publisher, Forty South, published my novella Nowhere Man and The Roadkill Lady.

Synopsis: Donny Taylor is a hermit living on Tasmania’s remote west coast.

In back-story, we learn he was once a 60’s Coogee Beach Rat and ‘party-hearty seeker of shouting, laughing, people-crammed spaces’ before his marble was drawn and he was sent off to Vietnam.

At the Battle of Coral Balmoral he’s badly wounded, and after months of hospitalisation is placed ‘gelded and resentful’ on a Hercules and flown back at night to Australia.

Suffering PTSD, he seeks out psychological help and enrols at Sydney Uni, where he develops a liking for his studies, ‘to imagine experience through patterns of words rather than incoming mortar rounds.’ He also spends hours sitting on a Coogee Beach bench fixating on waves and memories of his pre-Nam times.

Gradually his PTSD worsens. He experiments with heroin and eventually becomes an addict.

When his mother dies, as atonement to his sister, he vows to end his addiction. Hampered by run-ins with old druggie acquaintances, he flees to Tasmania where he works as a council worker before an encounter with a heroin dealer sends him fleeing again to Tasmania’s west coast and life as a hermit.

One day, decades later, while driving back to his shack he spots an elderly woman shovelling something off the road. Thinking she might be in difficulty, he stops.

She talks. He listens. Eventually she invites him back to her place for breakfast, as women her age have ‘to take a few chances in life…’

Donny has not been inside anyone’s home, nor allowed anyone into his shack in over three decades. In the novella’s second half, that and more will change as Donny’s and Judy’s relationship, largely fuelled by her vociferous manner and their love of animals, develops over ensuing weeks before…


Last Stop Ladakh

Adult Novel

My second adult novel, Last Stop Ladakh, was published by Ginninderra Press in August, 2021. As with Playing Lady Gaga, Being Nan Pau, much of Last Stop Ladakh was researched during a trip; this time to Ladakh in 2017. 


Transcontinental highwayman in his youth, Joe Broughton told himself vagabond living meant taking risks, cadging rides, living on the cheap. It could be scary, for sure, but intriguing too, his luck changing daily, having no idea what the next hour would bring or who he would be sharing it with.

Now a septuagenarian widower, his daughter working overseas, his best friend recently deceased, Joe senses ‘a steady drum beat of routine messaging that tomorrow will be the same as yesterday; that getting old is no better than dying young; that the good life exists only in his memories.’ As the decades-old embers of vagabondage stoke up again, he decides to head off into the unknown one last time, specifically to the Himalayas: quiet, Luddite-friendly, far removed from humanity gone Twitter-mad.

In Indian-occupied Kashmir, after his sister is blinded, his brother killed in a violent protest, Sameer Pandith joins Hizbul Mujahideen as a freedom fighter. When India institutes martial law, he is sent east to Ladakh on a mission of retaliation.

Joe and Sameer are fated to meet; first through an exercise in compassion, then in barbarity.

Playing Lady Gaga Being Nan Pau

Adult Novel

In April, 2017 Lacuna Publishing published my first adult novel titled ‘Playing Lady Gaga Being Nan Pau’. Weighing in at 310 pages, it’s nearly twice as long as any of my earlier Y/A works. The novel was launched in May, 2017, at the Hobart Book Shop, again by Dr Pam Allen, former head of UTAS’s Asian Studies Department.

The story is set in Yangon, Moulmein and Hpa-an, Myanmar, as well as the Thai-Myanmar border region and the Derwent Valley in Tasmania.

When Burmese girl, Mya Paw Wah, commits a crime in retaliation for the killing of her brother during a monks’ protest march in Yangon, she is forced to flee the city in disguise. Military Intelligence agents, human traffickers, landmines and snakes are among the dangers Mya faces in her journey to Karen State, near the Thai border, to find her exiled mother. To survive, she plays many roles — bar-girl, novice nun, military porter, teacher — some by choice, others forced on her, as she struggles to overcome anger and despair, and maintain hope for a better life.

