27 November, 2014, Fox Hotel, South Melbourne, Australia
[at 6.02] John Harms
[not all scripted - here is the opening]
I watched the 2011 Grand Final with Anson Cameron which makes us brothers.
That means I can say what I like: So let me say this:
Anson Cameron is a bastard.
The Last Pulse is a brilliant book, but in it Anson Cameron has offended- actually, that’s not right- he has had his narrator offend the following:
- Most Queensland women – whom he describes as dugongs
- Queenslanders generally
- Queensland – which he describes as some sort of plantation remnant of a frontier colony
- He offends Hell by likening it to Queensland
- Queensland culture
- Queensland developers and entrepreneurs
- Queensland’s notion of progress
- Country music – paranoid yodel against city folk and fast women
- Politicians of all jurisdictions and sensibilities – some of whom he absolutely nails
- Political parties
- The political process
- National myth-makers
- Farmers, fucked farmers, and pre-fucked farmers
- Indigenous sensibilities
- The Church
- Mysticism generally
- Those who give children names which included unnecessary use of the letter ‘x’ – like Jaxon, and Sophoenix
- And the media – the description of the scrum at the court house is brief but spot on
- Police officers -
And that’s just from memory
But, by crikey he does it well. Because this is a study of the human stupidity and greed which drives the economic system. And he does it in a way that will make you laugh right the way through what is a classic tale. And in a way which shines a light on the reality that when most people have power they will use it for their own advance. And that we therefore wind up with a crazy, mixed up, unjust world which could and should be a whole lot better.
“The world belongs to the most gifted thieves,” Anson’s narrator says.
And the worst of them, in this yarn, are Queenslanders. It is Queensland and Queenslanders who have ruined the rivers of the south – by damning the northern tributaries for their own purposes.
This allows Anson to pour as much scorn on Queenslanders as he can possibly muster.
My mother, a Queenslander, from Tent Hill from the upper Lockyer Valley where the men (my forebears) make Cliffy Young look like David Marr, was unable to make it tonight.
But as for me, a boy born in Chinchilla, near which the Condamine River flows, who grew up in Oakey, on the Darling Downs - I am delighted to have been invited to launch this book even though I know that my sole purpose is to make the bastard feel less guilty.
Yes, I am a Queenslander. I lived there for more than 30 years. I like XXXX beer, and Bundy rum. In fact I know some of the old Bundy songs:
From the hills of far-off Townsville
To the shores of Maroochydore
We have come from every corner
To sit and drink some more
Admiration of all drinking folk
We’re the finest ever heard
And we glory in the title
Of the famous Bundaberg.
Our challenge rings out on the breeze
To each and everyone
We have sat in every pub we’ve found
Where they serve bundy rum
When those southern pricks come to steal our booze
And stand on Queensland green
They’ll fine the border guarded by four chaps, pissed and mean.
I eat prawn sandwiches and Weis’s fruit bars.
I genuinely hope the Maroons win the state of origin series each year. I know that Wally Lewis is the finest human being to ever draw breath.
I love the Gabba, especially when it has a dog track, and the brekky Creek.
I love the beach and the Currumbin surf club.
And I subscribe to the idea that Australia is not a single nation at all, but six nations. Queensland and the idea of Queensland-ness is the most elusive. Full of paradoxes and contradictions. Full of exploitative self-serving develop-at-all cost proselytisers who peddle an unsophisticated belief in progress - as they define it up there.
But is it more than that?
In 2005 I went looking. Christian Ryan editor at The Monthly sent me on a three-week lap of Queensland where I asked everyone from archbishops to academics, to journalists and writers and teachers, to graziers and farmers, to newsagents to railway gangers, to drinkers, to military personnel, to lawyers and other ratbags the same question: “What is Queensland?”
I got some classic responses and from them I concluded that most Queenslanders haven’t thought about it too much. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We don’t stress too much. We don’t work too hard because it’s too bloody hot and what’s the point a big cyclone is going to come along one day and blow everything away, anyway. We’re suspicious of anything from anywhere south. So Townsvilleans are suspicious of Brissos who are suspicious of New South Welshmen and as for Canberra or Melbourne – forget it.
But the idea of Queensland-ness was best defined by a lawn-mowing contractor at Longreach.
“A Queenslander is a Queenslander.”
I also have form at the other end of the river. When I was at Uni in Qld my parents moved to South Australia.
The Murray is an important part of SA life, of how South Australians imagine themselves.
