BOOKS > MAPPING THE PADDOCKS
what it says on the cover:
searching for an answer, I parade before me the people who
inhabited my childhood, I hear their voices more
clearly than I see their bodies. Nor do I see their clothes,
apart from a few scraps of memory attached to people – the
clomp of Father’s gumboots; the shiny back of Arthur
Coulter’s vest; the round, priest-like hat of Pud Marantelli,
driving his gig to Finley: as we approach him in our car we
recognize him because his heavy frame slumps on the side of
the vehicle where the springs have weakened so that he, hat
and the arm he flings along the back of the seat are forever
at angles to each other. We usually say, passing him, that
we pity his horse.’
miles as the crow flies from Finley, thirty-four miles from
Deniliquin in New South Wales,
stretched the avenue of
peppertrees leading to the farm on the plain where Chester
Eagle grew up in the 1940s.
is a book full of resonances: the charting of a family and
a way of life
which is at once uniquely the boy’s and as familiar to all of us as
the fact of Hiroshima and the mythical figure of Bradman astride the land.
read some extracts from the book click here:
|Farm kids and town kids
England and the Nigger Minstrels
We’re the Guards!
read about the writing of this book click
kids and town kids
kids were different from town kids, a little more withdrawn
into their silences. Solitude, and learning how to handle
it, was the unique factor of living down a lane branching
from one of the roads, dusty in summer and boggy in winter,
which began with a signpost at the end of Murray Street — Deniliquin
37; Jerilderie 22; Tocumwal (Toke to the locals) 13. The
exit for Berrigan (also 13) was a right turn at the war memorial,
with a bend at the railway crossing. Kids from Toke and Berrigan
came to the upper levels of Finley school, bringing with
them an indefinable feeling of their towns. Lanes, mostly
stock routes, entered Finley's back streets but took their
atmosphere no further than the saleyards. Dust filmed everything.
Milk jugs had to be covered. People edged gardens with bottles,
or bricks thrust in at forty-five degrees. The Melbourne
papers arrived at 4.10 if the Melbourne train and the diesel
from Narrandera met punctually at the border. A hoot from
the diesel, returning from the Murray, meant an early release
for the farm kids clustered at the newsagent's.
crossing the plain could make riding hard for cyclists; it
was therefore better to live on the eastern side of town
because if the wind changed during the day, as it commonly
did, you got a tail wind both ways. Our farm was to the west;
thus I was pleased when Mr Murdoch or Mr English, my teachers,
brought a message. 'Your mother rang. You're to meet her
at the Post Office at half past three.' This meant waiting
with Mother, if she could be bothered, until the grid which
meant the end of sorting had been lowered, then packing my
bike in the boot of the Ford. The Post Office was more lonely
than the newsagent's because the papers always came eventually,
while there was no certainty that the letters one longed
for would ever come. There was a feeling of abundance in
opening Box 64 to find it stuffed full of letters, and of
shame if, reaching clumsily for this treasure, I pushed a
letter back and had to go to the counter to reclaim it. The
deepest loneliness came on the afternoons when the sorting
was late, the sky cold, and there was nothing to show for
my waiting. Negotiating the last bend out of town I felt
I was looking at infinity, and my moods were made worse when
the drivers of trucks and utilities who could have put my
bike in the back of their vehicles failed to stop. How I
envied the kids who had horses, enduring beasts that didn't
and the Nigger Minstrels
had no idea what another country might be like. The English
were supposed to be most like ourselves, which was why we
were fighting for them. I felt some stirring at the patriotic
always be an England,
And England shall be free,
If England means as much to you,
As England means to me.
was no less moved by 'God Bless America' and 'The Marines'
Hymn'. What the Germans and the Japanese sang I had no idea
until the Allies adopted 'Lili Marlene'. Of Germany's other
musical tradition I knew nothing except the facts about composers'
lives which Miss Allen, who taught grades one and two, made
us copy in our books. 'How do you spell it, Miss?' we asked,
confronted by Bach (bark?), Handel and Schu(shoe ?)-mann.
