I’d put everything on this competition, worked furiously for nine months to have a manuscript ready for its closing. This was the right publisher, the perfect opportunity. The shortlist came mercifully early – 6am, just as I woke – but I wasn’t on it. I wasn’t as devastated as last year’s big attempt. Suck it up, this is the way of the world now. Continue reading
I’ve been writing about Hugo Throssell’s infamous speech at Northam in July 1919 so I needed to visit the town. Newly married to Katharine Susannah Prichard, Hugo, a Victoria Cross winner, returned to his hometown as the guest of honour for the local celebration of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. After the afternoon parade, he was one of five speakers in the evening and 1200 people witnessed him announce that the war had turned him into a socialist. There would keep being wars, he said, until we stopped people profiting from them.
I took my two-year-old son, Thomas. There were lots of diggers, buses, and trucks along the way to keep him interested until he suddenly fell asleep, just as I was going to call into the Greenmount Liquor Store on the way to talk about what I’d unearthed of the history of their shop. (It’s the last remnant of the Wandu Estate, where Katharine and Hugo first lived in WA.) So we kept driving without a stop, an hour and a half east of the city and into the Wheatbelt.
I’ve only visited Northam twice before but it’s familiar, reminding me of the town I grew up in, Collie. I stumbled on the Hugo Throssell statue and memorial before I even had my phone out to look for the Avon Street Mall, an unfinished space in the centre of town. It was hard to imagine 1200 people crowding in. The platform Hugo spoke from was meant to be outside the Fitzgerald Hotel, formerly Tattersall’s. The historical bin on the street gave a spiel on it, but the hotel was nowhere to be seen. Then I realised it’d been demolished a few years ago; the patch of green grass marked its spot. The statue was striking, oversized as statues need to be to have gravitas. It’s not a great likeness, but the ambiguous look of distress and determination on his face is appropriate for a veteran who was to suffer so much. He’s clutching his Victoria Cross. I’m glad the statue stands on the site he gave his speech; it means owning a difficult history.
It was an overcast day and as I walked Thomas up the hill from the statue occasional drops of rain came down in the moderate heat. I was amazed by several mansions along the way; I learned soon after that part of Northam was nicknamed ‘Nob Hill’. We came to the school built around the old Throssell mansion, Fermoy. Thomas was complaining by then and the rain seemed to be threatening heavier, and so being a less intrepid biographer than I should be, I took a photo from a distance which would not upset the security guard and turned around. I imagined Hugo taking Katharine up the hill and pointing out where he grew up; in 1919 it had been a hospital for a few years.
Near where I parked the car was a sun-faded train fort. This, for a toddler whose patience was at an end, was the highlight of Northam.
Today, in an act of biographer pride, I brought together all my biographies from around the house onto one shelf, displacing a random selection that had been occupying this hall shelf unhappily for a couple of years. I had more important things to do, but I don’t regret it at all. I’m going to look at this diverse collection of biographies many times each day as I pass and it’s going to inspire me. My arrangement of books – the double-stacked shelf of fiction in another prominent place – will no longer reinforce the hierarchy the literary community tries to impose. Continue reading
Athletics carnivals of course, that’s the first thing which comes to mind – the primary school ones. First the faction carnival and then the inter-school. Allanson wasn’t big enough to hold our own faction carnival; we competed as one faction against four Wilson Park factions and we still always, reliably came last. But then we would sometimes win the Forrest District Small Schools Association carnival held on the double-geed ovals of little country localities in southwest WA. Continue reading
I have a two-page memoir called “Archaeologist” in the new special issue of Westerly. It’s a free download in pdf or epub from https://westerlymag.com.au/issues/westerly-crossings/.
Editors Amy Hilhorst (UWA) and Owen Bullock (University of Canberra) write in the introduction:
This special issue of Westerly is a collaboration between the creative writing students of the University of Western Australia (UWA), and those from the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI), based at the University of Canberra (UC). It aims to showcase and celebrate the creative and critical work conducted by current or recent postgraduates, and undergraduates, at these two institutions. Reaching across the Nullarbor from west to east, this issue offers a snapshot of some of the best writing from the respective corners of Australia. In curating this material together, we aim to foreground the connections and contrasts in the stories of our students. These short stories, novel excerpts, essays and poems have been commissioned by co-editors who are also completing postgraduate study. It is, then, an issue for students and by students, and aims to give readers an insight into the exceptional standard of work being written in the postgrad study rooms, shared offices and library carrels of UWA and UC.