Through many visits to SA and especially the Barossa I have become good friends with Robert O’Callaghan who established Rockford Wines – Basket Press and all that. Robert’s forebears were soldier settlers in the Riverland – at Monash. Robert has the river in him. So earlier this year while writing a story for him we spent three days on the river at North Bend near the old wool port of Morgan – which is in the middle of the desert.
So I could relate very strongly to the characters in this yarn at both ends of the rivers.
The story starts with a terrible sadness in the South Australian river town of Bartel. Merv Rossiter’s wife Jana broken by the rural despair created by the drought and the dying of the river, commits suicide.
Merv has had enough. He can see that the damming of the major rivers in Queensland in the interests of the huge agribusinesses is killing the river in the south. The Darling and the Murray are crook, and the life of those on it is disappearing. Jana is one of many to have taken their own lives.
Merv is going to act.
He steals a 9m aluminium party punt called The Party Animal, puts it on a truck, and with his 8 year old daughter Emma, drives to the town of Dillandbundy and then Karoo Station which boasts the biggest dam in southern Queensland.
Bridget Wray, very much a product of new Queensland, is a minister in the Queensland govt. She’s visiting to announce further water grants to her constituents.
She is the personification of self-interest. P50-51
When the dam is blown up the water is released and the great flood starts to consume everything in its path.
Bridget winds up on the punt. And so the journey begins. They are taken south by the huge flood.
And so we meet some wonderful characters along the way.
They are wonderful characters.
Merv is a classic. A modern day Ned Kelly. Interestingly he made me think of Bob Katter but only in the sense that he was not going to stand back and let the swell of global capitalism create torment in his life. He was not a passive acceptor of a lot over which he had zero control. Nor was he going to sell out, take the cash of a secure job in the machine.
He wanted to do things on his terms.
Was Merv an activist or water terrorist?
Merv: hero or villain?
Merv: father, doing something wonderful for his daughter or an unhinged firebrand?
This book comments on life:
On self-interest and community? How can one people grow wealthy at the expense of others? How can they show such an absence of compassion?
On the arbitrariness of state borders on the Australian continent?
On the very notion of Australia. The conclusion regarding the notion of the Australian nation has my sympathy.
Don’t be distracted by the fact this book is so enjoyable to read. It is, at the same time, a work of considerable literary merit. It’s Noah meets the Odyssey meets Ned Kelly meets Jesus Christ meets Bob Katter meets A.D. Hope.
It’s written in a style that I love: at once, horribly sad, hilariously funny, and head-noddingly insightful.
It is my pleasure, as a card-carrying Queenslander, to launch The Last Pulse written by our man, Anson Cameron - the bastard
[at 18.36] Anson Cameron
[this is not a trascript - based on Anson's notes]
Thank you, John. I can’t say this about many men, but John and I have been whipped by the same sadists. John and I used to go to the same primary school, Gowrie Street in Shepparton and we were both frequently whipped and beaten by a couple of German teachers named Engstromm and Spinks. I remember going home and watching Hogan’s Heroes where Schultz and Klink ran a POW camp and they were such smiling jovial dolts. Next day I’d go back to school and try out a few of Colonel Hogan’s witticisms on mister Engstromm and Mister Spinks and have the skin flayed off me again. It was a confusing time, wasn’t it, John. Our Germans were so much nastier than the Nazis.
Subsequently, and not long ago, John ran a pinko think-tank in Canberra called The Manning Clarke Institute at Manning Clarke’s old home. He flew me up there to talk at a function one night.
Imagine my horror as, slowly but surely the marquee filled with octogenarian socialists, many of whom were wearing Karl Marx badges and IT’S TIME buttons. And most of whom had known Manning Clarke personally. There was a hum in the air before I began to speak… it wasn’t the hum of expectation, it was the hum of public-health hearing aids.
So I knew I was buggered from the getgo, but about half way through my talk one of Manning Clarke’s sons, who was rotten as a chop on the sort of head-frying Cab Sauv commos are prone to scoff, got up to take a leak in the garden, and he staggered out of the marquee and immediately became entangled in rose bushes.
In his alcoholic delirium he seemed to think he was being attacked by Packers and Murdochs and his language became foul in the extreme. Either that or he’d twigged that I’d been smuggled into Manning Clarke House under false pretenses… because the things he was shouting about Geelong Grammar boys rather put me off my game, and my talk was a complete fizzer. That night I swore I’d get my revenge on John Harms, hence his presence here tonight.
So thank you John for your kind words. You made a lot better fist of this talk than I did of the talk to the prehistoric comrades in Canberra.
A few months ago I said to Tracey, the publican here, “Tracey, I was wondering what you’d think of the idea of me having a book launch in this establishment?’