We dutifully listed the components of Mozart's output- forty-one
symphonies, twenty-seven piano concertos and the rest -never
believing that a kid of seven could compose, let alone play
an early version of the piano before some Grand Duke at the
age of five. It was all a bit much, and when Miss Allen played
us a 78 of Mendelssohn's Midsummer
Night's Dream overture,
turning over in the middle, I couldn't see what the fuss
was about. Nothing emanating from the wind-up gramophone
made me think of fairies; indeed, since we knew fairies didn't
exist, it wasn't clear why famous people wrote such tripe.
most popular numbers in our School of Arts concerts were
given by the Nigger Minstrels. It seems that we had a taste
for the exotic, because Tom Wells, clad in Arab headgear
and singing excerpts from The
Desert Song, made
me feel that I knew as much about the French Foreign Legion
as Father did from his reading of Beau
only people recognized by the town as foreign, yet ac-cepted,
were the Heterelezis family, safely anchored in the Wattle
Cafe. My brother went there because Johnny, who was the same
age, and Nick, a year ahead of me, gave him double helpings
of lavishly topped sundaes. Sometimes I joined my brother
and his friends, feeling there was something odd about a
place where the sons could disburse their parents' profits.
Everything should be paid for! Nick Heterelezis was held
to have a beautiful voice, but the more remarkable aspect
of his performances at the variety concerts which drew the
district to the town on Saturday nights was that he had the
confidence to sing before the town. The very thought of singing
solo was, for me, embarrassing. I felt Nick deserved his
ovations, but was always relieved when he was replaced by
items where adults, and preferably groups of adults, held
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time, in summer, Father went to cricket in Jerilderie. Early
in a sullen afternoon, I noticed a column of smoke in the
west. The day was still, but our strongest winds came from
the west, and if a wind got up, we could be burned out. I
called Mother. She had none of Father's skill in reading
horizons. We watched the smoke, debating whether or not the
fire was getting bigger. We decided that it was. Mother rang
Maxwells. No one answered. I felt exposed. We walked to the
woodheap to get a better view. The column of smoke was higher.
It was not hard to imagine a fire seething in someone's stubble
with the peculiar crackling sound of dry grass burning, and
an acrid smell which didn't reach Mother and I as we stood
looking through the line of pepper trees which shaded the
stockyards and cowshed. I felt my chest tighten. Mother said
she'd ring Jerilderie. We went back to the house.
telephone was mounted on the passage wall. Standing at the
back door, at the spot where, soon after I was born, Mother
had had her white Tuscan china teaset, with its green rims
and green-tipped handles, knocked from her hands and broken
by a door whipped by a gust of wind, leaving only two cups
and two saucers as survivors, I watched Mother, heavy hearted
and anxious as myself, turn the handle of the phone. Finley
exchange gave her Jerilderie exchange, who said there was
no phone at the ground. They offered to put her onto one
of the hotels, where someone might know something. While
she waited for this to happen, I went for another look. The
fire hadn't got any bigger. I went back with the news. Mother
kept making phone calls. I kept studying the fire. The sky
grew more ominous, the column less distinct. I wasn't sure
what this meant. Mother spent ages turning the handle of
the phone or holding conversations which produced no information.
Eventually we heard a vehicle on the back road. This was
something of an event at any time; Mother and I went to the
fence over which she threw scraps for the chooks and over
which, in the reverse direction, horses leaned to munch the
tops of our carrots, the only provocation which, to my knowledge,
ever caused Mother to say bloody and bugger. The engine we'd
heard was that of a cutaway Chevrolet, altered to allow its
chassis to support, in somewhat sagging fashion, a corrugated
iron watertank and a hand operated pump. The Finley fire
brigade! Two or three men clung to the tank, and another
sat beside the driver. 'At least we know there's someone
fighting it,' Mother said, trying to reassure me. I was far
from con-vinced. We passed the afternoon making phone calls,
waiting for Father. The fire appeared to be neither soothed
nor maddened by the brigade's arrival. Nor did our tension
decrease, but I felt, as the afternoon wore on, a numbness,
a feeling of inevitability about whatever happened. This
was perhaps my deepest, my most prolonged, blooding in rural
ways. By the time Father came home, we'd discovered that
the fire was out. The danger was over but I was now aware,
as Mother had always been, that there were certain agents
of fate over which we had no control.
