Way back in 1969 when I was attending a little primary school in Sydney’s bushland in a suburb dominated by War Service Homes I found myself interested in reading books written for adult entertainment. Instead of “sugar and spice and all things nice” I was brought up on a diet of Robinson Caruso, Treasure Island, and all things Kipling. My favourite tale, The Last of the Mohicans, probably accounts in part for the the cowboy tent in my backyard which I shared with Edward, the cat.
So at ten years of age when I borrowed a book from the school library the teachers were a bit shocked by my selection. Before releasing it, the Librarian sent a note home to my parents asking for for parental permission because it contained “adult themes”.
The book that caused so much kerfuffle? A lovely tale about a family in the 1920’s that live a nomadic lifestyle travelling from one rural town to another around Australia, picking up work where ever they can, including sheep shearing with the wife doing her bit as the shearer’s cook. The Sundowners by Jon Cleary was later adapted into a movie starring Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov, filmed in Australia in 1960.
At the 33rd Academy Awards, The Sundowners was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Deborah Kerr), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Glynis Johns), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
Although I haven’t seen this movie for thirty odd years it has stuck with me – I can still clearly see the book cover. Firstly, I was mad keen on Mitchum, and also because it was a story of simple folk, with a simple life, who took pleasure from simple things. There’s a Life Lesson in that……….
In hindsight it was probably my first recollection of an onscreen Australia. Back in those days you couldn’t get more Dinky Di than Chips Rafferty and John Meillion, and both get a run in this one.
I’ve just read another of Jon Cleary’s novels, Degrees Of Connection, the last in a series of crime books based on the character, Scobie Malone. Never heard of Scobie Malone? Neither had I!
Malone is a fictional Sydney homicide copper. The first book in the series was published in 1966, and Degrees Of Connection has Scobie promoted to Superintendent of Police, published in 2003, seven years before the author’s death.
One of the author’s trademarks is an unusual first line in each Malone book. This one didn’t disappoint. “She’s had more facelifts than the Strand Arcade” said Clements.
I enjoyed this book as an easy read and the trivia orientated information about Sydney suburbs was both familiar and nostalgic. It also made good use of Sydney’s tribalism which made me smile, as now an observer rather than a resident. “ Rooty Hill ? Where’s that? In the outback?” (Sydneysiders will appreciate this, not so non locals. She’s a beautiful, exciting city but there exists invisible walls depending on your socio-economic standing and geographical situation. Not P C? Maybe, but dead right).
The character of Malone is more brain over brawn and I appreciated the sarcasm and wit over the vulgarity and profanities from some of our other home grown crime writers. I’m no prude, and can drop ‘em with the best of them, but how much can a koala bear?
The second Scobie Malone book in the series was adapted to movie back in 1975, with a young Australian, Jack Thompson, playing Malone. With the title Helga’s Web or alternatively Murder At The Opera House it was by all accounts a stinker.
The author was shown the film at a private screening and was not happy with the result. “When I saw Scobie nibbling on the fourth nipple I thought “that’s not my Scobie“. And I walked out”, Cleary said.
I think I will give that one a miss.
The same shearing shed at Carriewerloo Station was later used in the South Australian Film Corporation film Sunday Too Far Away (1975).
And I reiterate: if you have any notion of visiting a shearing shed for Bucket List purposes, forget it. Putrid things.