I have just finished reading a book about me. About my life, my family and my times.
Tim Winton set “Cloudstreet” in places I knew as a child during the times I knew as a child. This made it a very disturbing read. I rediscovered a lot of myself which the years had dimmed.
The people. The old blokes who drank and smoked and gambled and somehow lost everything except themselves. The blokes who had gone away to war and came back changed. The blokes whom had gone through the Great Depression as unemployed scroungers. Their women who coped with all that life threw at them. The kids like me who grew up and out of this mishmash.
The places. I lived in the Wheatbelt where my father was the Repertory Club person who spent his working days trying to learn about contour plowing and killing excess kangaroos while dreaming of being a radio announcer. Who always seemed to have ladies who were friends and in retrospect perhaps that is why we moved so often.The slow-flowing Swan River with its jetties and jelly-fish and the all-pervading pong from its mudflats. The suburbs close to Perth; Subiaco, Shenton Park and the posher Nedlands with its University, Mosman Park and Cottesloe. OK, I lived on the other side of the River, Belmont and Bentley in those days before the Narrows Bridge when it was necessary to travel through Victoria Park and across the Causeway to the City. As a new driver, I drove through bushland which over a couple of decades became the “Northern Suburbs” with all their sterility and pretension right before my eyes.
The times. Growing through schools, many, with friends who lasted until the next move. Dreaming, like Rose, of something better. The heiress girlfriend from the posh suburb and the embarrassment of meeting her friends. The fears of being a man, like Quick. Unable to cope fully with the expectations of society and relying on a mother, a wife, to cover the cracks in my being. The very real monster who, among so many killings, killed the babysitter who had been in my class at high school and who was the last man hanged in Western Australia. The discovery of sex and the realisation that my parents knew nothing about it. The pressure of examinations, the constant lack of money, the part time jobs selling newspapers. The expectation that you would get a job and stay in that organisation for the rest of your working life.
The sense of belonging. No matter how rich or poor, how educated or uneducated, if your family was from “The West” then you belonged. We were isolated, we were overlooked. Everything that happened, happened elsewhere. We were a state, separate from the rest of Australia; Perth, a country town which hoped to become a city. We had differences amongst ourselves but we were united against all outsiders. Until the “Monster” we did not lock our doors. We did not lock our cars. We trusted each other. And another of the monster’s sons grew up to important positions and great respect in the community. Somehow, most of us grew up and away from those post-war roots. Never realising where we had come from and what we lost in all that we gained.
The book. I heard about “Cloudstreet” when it was first released. I chose not to read it because what interest could there be in the streets I knew, in the people I knew? I finally decided to read it. It was a task done slowly as I relived so much of my own life. At the end I had to agree with Sister Veronica Brady, noted Nun of our parish, who reviewed the novel for our local newspaper. She said, “It is, I suspect, a masterpiece.”
I can but agree. A masterpiece and a work of genius and a bloody good read.