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were also stories of the rougher identities of the district,
told over the dinner table with the task of recall passing
from one member of the family to the other, each disclaiming
that they knew much about the events recounted. Thus, if
conversation touched on the Simpson family, who worked for
Father's brother Aston, dialogue of this nature might ensue:
Mary The Simpsons were those crazy people that lived
in a caravan at Aston's, weren't they?
Olly Yes, a whole tribe of them. I don't know what
they lived on.
Mrs Simpson try to keep the place neat?
she tried in a sort of a way but with a mob like that it
was an uphill struggle. And she wasn't all that bright.
Simpson was a character, but by God, rough!
something) Why, what was he like?
I don't know …
him about the time he told Aston to sell the sheep.
know that one, don't you Alice?
believe he did do something like that. You know what happened,
agent rang up and offered Aston a price on some sheep he
had ... and Jack Simpson was listening in.
could he do that?
had a party line, didn't they, to Aston's house and the Simpsons'
always claimed that whenever he answered the phone he could
hear a click as one of the Simpsons picked up the phone to
Aston kept hanging out for a higher price.
course he knew he'd have to sell, he just had no feed at
Mary Did the agent know that?
might've ... but Aston was hoping he wouldn't know, and he
was hanging out ... 'Oh, I don't know,' he was saying, 'I
might hang onto them a bit longer.'
knew he'd have to sell eventually.
but he was after a price ...
did Jack Simpson do?
he was listening in ... and what did he say, Norm? He just
couldn't contain himself in the end, he had to say something
must have got it into his head that Aston didn't know what
he was doing, because suddenly he burst into the conversation.
'For Christ's sake, Aston, sell! You know you haven't got
the general mirth) What price did Aston get?
don't know, I'd have to ask him.
the question would never be asked. Father's family weren't
interested in detail, and the purpose of their folklore was
to make them look good against a background of less capable,
less discerning people. I wanted the stories recorded, but
no one had a mind to do it, and, recalling the tales when
we were back in the house we'd bought from Mr Erskine, I
found that they lacked the feeling of shared adventure they'd
had in a room full of uncles, aunts and cousins. In my cousin
Alison's room there was a photo of a slender youth in the
uniform of an Australian soldier. Alison claimed it was her
father. Since my uncle Teddy was a corpulent and to me slightly
amusing figure as he pedalled, at 11.15 every morning, from
packing shed to pub, with a session on the sofa after lunch,
I couldn't believe her. How could this boy be Teddy? Nevertheless,
both Grandma and Aston, now a paunchy figure in waist-coat
and chain, had on their walls photos of another slender soldier
with emu plumes in his hat; something about his nose was
recognizably Aston's, so I had to believe that these youths
were my uncles. I never heard them speak of France, Germany
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dress balls were common in my childhood. They were the adult,
public form of charades and dress-ups. Some weeks before
one of these occasions I observed Mother stripping labels
from jam tins and cutting out the brightly coloured pictures
of fruit which they featured. She also looked through magazines,
scissors at the ready. These pictures were then pasted or
sewn on a simple blue dress she made; from the night of the
ball I retain a memory of myself craning into the dancing
crowd to find Mother, who'd entered in the section where
costumes had to relate to a well known slogan: Mother was
eat more FRUIT!
didn't win a prize but I won one for her another night when
she dressed me in a white shirt, white trousers and sandshoes.
A bat was put in my hand. I felt very pleased with myself,
circling the hall under the eyes of the judges and parents
in the section called Character Impersonation. At Mother's
signal, my brother underarmed a tennis ball. Blissfully free
of selfconsciousness, Don Bradman hit the ball into the orchestra
and was awarded the prize. Searching my memory of that occasion,
I remember feeling that I had deserved the award through
some merit of my own; Mother's ingenuity in tapping the public
adulation for my benefit is something that only becomes clear
to me now.
was Father's only hero, and when he stood for the Don returning
to the Melbourne wicket, I felt my life had caught up with
Father's and with everything the cricketer represented. While
the great man batted more sedately than I, expecting fireworks,
would have wished, Father's friends discussed the condition
of the Melbourne ground. It had been used during the war,
I learned to my surprise, as an army camp. I found it hard
to replace, in my imagination, the applause rippling from
the stands with bugles and shouting sergeant majors. Where
had they slept and eaten, these soldiers? There was no trace.