I’m looking forward to reading the other contributions. Many of the UWA writers are part of the Words and Thoughts postgrad creative writing group with me.
I wrote my piece just after my son was born in 2015. I was suddenly taken with a desire to remember my childhood. I was originally imagining an entire book-length memoir of occupations I have dreamed of / abandoned / actually done, including not just archaeologist, but the Phantom, lawyer, pastor, novelist, counterhand, librarian, and biographer. But I only wrote the first one; its another book that I’m not going to write just yet.
Today is the 100th birthday of my late grandfather, the Reverend Ron Hobby. He was a complex man, and since he died in 2006, I’ve spent a long time thinking about him.
Grandad’s parents weren’t married when he was born. A hundred years later, it’s not a big deal, but it was then. He never told his children or grandchildren, but I think he was painfully conscious of it and felt ashamed. I think he felt he had to prove himself to the world. He did this by working relentlessly. He was an Anglican minister and Granny used to tell the story of how the one time he had no engagements in the evening, he checked through the pew sheet to see if there were any meetings he could attend. He ended up heading off to the parish’s Mothers’ Union. Even if the story isn’t literally true, my dad says they didn’t see much of him when they were kids. So many people who have been around WA Anglican circles from the 1950s to the 1990s remember my grandad. He used to say he wasn’t much of a preacher, it was the other parts of ministry he was gifted in. He was energetic, determined, and caring.
Most of the stories about Grandad are too vague or disconnected in my memory. He lived in many places, mainly in Western Australia, and had many phases of life. He trained with the Claremont Football Club colts in the 1930s but gave football up to train for ministry. He worked as a miner to support his mother after his father died. He helped build a shell-brick chapel with his bare hands at Shark Bay. He went back to university in the 1970s and completed a bachelor of social science at WAIT, for which he liked to say he had to pretend to be a Marxist. He was tough. In his late seventies he went on a hike of a week or two by himself in Tasmania. He seemed to me like a pioneer, a connection to the settler days. He told the story of his mother or grandmother walking some great distance from Esperance – was it to Kalgoorlie? He told the story, too, of his great bike ride from Meekathara to somewhere across the desert. He liked anecdotes; I don’t think he was keen on self-reflection or confession.
I lived with my grandparents when I came to Perth to study in 1999. I look back with gratitude that I had a chance to get to know them. We talked a lot about politics and religion as my worldview shifted leftwards. After I moved out, Granny once said that I should come around more often, Grandad came more alive when he was debating me. I asked my uncle later about the debates he’d had with Grandad, but he said he never did. I may have been the only one who dared debate him, my uncle said. Grandad was fragile as well as tough. I wrote something on holy communion once which made him furious and, having inherited his stubbornness and conviction that nothing matters more than truth, I dug my heels in. We fell out again soon after over what occupation I should be doing. I would handle Grandad differently these days.
I had visions of writing a biography-memoir of Grandad in time for his centenary. It would be my way of keeping his memory alive and understanding him better. I’d combine my own memories with historical research. But now he’s one hundred and I haven’t written that book and I don’t see myself doing it anytime soon.
However, his WA-based descendants are gathering for a reunion on Saturday. And my dad, who has been working on family history for years, is putting together what he’s discovered about Grandad’s life for the day. There’ll be twenty-three of his thirty or so great-grandchildren. He only lived long enough to see one great-grandchild; he would be so pleased to see the herd of descendants now growing up. I hope in time my own son, Thomas, who bears Grandad’s surname, will be interested in my stories of him and can feel some sort of connection to him, dead as he is.
