Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sentimental blokes

Yer-weddid-wife?" ... O, strike me! Will I wot?
Take 'er? Doreeen? 'E stans there arstin me!
As if 'e thort per'aps I'd rather not!
"I will," I sez. An' tho' a joyful shout
Come from me bustin' 'eart - I know it did -
Me voice got sorter mangled comin' out,
An makes me whisper like a frightened kid.
"I will," I squeaks...
Lying in bed this morning in the relaxed, cosy, dreamy state of an unhurried Saturday morning, I was thinking about male writers and romantic themes and I realised that, for all the rough, tough, laconic image of Australian males, there are some wonderful romantic stories written by them that have happy endings.

The quote above is from CJ Dennis' The Sentimental Bloke, a story in verse first published in 1915. The narrator of the book is a larrikin, a rough young man from the back streets of Melbourne, hovering, at times, on the edge of the law (his best mate, Ginger Mick has frequent 'stoushes' with the cops.) And then he meets Doreen... They're wonderful poems, written by a man about a bloke who falls head over heels, and have been popular for ninety years. I have fond memories of my Dad, when we were young, reciting the poem above, 'Hitched'. He can probably still recite it, word for word ;-)

D'Arcy Niland's Call Me When the Cross Turns Over (1957) is another book with a strong romantic theme and a positive ending. Barbie Cazabon 'was brought up in a man's world. She was dug out of this country and she'd be dug into it.' Jack 'Fascinatin' Kippilaw is a fighter, and the Human Buckjumper. The 'Cross' of the title is the Southern Cross, the constellation of stars, vivid in the night sky of the Outback in which Barbie travels. It's a great book, written by a man who spent years himself working and travelling in the Outback and the rural regions of Australia.

Then there's Jill and Guy Hamilton in Christopher Koch's The Year of Living Dangerously. And Neville Shute's A Town Like Alice, where prisoner-of-war Joe almost gets killed for stealing a chicken for the wandering group of women prisoners in Malaysia, and later goes halfway across the world to find Jean Paget when he discovers, years later, that his 'Mrs Boong' was never married, as he'd believed.

To be honest I haven't read a lot of more contemporary male Australian authors (Patrick White, Thomas Keneally, Tim Winton etc haven't really appealed to me), but certainly in the 50s and 60s Australian mainstream fiction, romantic themes, and male writers seemed to get along just fine.

(And I did mention that I managed to write this post without rereading the entirety of Call Me When the Cross Turns Over - but only just ;-) Did I mention it's a great book?)


THIS! Christine said...

Bron, you make me homesick. When I get really maudlin I reach for Dorothea McKellar's 'My Country'.

I'll have to check out "Call Me When The Cross Turns Over', though because I'm not familiar with that one. Thanks for the tip.


Bron said...

X, it's out of print but you might find it in a library or second hand somewhere. If I find a copy, I'll get it for you. Some of it's set on the opal fields of South Australia, although in the 1950s, which might interest you!

Oh, and I misspelled - it's D'Arcy Niland, not Darcy.

Thinking about it this morning made me realize that I want to read Ruth Park's autobiographies again. She married Niland in the 1940s - and wrote the Muddle-Headed Wombat books as well as The Harp in the South, Poor Man's Orange, and Playing Beatie Bow, amongst other books. The two books she wrote about her life (and her marriage) are wonderful - A Fence Around the Cuckoo, and Fishing in the Styx. I don't read a lot of autobiography, but these two are beautiful.

Claire said...

I tried to read Voss once, but it was so easy to stop and I've never bothered picking it up again.

Bron said...

Claire, I've never tried Voss. I got halfway through Tim Winton's Cloudstreet but it's been sitting unfinished now for over a year. I might try his Dirt Music though at some stage.

Another one I do reread (although definitely not a romance) is Randolph Stow's The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea. But once again, it was written in the 1960s or thereabouts.