The prewar world had reconstituted itself, but Bradman, despite
centuries in Sydney and Brisbane, was not what he must once
have been until an English bowler aggravated him with bouncers;
the Don smashed two of them to the boundary with devastating
power and I knew that I had at last seen the man behind the
reputation. The two boundaries, and a third hook intercepted
by a fieldsman, had something invincible about them. No more
bouncers were bowled at him and he returned to normal, more
fallible batting, playing a ball onto his wicket when he
was 21 short of the century I wanted him to score. Going
back to the hotel that night with Australia 6 for 255 and
the Herald saying ENGLAND ON TOP, I felt, for the
first time in my life, inside events: I had seen, and would
see again tomorrow, things Herald readers would only read
second innings also fell short, ending at 49, but his presence
on the field was strong, and his throws from cover good enough
to remind me of the single stump and my own attempts to hit
a kerosene tin. His most convincing demonstration of mastery
came when he interrupted the bowling of his left arm spinner
to give advice, then removed himself from cover to a position
on the drive, three quarters of the way to the fence. Hutton,
whose prewar innings of 364 had broken one of Bradman's records,
moved to drive the next ball, checked his stroke, and lifted
the ball in a graceful arc; the Don had only to run back
a few paces to take the catch on his chest. It was so simple.
Bradman congratulated his bowler. Hutton departed. Father
and his friends nodded knowingly. I marvelled that one man
could so easily outwit another.
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lives alone but is related to McGills, who run the shearing
shed. He pedals a bike with a hessian bag hanging from the
bar. His felt hat is battered, his nose is hooked and his
voice is a rumbustious instrument for shouting 'Hoy!' at
sheep. If he lumps wheat he doubles a chaff bag so that it
cowls his head and shoulders. He leases his farm because
his inheritance doesn't include the knowledge required to
run it. Father rents Johnny's five hundred acres so he can
put in extra crop. Johnny's gates contain the ingenuity not
visible in the rest of his life. They are fascinating contrivances
of chains, bolts, wires and levers, like puzzles; which part
do you move first, and what happens? Johnny also hangs rusty
iron - mostly machinery parts - from his fruit trees to frighten
birds; his garden is therefore heavy at all seasons with
the most improbable fruit. This doesn't dis-concert me as
much as his way of blowing his nose; bending, he presses
one nostril with a thumb and blows snot from the other. Some
delicacy allows him to do this only in our paddocks and our
large yard, not in our garden - but where, I wonder, does
he do it at home?
works in McGill's shed when the shearing is on. His job is
to work the press. When his nephew, Wagga McGill, decides
that a bin is full, wool is lifted into the bale slung under
the press. The press is lowered, the wool squeezed. More
wool is added. When the bale, to my childish observation,
is crammed, almost as much wool again is added. It can't
possibly be squeezed in, I think, though the bales already
sealed prove me wrong. The wool will only fit if Johnny,
in greasy trousers and a singlet of grey flannel, can exert
enough force on the lever. Steel bands will be needed to
restrain the bulging bales once his job is done ... but how
can he do it? Sometimes when the men have knocked off for
tea, which they drink from enamel mugs, with milk supplied
from a sauce bottle, I look at the task in front of Johnny,
disbelieving. Usually I go outside because I can't bear to
watch him straining, but sometimes, if he's penning the next
batch of sheep, I study the press, convinced that human strength
isn't equal to the task. I know Johnny can do it but I'm
scared that he'll find, one day, that he can't; how then
will the wool be baled?
is also, like the job of stacking wheat bags, an occupation
so entirely physical that I'm daunted. Is Johnny only a working
bullock? The shearers, too, sleep in sheds of corrugated
iron standing on ground from which sheep have eliminated
any trace of grass. On the job, they rush into pens, dragging
wethers backwards between their knees. They stand stiffly,
spines taking time to straighten, when the whistle goes for
smoke-oh. Their shears cut through the fleeces, sometimes
gashing the skin; the sight of blood absorbed by what's left
of the wool seems to me even more brutal than the way in
which shorn animals are hurled down the slide. The shed smells
of shit trodden into the boards, as well as of wool, so that
in some sense the New Zealand Loan warehouse in Melbourne
has gained a measure of distance, of abstraction, from the
source of what it contains. Have I?