Tasmanian youth Nick Stanish comes to Mae Sot, on the Thai-Myanmar border, looking for his missing brother — an aid worker at a medical clinic for Karen refugees — and to avoid dealing with a guilty secret. Seeking answers in the Snake Skin nightclub, Nick instead finds the local Lady Gaga — the club’s star entertainer — and is drawn into a world of sex slavery, drug smugglers and refugees fleeing the long, drawn-out border war between ethnic Karen forces and the Myanmar army.

Themes include the workings of despotic governments, Buddhism, human trafficking, Ethnic Burmese refugees and refugee camps and the roles Australian aid agencies like AusAid are playing in the troubled Thai-Myanmar border region.

Good Reading Magazine featured the novel in their May, 2017 edition.


Available in both print and eBook format from Lacuna


Young Adult Novel

My first book, CHANNEARY, was published by Addison, Wesley, Longman (now Pearson Publishing) in 1991. It was immediately short listed for the Multicultural Book Award and has sold more than 20,000 copies. High schools around Australia continue to use it as a set text, primarily for Grades 7-9 classes. It’s the story of Channeary, a young Cambodian girl who is tragically forced to leave her home when the Khmer Rouge take over her village.


Channeary flees to the Thai border where she arrives sick and starving.  At a Buddhist monastery she is nursed back to health, then has no option but to live and work for years in a refugee camp.  It’s here she meets the Australian nurse who eventually brings her to Tasmania.  How she copes and doesn’t cope, and the help she gives and receives from an old solitary South Coast fisherman serves as the basis for the remainder of the story.


Out of Print

Settling South

Young Adult Novel

Settling South is loosely-based on a tragic incident that took place in a bush house close to Hobart’s Mt Wellington some years ago.  The story was published by Addison,Wesley, Longman in 1995.  It’s my only story set entirely in Australia.  But it still has strong Asian themes.  When Tim’s mother dies of cancer at Lakes Entrance, Victoria, he has to go live with his reclusive, Vietnam War-traumatised father above Bright in the Snowy Mountains.


There Tim finds that his father and a local policeman are still fighting the war, but now it’s against each other.  Still under legal driving age, Tim nevertheless is taught how to operate a motorbike that is hidden away in a bush shed.  While that’s going on, Tim witnesses how the conflict between his father and the policeman escalates until the eventual blow up occurs.  When their bush house comes under siege, Tim is forced to use the motorbike to flee south to Dover, Tasmania, while avoiding apprehension by the police.  


Out of Print

Eyeing Everest

Young Adult Novel

Eyeing Everest is a semi-autobiographical story that was published by Addison,Wesley,Longman in 1996. Fifteen year old Meika lives with her mother in the northern suburbs of Hobart, but spends many of her weekends at her aunt’s place in the Derwent Valley.  It’s here Meika is told stories about her father, a man with a love for the wilderness who left Australia for Nepal after Meika’s mother left him fourteen years earlier.


When yet another affair ends for her, Meika’s mum commits suicide and Meika is left with the task of trying to unravel her mum’s last hours.  What she finds out sends her life into a tailspin.  She gets involved with Hobart street kids and soon is in trouble with the police.  It’s Meika’s aunt – her guardian now – who assists her again.  She arranges for Meika to travel to the Everest Track in Nepal to meet a father she has never seen before.  What transpires on the Everest Track, in the Himalayas, forms the bulk of the story.


Out of Print

Stepping Back

Young Adult Novel

Stepping Back was published at the same time as Eyeing Everest.  It’s a romance set largely in a Red Cross Hospital south of Phnom Penh. In 1996 it was judged a Notable Book in the CBC Book Awards.


Somaly is a sixteen year old part-Cambodian girl who has lived with her mother on the remote west coast of Tasmania since she was a toddler.  Somaly’s mother was a nurse in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia when she gave birth to Somaly.  Shortly after that, Somaly’s father was killed by a land mine and Somaly and her mum left the country for Tasmania.