I moved to Perth from the country when I was eighteen to study and haven’t left. I’m thirty-six today, which means I’ve now been here half my life. I’ve lived in nine different suburbs from North Lake in the south to Lesmurdie in the hills, but it’s Victoria Park in the inner-city which has become home. My brother and I moved into a decaying weatherboard house in East Victoria Park in 2002. It was before the boom, and it cost $120 a week. There was a hole in the bedroom wall and the feel of the 1950s still in the old carpet and fittings and the overgrown quarter-acre backyard. We were shocked at the price – far beyond us – when it was put up for sale for $350,000 the next year. After a few years in share houses in East Victoria Park until I got married in 2006, it took six years to get back to the area, but Nicole and I had often thought we probably would, and now we’ve been back in Victoria Park for five years. Continue reading
I loved Leonard Cohen most when he had fallen into neglect. The time at the turn of the century when he was still out of fashion. The men behind the counters of vinyl shops in Perth met his name with derision. “What would you want to listen to that for?” demanded the owner at the underground one in Fremantle who always checked what you were looking for as you came in. “Music to slit your wrists to!” For a time, I played Cohen’s albums obsessively. The artists who mean the most to me always make me feel we share a special understanding. Of course, any sense of reciprocity in that is an illusion.
One of his verses gave me comfort in a break-up, even if the sentiments were aspirational rather than true.
I don’t mean to suggest
That I loved you the best
I can’t keep track of each fallen robin
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
That’s all, I don’t think of you that often
I ordered his novel The Favourite Game, then only in print in Canada, and thought it a brilliant novel. I’ve been meaning to re-read, but I hesitate, because it’s no longer the right season to be reading it.
I wrote my second (failed) novel in thrall to him, calling my main character “Leo” in tribute. For a time, it was titled “The Revolution’s Pride” from a line in “Diamonds in the Mine.” His song “Famous Blue Raincoat” shaped the plot and the feel of that novel. It was the song I listened to more than any, and it seemed so perfectly sad and beautiful.
Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?
When I married a musician, she told me he didn’t sing in tune. I couldn’t really tell, but I wasn’t surprised. His songs were poetry, and they were a mood, and perhaps even a mode.
I never thought I’d see him play, but I did. It was at the Sandalford Winery on 7 February 2009. Just before I was due to leave – I was going alone – a parcel arrived. The courier must have been working overtime. It was my publisher, returning the manuscript of that failed second novel. It was, actually, the moment its failure became apparent after working with them on it for five years of back and forth. I felt like I’d been punched in the guts and I was miserable as I listened to Leonard Cohen on the grassy bank in the heat.
He was in fashion again – which I’m glad of, for his sake – and all the baby boomers of Perth were there to hear him. They were all big fans, they all knew the words to “Hallelujah.” I’d always imagined that I’d see Cohen in a dingy bar strumming his guitar solo, an intimate performance to a gathering of hardcore fans. This concert was the opposite of that, a huge line-up of musicians and dancers on stage transforming his sound.
Stuck in a traffic jam trying to leave in the hot dark, the radio had rolling coverage of massive bushfires in Victoria. I couldn’t believe the things they were saying there in the dark, whole towns burnt, so many people dead. It felt the world was coming to an end. Cohen’s contemporary, John Updike, had just died too. Updike and Cohen were always on this list in my head of heroes whose demise I await with dread. But Cohen lived on and I lived on and incredibly he even gave us three more albums. It’s only now that day has finally come and he joins that long list of celebrities who didn’t survive 2016. Perhaps it will always be remarked that the news of his death came as the world reeled from Trump’s election win. “Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.” But it was. In public terms, he died as well as a man could. Thank you Leonard Cohen for all you gave us.
In my writing career, I have had the triumph of a short story which became a novel – a familiar enough transformation – but also the tragedy of a full length novel which only ever saw publication as a short story. There’s nothing tragic about short stories, of course, but generally a writer doesn’t like to spend twelve years on one. Continue reading
I have a confession to make: the beginning of my literary career was powered by coal company. The arts festival presented by Griffin Coal is a big event in the life of Collie, the coal-mining town in the south-west of WA where I grew up. Winning second-prize in the open category of the 1996 Griffin Festival Literary Awards at the age of fifteen – beaten by my drama teacher – made me think I could be a writer. Continue reading