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of ordinary mortals not only win Military Crosses and Air
Force Medals, but gain bars to their decorations, so it seems
possible for people to go, more than once, where fear and
commonsense should stop them going. The papers tell me about
men sprinting up beaches, dodging machinegun fire, to drop
grenades in the mouths of pill boxes. Their courage is held
up for admiration. The feelings of the German gunners as
they see their fate tossed through the slit, and their activities
in the seconds before annihilation, are never considered.
They are the enemy. We are us.
don't doubt that we'll win, just as I don't believe Father
will be killed by a horse rolling on him, or a machine. Vera
Lynn sings 'There'll be bluebirds over/The white cliffs of
Dover/Tomorrow, just you wait and see,' and I ask Mother
why these cliffs are a symbol of England. She explains that
the cliffs are a returning Englishman's first sight of his
native land. This I understand. I know the poem 'If I should
die/Think only this of me/There is some corner of a foreign
field/That is forever England.' Father tells me that one
of his uncles died on a troop ship returning from the Boer
war; this strikes me as peculiarly sad. Death in a foreign
land is the likely lot of soldiers, but death on the water
is an unresolved passage into extinction. I ask what happened
to my great Uncle Alfred; did they throw him overboard, weighted,
or bury him in Perth? It seems to matter. Only one of my
family, my cousin Jack, is in the present war, flying fighters
'some-where in the Pacific', as the papers say. The whereabouts
of troops is never stated precisely because, says the propaganda
machine, the enemy listens! I wonder if I'm supposed to know
about the trains that go through Finley, but decide there
aren't any spies I could tell even if I wanted to, thus there's
no danger in riding up to the station after school and staring
in awe at the guns and armoured cars as they roll through.
A photo of cousin Jack, smiling in a blue R.A.A.F. cap, sits
on the piano at my Uncle Aston's house, not far from his
father in his slouch hat with its emu plumes and its side
turned up. If Father is proud of Aston for having fought,
it is more because of his Australianness than for the details
of his service, about which Father knows little. He likes
to repeat Aston's story about his troop encountering a British
column in a narrow lane in France. There is no room to pass
and the mud is deep on either side. The two forces come to
a halt. A British officer makes his way to the front of his
men and urges the Australian lieutenant to give way. The
Australian refuses. The British officer grows exasperated.
'It seems,' says Father, enjoying his exposition of something
British to which he doesn't adhere, 'that in the British
army there's a tradition that the King's household regiments,
the Coldstream Guards, the Grenadier Guards, and so on, take
precedence over other regiments.' Resuming his brother's
story, Father says, 'The Aussie wouldn't budge and the British
officer got very annoyed. My man, he said, don't you know
who we are? We're the guards! And the Aussie,' Father said,
'replied, I don't care if you're the bloody engine drivers,
we're not getting out of the way!' I loved this story, which
I heard often. It was right that the British should be outfaced
by colonials. That my uncle should be one of them was a matter
of pride. Poms! I shared Father's scorn.
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then designs the mighty warships, the powerful fighters which,
unlike our Wirraways, can stand up to the Zeros, and the
landing barges which disgorge
for death or glory on Pacific atolls? Is there some other breed of Americans
manipulating these gullible, loudmouthed men who break the peace of my town?