Juxtaposed with Somaly’s life in Tasmania is the life of Keo, a traumatised Cambodian who lost an arm and his girlfriend in a Khmer Rouge ambush, and who now works as a hospital orderly on the Thai border.  About the time Keo is informed that he’ll finally be allowed to return to Cambodia, Somaly’s mother in Tasmania finds out she has MS.  If she’s ever to return to the country she has ached over for years, she must do it soon.  So Keo from the Thai border, and Somaly and her mother from Tasmania step back into a war-ravaged country filled with stoical, quietly-spoken people who, despite the legacy of Khmer Rouge rule, genocide, an estimated one million buried mines and extreme poverty, are still to this day strongly imbued with Buddhist warmth, graciousness and compassion.


Out of Print

Escape to Kalimantan

Young Adult Novel

Escape to Kalimantan was published by Addison,Wesley,Longman in 1998. As it contains a few sections of simple Indonesian, it would serve as a nice adjunct to the study of that language.  It tells the story of fifteen year old Jack, who has been taught by his father, Arnold, to respect life, to feel a strong compassion for it in all its rich and varied forms. But the horror of 28 April 1996 changes all that. Jack’s sister is killed in the Port Arthur Massacre, and days later Jack’s mother leaves for good. When his father’s mental state begins to deteriorate, Jack realises he’s got to do something to help his father get on with life again.


Wild places and wildlife are Arnold’s passionate interests, so close contact with these, Jack believes, will provide his father with his best hope of recovery. He finds out about a place that has the richest animal and plant life in the world. It’s called Kalimantan – wild Kalimantan. Like his poster filled room, the perfect place to escape to, Jack thinks.


But reality is rarely captured accurately on picture posters. In today’s world even the wild places and their inhabitants aren’t safe from humanity bent on destruction, as Jack and his father unwittingly find out.


Out of Print

Tracking the Dalai Lama

Young Adult Novel

A month after Hyland House published this novel, Fuller’s Book Shop in Hobart set up a display of Tracking the Dalai Lama.  They signposted the display and wrote – ‘For younger readers who think like older ones’. Perhaps they could have added ‘and who have an interest in the Himalayas, Tibet, Tibetans, the Dalai Lama and the Chinese occupation.’


(An excerpt from Magpie Volume 16, No. 5, 2001) ‘Desperately needing a change of scene as she struggles to escape the malaise brought on by a tragedy involving her best friend, Jess accompanies her father on a trip to Northern India and later to Tibet. In Dharamsala they meet the Dalai Lama and – incredibly – for a few very eventful weeks, their lives become closely entwined with his. In the scoop of a lifetime, Jess’s journalist father is asked to cover the story of the Dalai Lama’s secret return to Lhasa.’


For older students – grades 9-12 students.


Out of Print

Dreaming Australia

Young Adult Novel

Dreaming Australia was published in January, 2005 by Ginninderra Press.


It tells the story of Soraya, a young girl from Masar e-Sharif, Northern Afghanistan. After her mother is killed in a missile attack, she is sent away with her brother and cousin to a people smuggler in Pakistan who will arrange for her to travel to Australia. But the journey through the mountains north of Kabul is dangerous, particularly after her two male escorts are commandeered by the Taliban to work as porters. Fortunately Soraya meets Muhammed, a rohani (or holy man), who guides her across the border to the city of Peshawar. There she meets her people smuggler who insists that Australians “will wave and shout their greetings and helpful officials will be at the dock to assist her.”


Upon arrival in Australia, Soraya is interned in the Woomera Detention Centre.


Available through Ginninderra as an eBook

“Dreaming Australia’s author seamlessly integrates his research into the story. Set in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and Australia, the author convincingly evokes each place and succeeds in subtly illuminating the strong differences between spiritually and materially based cultures. Dreaming Australia is a dramatic, exciting and moving story of a young girl’s journey through terrible perils. Along the way she experiences huge losses and betrayals as well as unexpected, but heart warming friendships.”

Rosie Waitt

Surfing For Wayan and Other Stories

Young Adult Novel

Surfing for Wayan and Other Stories was published by Ginninderra Press in February 2006. It includes seven stories, six unique settings, many divergent themes and characters:


Seventeen-year old Jacob returns to Bali in Surfing for Wayan. Once terrified of surfboards, he’s there to surf wild for four people, including his brother killed in the 2002 Bali Bombing.


