Tim Winton is one of those annoying kids. He wanted to be a writer when he grew up and by the time he was nineteen he was publishing. Pisses you off, doesn’t it. It’s the story of the exception to the rule. Here’s a white, working-class kid, from Perth of all places, that won all kinds of prizes and made it not just in Australia, but world-wide. Good on yer cobber I say.
My mock-Australian is like my writing, to be avoided, but I just keep doing it anyway. Anyone that has read Cloudstreet will recognise his dad. Here he is a traffic cop with a backstory in which he’s nearly killed, not expected to live, expected to be invalidated out of the service. Life with a single wage then no wage suddenly becomes something that even a kid recognises as life changing. Quick in Clouldsteet finds his feet in the love of the water and in ‘Havoc: A Life in Accidents’ life changes in a heartbeat.
In fiction I’ve been a chronicler of sudden moments like these. Because the abrupt and headlong are old familiars. For all the comforts and privileges that have come my way over the years, my life feels like topography of accidents. Sometimes, for better or worse, they are the landmarks by which I take my bearings. I suppose they form a large part of my sentimental education. They’re havoc’s vanguard. They fascinate me. I respect them. But I dread them too.
Others like his father often carry what you cannot, but it can lead to a kind of strangeness evident in Cloudstreet with the mother of one household that shared the house sleeping outside in a tent, literally, her own space, much the same as Winton’s granny. And if you read a homage to ‘Betsy’ and find out that it’s a car built to last and last and last and embarrass a boy forever and a day then you’ll know that these smart adverts we watch about Renault is nothing new.
In ‘The Battle for Nigaloo Reef’ we see a Blue Planet and David Attenborough kind of world. A world Tim Winton grew up in and he’s held his granddaughter’s hand as she finds her feet in the waves. A shrinking world. The miracle here is like Winton’s father walking again is that the battle was won, Nigaloo Reef was saved – momentarily- but the world is shrinking and things change.
I’d read ‘In the Shadow of the Hospital’ before. This is another epicentre in which suffering seeps out and there are no civilians. People suffering and in pain have no boundaries. A car, for example, crashing into accident and emergency was no accident.
The opening story/essay ‘The Boy at the Window’ is a cautionary tale.
When I was a kid I like to stand at the window with a rifle and aim it at people. I hid behind the terylene curtain in my parents’ bedroom with the .22 and whenever anyone approached I drew a bead on them.
There might have come a time when he pulled the trigger. He didn’t. But that’s happenstance or circumstance or just plum good luck. Winton recognises the power of guns and having one changes who we are. All those gun nuts really are nuts. Taking away a gun is like taking away a woman’s breast or emasculation. It lessens the person they think they are. Think how having a mobile phone, even in the same room, as others, changes the focus and narrative, how much more powerful is having a gun. When we’re young we’re impetuous. Having access to a gun makes us dangerous. That’s what he’s saying, dangerous and callous.
In ‘The Demon Shark,’ for example, Winton remembers a time when the good old boys would bait shark with whale oil and meat and shoot at them because they were sharks, there to be shot at and butchered for the common good. But not the good of the shark or the health of the sea.
‘Using the C-word’ is something I’m quite partial to. Winton recognises that he’s come a long way from the working-class kid he was. He’s comfortable, by many measures, rich. But he isn’t blind and he isn’t deaf and he isn’t dumb. We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns. And those that are getting screwed big time are the poorest in society. We, the working class, have lost the propaganda war and the winners are hanging us from hooks and skinning us to the bone and blaming us for being poor and stupid. Hatred. Things there were once taboo is mainstream. We don’t need to look to the moron’s moron in the White House. Look closer to home Winton is saying. Middle class Australians are quite happy to screw the working class and in the blame game the c-word is often used as a handbrake and shorthand meaning not one of us. Fuck you I say to that. It’s not the politics of envy it’s the reality of being screwed again and again and calling it Austerity – for who? – cunts.
‘Barefoot in the Temple of Art’ is a reminder that black is never white and white is never black. There’s no profit without people. And there’s no life, but just existence, without art. Read on.