I think of America as a vast machine, producing Liberty Ships at the rate of
one a day by some adaptation of the production line philosophy of the originator
of our Ford, with its stylishly written F on the radiator, and above it the
thin metal strips slicing the breeze which, seen side on,
say V8. English cars are
no good in Australia, Father tells me; they're weak in the springs, underpowered
and unreliable. They haven't the guts of a big V8.
there is something about the Americans we can accept, if
our car is any criterion; they, too, are big
unhampered people, not tied down by the traditions which tie
down, and strengthen, people in Europe. Is there some connection between the
titles which the British aristocracy hold dear, and the Rumanian officers'
corsets? I have the feeling that the forms and traditions
of Europe have weakened; the
French have some validity left, but it's mostly to be found in the followers
of de Gaulle and the resistance fighters who risk their lives to get our airmen
across the Channel. Where then are Australians? Who are we?
are the rising sun soldiers (no one makes a connec-tion between
the badge on our slouch hats
and the red and white rays of Japanese imperialism) whose
deeds 'some-where in the Pacific', 'somewhere in North Africa', make our name
in places of ancient civilization and in cannibal domains far worse than blackfeller
country. We are playing in the big league, impressing ourselves and, we hope,
the powers who protect us. We admire the American who says 'I will return',
we hope to be there on the day. We're not fussy about how
the Axis is brought down.
Mussolini is strung up by his feet. Hitler suicides in his bunker, Eva Braun
beside him. Goebbels puts himself and his children to death, a nest of poisonous
spiders. The Japanese High Command are expected to take out their ritual swords
... It's satisfying to think of these creatures covered by a blanket and thrown
on the scrap heap of history, whose judgement can't be doubted. Postwar reconstruction
can then begin, and a period of peace, with less injustice than in the past,
can roll back the war, light replacing dark. Cartoonists are altering their
symbols. Mercator's map lies ready for rainbows. The Americans
drop the bomb.
too much. The means used to bring peace have altered the
meaning of peace forever. 'Those who sow the wind reap the
our efforts against Germany and Japan, but now it seems that this is true for
victor and victim alike. If we've won, it's at a price humanity can't pay.
Father tells me the Harbour Bridge isn't paid for, as well
as being endlessly in a state
of repainting. I understand that this has to do with interest, and repayment,
and that these will go on forever. 'Can't we just say to Britain,' I say to
Father, 'here's some money, that's all you're going to get,
so just clear off!' He smiles.
'It isn't like that,' he says. 'If you default on a loan, they'll get it out
of you some way, and then you won't get another loan when you want it.' I can't
see why we want to owe British people money so they can live in big country
houses but no one sees any way out of the financial system;
I perceive that the Depression,
which Father and Mother hope never returns, has to do with all this, but what
about the bomb? I know most of the terms of finance, like foreclose, mortgage,
security, and so on; Father, who has never voted Labor in his life, says Jack
Lang did farmers a service when he stopped banks taking people's properties
and putting in managers who were then paid a higher wage
than farm families needed
to live on. 'What they were doing was sheer bad business,' says Father, and
I wonder why bankers, who are supposed to be clever as well
as greedy, did what
they did. Jack Lang could also be frustrated, I see, because when he gave himself
the honour of opening the nation's grandest bridge, someone rushed in front
of him with a sword. I ask Father what Jack Lang did about
that, and he says, 'They
tied the ribbon together and he cut it with scissors,' It seems a poor second
best. Grandma did better at Barham. Jack Lang's big moment turned out to be
less than he'd expected.
has mine. I stare down Mr Erskine's avenue, the air sickened.
The radio gives details of the raid. Hiroshima's been burnt alive. A surrender
is awaited. It's
described as if it's the Japs' problem only; at twelve I know better.
writing of this book:
had been working for over a decade in the northern suburbs
As with Bairnsdale, my previous teaching appointment,
I was at first appalled by my situation, then became sympathetic.
Preston was inhabited by Italians, Greeks, Maltese, others
from the early waves of migration, and of course quite a few
old-style Aussies who hadn’t moved into Carlton, Collingwood
or Fitzroy, or out to the new suburbs to the north. The sons
and daughters of the newer settlers had aspirations to tertiary
study – upward mobility – which it was the job
of me and my colleagues to assist. We did, willingly. It was
a time and an activity of which I feel rather proud. Quite
a bit of good was done. A side effect on me, however, was to
make me realise that the world had changed and my assumptions
about it were getting out of date. I had been brought up at
a time when people who worked the land felt that they were
central to Australia’s traditions, and its economy. Not
any more. I had always thought that my family’s experience
of the world was central to Australian life. Not any more.