She said, “What… invite a whole heap of bookish types along here to praise literature and talk books?’
I said, “Yeah, that sort of thing.”
She said, “Anson, I don’t like the idea at all. In my experience as a publican the literate and the educated are a waste of space. They drink slowly, and thoughtfully, they’re argumentative, and they steal the beer coasters to write haiku on. Of all the literary people who’ve drunk at my pubs the only one who’s spent more than half his take-home pay on grog is Jason Steger.”
She said, “Anson I’ve made my fortune serving grog to ill-educated dimwits, common or garden-variety pisspots. They’re my clientele and I have a soft spot for them.”
I said, “So you’d prefer if I filled the joint exclusively with subhuman rednecks?”
She said, “Can you do it?”
I said, “Twice over. I’ll have em spilling out into the street.”
She said, “Well you can launch your book here then, but let me warn you, if any cultural discussion breaks out, any high-minded discourse among the clientele, I’m closing early.”
I said, “Have no fear of that with the gang I’ve got in mind. I’ll have people here who’ll take longer to read the restroom signs than you or I would to read War and Peace.”
So Tracey and I came to a kind of agreement about a kind of launch. And if any of you have been looking around and wondering at the strangely primitive nature of the crowd here tonight, I want each and every one of you to know you are the sole exception to her rule that an alcoholic dullard is the ideal guest at a book launch.
This is a wonderful moment in the life of a book… because the only people who have read it are on the team. My beautiful Sarah, who took a vow to love me and love whatever books I write unconditionally and forever, read it first, and then kissed me and told me what a lovely book it was.
My gorgeous agent Fiona Inglis, who has flown down from Sydney to be with us tonight, and who, admittedly, gets a commission, read it and liked it, and she sent it to... My stunning publisher Nikki Christer, who is also here down from Sydney. Nikki’s a publisher who’s prepared to do what ever it takes for her authors. So, thank you, Nikki.
And Harmsy has also read the book. But Harmsy, as well as feeling indebted to me for ambushing me with senile Marxists, has a rare happy capacity for liking more things than he dislikes, which, to be quite frank, is why I asked him to launch the book.
So I think I can stand before you here tonight and say this book, The Last Pulse, is uniformly, universally admired. A flawless work of literature. Among the four or five people with vested interests who’ve read it… It has no detractors. Like a new and perfect baby that has come into a family.
Sadly tonight is the high-water mark of the love for this new baby. From tonight visitors will be allowed into the hospital to meet it. Later this evening, or early tomorrow, people like yourselves will begin to read it. People who aren’t related. People with axes to grind and grudges to bear…. Nitpickers and self-abusers and god-botherers and humorless crass types beset by insomnia and prolapsed disks and toothache, cotton-farmers with erectile dysfunction, if that’s not a tautology. Malcontents who imagine they will one day write a novel of their own will read it. Schadenfreudists will paw over its every page guffawing at its shortcomings. People haunted by crimes and immoral deeds in their own pasts, mentally deficient people, beset by psychological ailments wanting vengeance on the world. These are my readership.
All these people will, from tomorrow, be allowed in to see the new baby.
“Good God,” they will say, “Did you see the ears on the littlebeast? Was it’s father an elephant?”
“Oh, Jesus, I was praying it wouldn’t have its father’s nose. But what a hooter.”
“It’s limbs are bent.”
‘”It’s impossibly fat. It reads like it was sired by Clive Palmer.”
‘The child gives off an odor like a Snowtown bank vault.’
‘It’s the ugliest baby I ever saw. I could barely look at it.”
The sort of crass defamations people usually make about other people’s babies behind their backs will be made of this one.
So I find myself here tonight in the rare comforting moment knowing my baby is universally loved, but tensed for an avalanche of crass defamations from the world at large.
With this in mind the publishers, Random House, and I have plagiarized a contract to be signed by any prospective purchaser of the book. It is the exact same contract that Brad and Angelina sign when they hustle off to darkest Africa to adopt another brown angel from an international shithole. It is a pledge to care for the adoptive baby in a humane manner and give it all the love possible to let it grow up to become a classic of Australian Literature, and not let the thing become a washed up literary crack-whore propping up a wonky table.
So, as you buy your nine or ten copies of The Last Pulse tonight don’t forget to sign the Brangelina Adoption Pledge.
Having said all that, I’d just like to thank you all for coming. I’m buggered if I know why I have to write a book to get you people to come out for a drink on a Thursday night, but I’m deeply appreciative that you have. Thank you.