In Summits, Lhotse speaks by cell phone to her father who’s dying in a blizzard on Mount Everest. Three months later she walks up Nepal’s Everest Track to view that mountain and share her thoughts.


A young Afghan reflects on the event that spurred him into becoming a suicide bomber in Remembering Nurila.


In Tunneling Cu Chi a Tasmanian boy, a Vietnamese-Australian girl and an American war veteran meet on a tour of Vietnam’s infamous Cu Chi Tunnels. Each is there to resolve their Vietnam War issues.


In Another Door a friendship develops between a panic-struck girl going for her first driver’s license and an old widower who’s obliged to renew his license annually.


During the bombing of Baghdad a young Iraqi-Australian boy struggles to make sense of media headlines in the prize-winning Sandy Heads.


After his granddad dies in Fishing Manhattan, a boy learns that places change and it’s important to love what you have.


For readers aged 12 to 112.

Available through Ginninderra as an eBook

“Surfing for Wayan and Other Stories is a fine, fine collection. What Steve Tolbert captures so well is the challenge of a person coming to terms with a world broader than they had imagined. His stories have a heart and soul – that is, in my mind, what sets them apart – and, at the same time, they entertain and beguile.”


Irene McGuire, Fullers Bookshop

Packing Smack, Talking Wombats

Young Adult Novel

Steve Tolbert has intertwined two contrasting worlds and produced a riveting and engrossing novel. It evokes powerfully both the violence and police corruption of the drug scene in the Melbourne underworld as well as it does the natural beauty of Flinders Island and the integrity of the people who live there.
The writing is superb and has left me with a longing to visit Flinders Island while allowing me the illusion that I know so much about it already.



Packing Smack, Talking Wombats (Ginninderra Press) was published in January 2007. The story is loosely based on recent cases of police corruption and gangland activities in Melbourne. Jackson is a seventeen/eighteen year old girl with future plans for attending university. Through her first boyfriend, Ben, she unwittingly becomes involved in a St Kilda heroin sale that goes wrong. In order to protect Ben, she flees with the heroin supply to the supposed sanctuary of Flinders Island. Here she meets John, an animal-fixated vet science student, and Pete, a recluse who has lost his family in tragic circumstances. When Jackson’s pursuers – in the form of bent, but entertaining Nick, and later, two employees of the corrupt Detective Inspector Michael Harris – arrive on Flinders Island, the entire island community is drawn into the sordid, violent world of gangland drug dealing. 


Thematically, city/country contrasts and traditional Aussie values, particularly in remote areas, are strong. The novel would be highly suitable in a study of remote places, or the study of values education using Values for Australian schooling (www.valueseducation.edu.au/values/), or in the study of illicit drugs in Australia. A study guide that focuses on these three themes is available at the end of the website.


Available through Ginninderra as an eBook

O'Leary, JI Terrorist Hunter

Young Adult Novel

O’Leary, JI Terrorist Hunter (Ginninderra Press) was published in August, 2010. The novel is set in Clifton Beach, Tasmania and Bali and Central Java.

Michael O’Leary’s life as a ‘weird and wacky’ word-fixated student changes after his mother is killed and his father badly injured in a Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist attack. In the company of his alter ego, Bounty Hunter Clint, Michael travels to Indonesia intent on confronting JI operatives. At each stage of his mission, the seventeen-year-old meets mysterious people. None occupy his mind – and quickly his dreams – more than Sugi, a Muslim girl who may or may not be working with the ‘enemy.

“Michael O’Leary, the young protagonist of this novel, struggles with a mental illness that has defined his childhood and dictated his responses to events in his life. This is handled with extraordinary sensitivity and insight…

The novel is above all about loss and grief, but it never descends into sentimentality or mawkishness. For all the gravity of its subject matter, moments of deep despair are balanced by ‘laugh out loud’ moments of rollicking humour. So congratulations, Steve, on another meticulously researched and finely crafted work…”


Pam Allen