The country was changing, I was close to the centre of that
change, and the ways of the Eagle family and the many thousands
who’d been like us, were fading into history. I decided
I’d better get them written down.
was another influence, closer to home. I had a daughter and
a son and when they got
into bed at night their father
liked to sit with them, or lie on their
bed for a while, getting close to them, hearing about what they were thinking,
and so on. They often asked me to talk about my own childhood. ‘Tell
us about the farm!’ All those things that had been so natural, so everyday,
for me, were exciting, faraway, for them. So I told them about the farm, over
many, many nights. Our chooks, our dogs, our cows. Most of what I told them
is in Mapping the paddocks. It was an easy book to write. As I like
to say, and
believe, it wrote itself. To give it shape, I kept in mind the photo of Don
Bradman that had rested on our mantel, up in New South Wales. The Don! I am
a lover of the way the media create sporting gods for the public’s adoration,
but I cannot get around the prodigious figure of the Don, who soared through
the skies of Australian life for the years in which he played the nation’s
game: national because it was the way we represented ourselves vis-à-vis
the British, the Poms, the bastards, the people who ruled their empire from
the remote and wealthy London.
was far away but was proving, via its cricketers, that it
marvellous. This Australia, the one that I had grown up in, and my mother,
and my father
too, was vanishing, and my children wanted to hear about it, to put it down
as a sub-stratum for their minds as they built their understandings of the
they were entering.
had it in mind, as the book began to get itself onto paper,
that it would have two parts, a light and a dark;
the first would be about our farm in
Wales, the second about Melbourne Grammar, the school my parents sent me
to at about the age of twelve. One book was my plan, but as I keep having
have minds of their own, and the two ideas divided. I’ll say more
about this when I get on to Play together, dark
blue twenty, the book that
have already referred to the way in which the job I was doing
at the time I was conceiving this book added an awareness
of something special
things I was recalling. We develop a sense of the world when we’re
young: now, growing old, I realise how partial, how shaky, that apparently
of the world really is. We believe, when we’re young, because we
have to believe, and if nothing shakes those beliefs then we have a fair
chance of feeling
secure, and, further, if we feel secure there’s a fair chance we
will be secure. This is odd. Looking at our origins is something we need
to do in order
to get some understanding of ourselves. I was lucky. My origins were
almost totally positive, despite the great depression affecting our land.
broke my parents’ pride.
They lived simply and didn’t compromise themselves. My father,
like most Australians, believed in nothing very much, except Bradman.
on nothing but the fierce pride she had in virtue. Someone unobservant
might have taken Mother for a Christian but she wasn’t. Her virtues
were Christian ones but she showed no interest in redemption or a life
hereafter. You must help
those who need it and you must learn to help yourself. Both Father and
Mother, by being stern with themselves, made themselves capable of being
good to others,
as they usually were. I grew up with the best possible influences, I
think I was myself a good father when the time came, and for the most
about people who aim to fix the world’s ills by any means apart
from increasing the love and care of parents for their children.
book won an award from Melbourne’s Age newspaper
but more important for me was a phone call from a teacher,
a Sydney man, posted to Finley, the town where I’d grown up. He said he arrived there on a one
year appointment to find the flat plains and high skies depressing, but
reading my book had made
him aware that it was possible to feel at home on the plains. He invited
me to talk to his students, who were ‘studying’ the book.
I drove up, one rainy day, to be greeted by two very courteous young
people from his sixth form.
I spoke to their group but I had a feeling that the things I’d
found so special in my act of recall seemed uneventful to them. Not worth
really. I had lunch with them and I left, and I thought, on driving away,
that my visit had been special only for the Sydney teacher. A few months
town of Finley had a ‘back-to’ celebration. I got an invitation.
It told me that the crowning feature of the back-to weekend would be
an address by the coach of the Hawthorn football club, Allan Jeans. I
remembered Allan from
my first year at Finley State School, a little boy in the seat behind
me. I had liked him then and was prepared to like him now, but I was
wrily amused at the
priorities of the back-to organisers in turning to the football coach,
not the writer, for some thoughts about the place where we’d
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