Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Memories of Australian childhoods

At the end of May, the ALR blog carried an affectionate celebration of the work of Australian writer Randolph Stow who had just died in England at the age of 74. I didn't know his work very well, but it got me musing in a new direction, the way in which so many authors' memories of childhood (autobiographical and fictional) provide an emotional content to the changing pattern of Australian life. In Mr Stow's case it was The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (1965), described on the ALR blog as a beautiful, poetic evocation of a boy’s childhood in Geraldton (WA) during and after World War II.

Growing up, I wasn't much interested in this type of book. My reading tastes, while very eclectic, took me in other directions. However, in recent time I have found myself immersed in this form of writing because of my historical writing. It isn't just childhood memories, of course, but a wide range of writing that in some ways illumines that particular slice of the past that I am presently interested in. However, childhood memories are of special importance.

I think that the reason for this lies in the way that those memories capture the texture of domestic life in a place and at a point in time. Necessarily the work is informed by, influenced by, later experiences and views. The resulting picture is always partial; it is like an archaeological exploration of the writer's mind in which some things stand out, others are discarded as unimportant. Generally, it is the big things that survive. Not big in an absolute sense, but things that were of sufficient importance then to survive down through the years, with the passage of time often adding that extra glow.

Over the last few years, Neil Whitfield and I have often had literary exchanges. Neil knows far more on what we might call "Oz Lit" than I do, far more on literature generally. While I did English at school and got reasonably good marks, I had no interest in doing University level English. The thought of having to analyse and discuss yet another book set by someone else that otherwise I would not want to read offered few attractions.

The irony, of course, is that now that I am reading for my own purposes, purposes that have nothing to do with English writing as writing, I have become far more interested in the writing itself.     


Legal Eagle said...

My sister and I had Midnite, and we loved it. It was just a delightfully charming book. I never knew Stow wrote adult books. I'll have to read some.

Jim Belshaw said...

I haven't read Midnite, LE, but must do so. Stow is worth reading.

On a tangent, one of the lovely things that you will find as your kids grow is that they give you an excuse to do all sorts of things that you haven't done for a while. Apart from things like building on the beach, this includes things like their books. Some of my current favourite authors came through the girls.