17 October 2009, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
Topic: 'That Melbourne is a city of bogans not books'. Tony and Jane Clifton argued for books. Tony Martin and Catherine Deveney for bogans.
This really is a no-brainer. Melbourne is a town of bookaphiles, of bibliogeeks, of readers and readings, of writers and of writer’s festivals …
I mean a show of hands, how many out there, like me, read this topic and thought to themselves, oh this is a debate between a team that’s going to argue for books, and a team that’s going to argue that we’re a city of devotees to the American poet Louise Bogan, who wowed us all with her modernist poetry between 1920 and 1970, as a sort of sparse, strictly metered female equivalent to TS Eliot?
I thought it was going to be a pretty easy win for us. Even Louise Bogan herself would say that there is room in the city for books other than her own best books, Dark Summer or Sleeping Fury … unless there's another Bogan favourite you'd like to throw in there ... anyone, anyone?
It’s only been over the course of the debate, that I’ve understood how bogan was going to be defined - moccasins, ciggies under the collar, holidays at Rosebud caravan park, ex ACDC groupies who may have slept with Bon Scott.
I still think we’ll win the debate … I mean another show of hands … you’re here at the State Library. How many of you have read more than five books this year … and how many of you have slept with Bon Scott …?
Jane, we really do have to have a look at ourselves if we can’t win this.
The great risk of our position is that Jane and I will leave this theatre looking like great sneering snobs. There is implicit in the wording of the proposition that it’s an either or thing … it’s either books or bogans … which seems to be implying that someone doesn’t reckon bogans read that much.
I disagree …
If bogans don’t read … who bought Allan M Nixon’s seminal Beaut Utes 4? Who bought Beaut Utes 3?
If bogans don’t read … who bought Eddie McGuire’s moving tribute to that great Magpie… Pants the Darren Millane Story …
If bogans don’t read … who bought Pig, Dog, and Knife by Mark Holgenest, which is the definitive pig slaughtering text written in Australia for feral pig hunters who prefer not to hunt with rifles …
See already I’m sounding snobby … as though the books I read are better than the books other people of lesser intelligence read … gee I might have just done it again …
Look, we on the book side are not trying to pump ourselves up. I mean, as Louise Bogan herself said;
“The intellectual is a middle-class product; if he is not born into the class he must soon insert himself into it, in order to exist. He is the fine nervous flower of the bourgeoisie.”
I’m trying to be a nervous flower … I don’t want to put down bogans, because I suspect that had I enjoyed just eighteen more months in the AFL system I might have been swaggering through Federation Square on Mad Monday, Fevola like, a pink dildo hanging out of my fly …
And yet even Fev, who fits the mould of the typical Melbourne bogan, doesn’t cut down our argument …
Because as I’m sure all you bibliophiles are aware, Brendan Fevola has recently become an author. And it’s with great delight and no gritted teeth at all that I can announce that the Fevola penned My Footy Book outsold my own 2009 children’s release The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas by a factor of ten to one. Fuck you Fev.
Our opponents have missed the mark tonight ..
Cath Deveney … rebuttal
Tony Martin … rebuttal
By contrast … what Jane Clifton said was eloquent and true, and we understood what she was saying because we understand A Tale of Two Cities: If we haven’t read it, we are all very adept at pretending we have, and absolutely all of us know the ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ opening sentence. For bogans in the audience, the few who put their hands up before when I asked whether you’d slept with Bon Scott, that opening sentence roughly translates into one of your ‘yeah … nahs …’
But as my Fevola experience demonstrates, bogans do read and bogans do write, and they're as up to their ears in this whole city of literature fiasco as we are. And indeed, traditional literature needs to keep up, needs to 'boganify' if you will. And it's with this in mind that I have launched my most recent publishing venture, Bogan Publications, which seeks to bogan translate major literary works into bogan.
Our first title is John Banville’s The Sea – we've repackage that as 'The Fucking C Mate'
Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap – a quick tweak of the cover and you can see it's now called ‘The Slab’, and is the harrowing story of a bloke who brings local beer to a barbecue and then spends the whole night hitting an imported slab that isn't his own.
Zadie Smith’s award winning first novel - we're releasing that with the Coolongatta friendly title of ‘White Pants’.
This one from Lionel Shriver will be re-badged by Bogan Publications into the slightly cricketish ‘We need to talk about Kevin Pieterson’
And finally, … what bogan wouldn’t have his interest piqued by a copy of Jan Martel’s The Life of Pie-Warmers
It's about embracing books in the broadest possible sense, about accepting that the whole country is in on this great literary adventure … so walk the walk ... pronounce the word 'fugue' as 'fugue mate' … and sell the idea of yourselves as books ambassadors.
We’ve done so much but we can do still more …
My final words come from Louise Bogan. I know you all know them, so if you like, mouth them along with me …
Now that I know
How passion warms little
Of flesh in the mould,
And treasure is brittle,--
I'll lie here and learn
How, over their ground
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.
What a bogan.