You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘New South Wales’ tag.

When and why did a man lose the faculty of change? Was it some point in the dying of the mind and body.  A hardening of the nervous system. He practiced keeping his mind agile. Daily he made himself think thought he had not thought before. He forced himself to consider the worst. He practiced considering the opposite. He tried always to imagine at least two other possible ways of doing something. He fed his mind with maxims and precepts – the how-to-do-it manual of the mind.

It is funny how things come full circle. I spent a lot of time in video stores when I was a kid, gazing at the cover art and reading the blurbs of 18s movies that I was forbidden from watching. My knowledge of the Nightmare on Elm Street series was based entirely on the summaries on the back of the video cassette boxes, until I turned twenty-four. One video I remember gazing at was The Coca-Cola Kid. An Australian film starring Eric Roberts, it grabbed the eye courtesy of its title and use of the Coke logo. I was a kid, any hint of sugar sent me into a frenzy. I never saw the film and in fact had long forgotten about it.

Now I discover that this novel, which actually is set along the New South Wales southerly coast, where I am currently staying, was the basis for The Coca-Cola Kid and its author, Frank Moorhouse, wrote the script. The connection to my current home and the memories it recalls to me of my childhood, strike me as a curiously remote form of synchronicity. It is also appropriate, given that this is a book about memory and the changes in one man’s life.

The story itself concerns itself with George McDowell, a local businessman who likes to hold himself to strong principles, in business and in life. He even changes his name in middle age, adding the prefix of ‘T’, to make himself seem more regal. After a trip to America with his father he becomes fascinated with Rotary, its focus on morality married with commerce inspiring him to pursue the founding of a chapter on the South Coast.

Fancying himself a man of science, an individualist and a forward-thinker, McDowell believes in living according to a set number of moral precepts. Having focused so much on his career, bound up with his notions of being a man of good standing within the community, he has sacrificed friendship and the love of his family. His relationship with his wife is coolly formal and his daughter has embraced a bohemian lifestyle, indulging in drugs and sex. McDowell cannot comprehend how his daughter Terri has become so estranged from him, blaming the influence of ‘city life’, which he holds accountable for other problems such as overpopulation and trade unionism.

Then a young man from the Coke Company named Becker arrives in town to investigate McDowell’s operation. He also encounters Terri and is quickly enwrapped in their strained familial relationship. Becker represents a form of future that does not fit within McDowell’s orderly vision of a world ruled by rational men of business like himself. His daughter’s rebellion is similarly a reaction to his pedantic moral philosophy. Having spent his life attempting to realize the future, McDowell finds himself an old man, left behind by modernity.

Moorhouse tells his story in a non-linear fashion, dipping in and out of McDowell’s life. We are privy to his thoughts and experiences throughout, with his inability to realize how little others think of him turning this into a curiously private tragedy. I also got a quiet thrill out of the mentions of Bulli and Wollongong. We visit several periods in McDowell’s career, from the inspirational 1920’s right up until after his death in the 1970’s, with Terri now accompanying a film crew looking to interview Australian men who lived during these periods.

This serves as a commentary by Moorhouse on the make-up of twentieth century Australians, with a particular focus on the influence of American culture and capitalism. It turns out this is one of a number of books by the writer, referred to as ‘discontinuous narratives’, with the various characters reappearing in each of the stories, collectively sharing an overarching thematic narrative.

It is a curious experiment and after I have concluded my little reading experiment, I can see myself tracking down the rest of this series.

There was something about the place that he seemed unable to resist. Houses didn’t have feelings like people and animals, he knew that. But Thambaroo seemed to like him, just as he liked Thambaroo.

One of the things I love most about living here on the south coast, is being able to walk out in the mornings and see the bush-covered mountains ahead of me and the pacific ocean behind. There is so much here that can take one’s breath way, but as it is all around, the view somehow becomes ordinary and everyday. I am sitting outside as I write this, watching the exotic (to me) varieties of birds, the tall trees and porcelain blue skies overheard. Jane Carroll drew from her childhood spent on a property in the Southern Riverina district of New South Wales to perfectly describe the sights and sounds of the Australian countryside, that over time become ordinary. Yet for someone like myself, still appear full of wonder.

Mitch Brooke’s family move homes a lot. His dad is always looking for more work as a shearer and when there is no more, he simply takes his wife and children on the road again. This latest move to the quiet town of Piney Ridge is different, however. The eldest of the Brookes children, Leila, refused to move and stayed behind to work in a solicitor’s office. Now Mitch is left to look after his younger brother Benny by himself. Their mother Vivienne tries to busy herself in the garden while their at school and cooks dinner for Dennis her husband, so that he can eat when he gets home late at night. At first things seem to be going well. Mitch tries not to make any friends, because he knows that work in Piney Ridge will eventually dry up like all the other times and having friends will make it harder to leave. He keeps to himself and concentrates on his drawing. He has a talent for capturing on paper what he sees in perfect detail, something that he does not allow himself to do where his family is concerned.

Dennis Brookes is an alcoholic. After a few short weeks in Piney Ridge he relapses, coming up drunk and abusive in the evenings. When he takes out his frustrations on his wife, or children, Mitch retreats into himself. He can’t hide from what is happening in his own home though, so he finds a place where he can. The old Turner family house, named Thambaroo. One day at school he overhears Sophie Turner tell a friend that her grandmother has had an accident and is recovering in hospital. As she lives alone in Thambaroo, her son Richard Turner has insisted on his mother staying with his family. The house stands empty and Mitch begins to visit it in secret, finding a peace in amongst the memories and relics of other people’s lives, that have built up in this one place over the course of many years. He even befriends Sophie, breaking his number one rule of no attachments. Worse, he knows if she ever finds out he has been staying in her family’s house, she’ll never forgive him. Despite his fears, he continues to return to Thambaroo, until one night his dad goes too far and Mitch’s secret life is threatened.

Carroll has a gift for bringing the flora and fauna of the Australian countryside to life, just as Mitch has for his art. At one point he tells Sophie that he finds her compelling in her ordinariness. In a sense this sums up the novel, how we become accustomed to our surroundings and begin to imagine them as being ordinary. We take our lives for granted and it is only when our peace is under threat, that we realize how important it is, how a home can shape and define us.

I mentioned to my mother-in-law that this was a somewhat grim story, but well told. There is real craft here, as a simple story is sometimes the hardest thing to do. It also manages to capture how isolated life as a teenager can feel.

So ultimately I finished this story with a strong sense of satisfaction. Yes it’s a bit grim, but it also ends on a hopeful note. Well told and true to life.

(Disclaimer – I couldn’t find an image of Vivienne Goodman’s cover for Thambaroo so I plumbed for Andrew Wyeth‘s Christina’s World as a place-holder until I take a photo. Yes I realize the irony in supplanting an image of the Australian countryside with a famous picture of the same, but from the States!)

Join me at The Momus Report

Vote For Me!

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share