Books

Wake in Fright all over again


Wake in Fright

Publisher: Text
Length: 204 pages
Author: Kenneth Cook
Price: $24.94 (AU)
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2009-06
Amazon

Grant felt himself exposed in no man’s land. There was no avenue of retreat and the enemy was invisible and unassailable. His supports had been dissipated, his arms were lost. He could not even burrow into the ground to hide.

It’s perhaps a rite of passage for any Australian reader to endure Wake in Fright, the 1961 condemnation by Kenneth Cook of the outback and its inhabitants. It’s harsh, unsettling, a new (at the time) insight into the coastal vs. inland cultural disparities inherent in the so-called Australian way of life.

In the novel, John Grant, a Sydney-sider unhappily teaching primary schoolers in an outback town 1200 miles inland and consisting of little more than a pub and a railway station, is excited to be heading back to the coast for a six-week holiday. His journey home involves a stop-over in Bundanyabba, a small town in the middle of nowhere, yet with pubs, hotels, people, enough to get by. Happy to check out the local scene for his one night in town, Grant hits the pubs – confident, content, ready for his break to begin. And then, on a gambling whim, Grant loses everything. He finds himself trapped in this outback wasteland the locals call the ‘Yabba.

Grant, we learn early on, deplores the outback lifestyle, and the people that, by choice, populate and thrive within it. Soon, though, reliance on those people becomes his only means of survival. But at what cost? Grant’s ‘Yabba stay becomes a trek into his own personal hell – educated and well-to-do, Grant soon finds himself shooting ‘roos, drinking endless slabs of beer, skinning his own wildlife catches for food, and contemplating what to do with the last remaining bullet in his rifle – the gun a gift of the locals.

It’s a wonderful set up – stranger in a strange land goes to extremes to get by, discovers his weaknesses, battles his demons while flailing in hell. And Cook puts Grant through the wringer. It’d be giving too much away to describe exactly what fun amounts to for the local ‘Yabba yobbos who befriend Grant on his second night in town. Grant’s most horrific experiences, though, occur in the company of Doc Tydon, an educated man rather like Grant himself, an incongruity central to the book’s themes of class and culture, freedom and choice. Tydon is aware of Grant’s outback prejudice, and stirs up the snobbery in him whenever he can, cleverly using it to draw Grant into some seriously awful undertakings. Grant endures it all; ultimate desperation, you know, can make us do crazy things.

The book is a rite of passage because it’s a view into a different part of Aussie life, the other, other side of the Sun, Sand, and Surf mystique. Or even the croc-hunter, man on the land ideal. It’s key, though, the distinction Cook makes between those lifestyles, and how so many of us don’t experience those other sides, at least not fully enough to grasp the customs of each. As a rural dweller most of my life, I can’t claim to know the first thing about the surf culture in Sydney or the fun park paradise of coastal Queensland. I’m as lost as Grant in such places. On the other side, too, I’ve smiled to myself at the awkwardness of the city dweller in the sticks.

These distinctions aren’t specific to Australia; everywhere has its Otherness – north and south, east and west, city and country. Cook’s observations of these differences in this country give his book authenticity. He gleaned much as a journo in rural Broken Hill, the town on which Bundanyabba is said to be based. Grant, for instance, is consistently surprised when men offer to buy him beers – this is the ultimate favour in outback Oz, and Grant feels he owes these men who give and give for no reason other than to quench another man’s thirst (one of his first mistakes).

And when Grant, drunk or tired or just plain full refuses the offer, his refusal is met with disdain. Country folks, apparently, take a refusal to be bought a beer as the ultimate dismissal. I laughed at this notion because it’s so, so true. But while the book aptly describes the isolation and inwardness of such communities, it is still a dramatization in the extreme. As a rural Australian, it’s difficult not to want to defend the tight-knit-ness of such a community, and the informal approach to, well, everything, as a sign, perhaps, of a freer existence, not a stupid one that knows no better. Or perhaps, I just don’t want to know if the outback indeed has such power to utterly destroy a man and his sensibilities. Everyone’s version of hell is their own, I guess.

Still, the book managed to scare me – I finished it the day before a scheduled flight across that mighty expanse from southern Melbourne up to Darwin, at its tippy-top. With no idea what to expect from that rural city smack bang in its own middle of nowhere, I wondered what I might do if my friends didn’t collect me from the airport, if somehow I left my bag on a bar counter as I once did with my Passport in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. What would I do? Where would I go? I’d figure it out, no doubt, after a beer or two… Someone’d get the tab, that I know for sure.

Wake in Fright was originally published in 1961, and was reissued in June by Text Publishing to coincide with the re-release of the 1971 film version directed by Ted Kotcheff.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image