Wednesday, March 29, 2006

New history wars

If you don't live in Australia (and perhaps if you do) you may be unaware of the so-called History Wars that have been raging over the past few years.
I'll go out on a limb and summarise it as a politicisation of history and historians in the battle over the analysis of European settlement of the continent, and over post-colonial reckoning - or otherwise - for the dispossession of the indigenous people.
It began as a right-wing backlash against the movement for reconciliation between black and white Australians, and became the perfect storm.
Conservative historians questioned the research and credibility of fellow academics; politicians, including the Prime Minister, waded in, accusing "chardonnay socialists" of having a "black armband" view of history; the Left and the liberals (perhaps we should say, humanists) struck back; and it's all been a complete and very public schemozzle.
Floors and swords have been crossed, family dinners have erupted in arguments. I don't often agree with Robert Manne, but in the middle of it all he wrote: "No reconciliation is possible unless we can discover a version of Australian history that can be shared."
Of course, God and the malleable statistics are on everyone's side. Intellectual rigour has sometimes been replaced with personal rancour, babies thrown out with bathwater all over the place, and the public left either confused or with their worst prejudices confirmed.
Me? I'd rather wear a black armband than be part of a whitewash any day. If only there was a proper Left left to carry on the debate...
But never mind about that. We're now up to the second wave (or perhaps I missed a few ripples), in which novelists and historians are debating whether historical fiction might be more credible than history texts. You can tell it's another wave, because journalists are writing lots of salacious stories about it, as if it were the Coronation Street of Australian intellectual life.
Novelist Kate Grenville claims her award-winning The Secret River is as close to the truth of early colonial settlement life as we're likely to get. Historian Mark McKenna wonders if the public has lost faith in historians and placed it instead in the hands of writers of historical fiction. Other commentators take even more extreme views, as always.
McKenna's right in one sense: the History Wars have undermined confidence in some historians and perhaps in the field as a whole.
But it hasn't stopped the books selling. People clearly still have faith in Henry Reynolds, whose estimates of Aboriginal deaths after British colonisation were questioned by conservative historian Keith Windschuttle. Every Tim Flannery book is a best-seller. David Day is doing quite well. So, for that matter, is McKenna.
So people do want to read well-written, accessible, rigorous, interesting history. They want to understand, forgive, remember. If it comes in the form of soundly-researched historical fiction, that's nothing new. Many of our greatest and most popular writers delve into the past (think of Peter Carey or David Malouf, Robert Drewe and Tom Kenneally). If it comes in a brilliantly written Inga Clendinnan history - splendid. For that matter, it might be more readily digested in a Judith Wright poem. Or a memoir. Or Manning Clarke's magisterial History of Australia ... If only he was still alive to bang some heads together.
McKenna is one of those engaged in the wars but apparently trying to effect a reconciliation before it all gets just too silly. After all, the dignity of his profession and the value of history are both being undermined. But he has a political point to make, too. He wrote recently in The Australian:
In this country, still so uncertain and divided about its past, we are at risk of creating a culture in which our literature and history is too often judged for its usefulness as an agent of national unity.

Icon wins iconic award

Only weeks after celebrating her 70th birthday, one of NZ's official national icons, Margaret Mahy, has another excuse for a party. She's just won the prestigious Hans Christian Anderson Award, children's literature's Nobel Prize.
An international panel of judges selected her from a field of 25 nominated authors from around the world. The panel described Mahy as "one of the world's most original re-inventors of language":
"Mahy's language is rich in poetic imagery, magic, and supernatural elements. Her oeuvre provides a vast, numinous, but intensely personal metaphorical arena for the expression and experience of childhood and adolescence."
"Equally important, however, are her rhymes and poems for children. Mahy's works are known to children and young adults all over the world."

Boys read books

I'm back on the island this morning after ten days in Melbourne. Presented family members with their copies of my book, Mum cried, and I blushed a lot as it got shown to everyone of our known acquaintance (and probably a few strangers on the train or innocent passers-by down the shops).
While I was away, I got my first review: from Erik Steller, aged 10, who reviewed the book for the Chatterbooks Kids' Bookclub, said it was "a great read" and gave it a ten out of ten. I'm chuffed.
I'm particularly pleased that a boy reviewed it and liked it, as general publishing wisdom tells us that boys don't read books about girl protagonists.
Then my young friend Liam read it, was beside himself with excitement, and had to ring up to ask a million questions and posit a few very interesting theories about the various incomplete plotlines (he can't believe he has to wait for book 2).
So hopefully, if the boys can get beyond the purposely androgynous cover illustration and the blurb which tells them it's a book about a girl, they may enjoy it. They ought to - it's got as much sword-fighting and sailing and swearing as any "boy's book".
Emily Bazalon provides her take on the issue, as a mother of two sons, on Slate this week: "The conventional educational wisdom holds that boys don't like to read about girls. If a book has a girl on the cover, it's toast, no matter how adventure-filled or well written." Interestingly, she argues against "boy-friendly" books as suggested by teachers and librarians:
To my relief, I've found that most advocates of boy reading aren't so narrow-minded. They are not trying to direct boys toward a list of masculine titles - in fact, they're refreshingly skeptical about assigned reading in the first place. Instead, their aim is to enliven the standard fare for both genders. What they have discovered is that many boys like so-called "girl" books, but for different reasons than girls do.
Ever since Nancy Drew outperformed the Hardy Boys in the 1930s, it's been clear that boys will read some stories about girls. Publishers have marketed titles to take advantage of this fact.

Well, sure. It's one of those "my experience is the exception that proves the rule is false" articles - a common style of argument, particularly on the web, but not the kind of logic likely to really prove anything.
The research is fairly solid on boys' reading, and I think it's reasonable to argue that more boy-friendly books are going to make for more male readers.
While I was away I finally caught up with Catherine Jinks' brilliant Pagan's Crusade - or rather, it caught me, because I then got hooked and had to read the next two in the series. That's what boy-friendly writing ought to be: a street-wise, fluently abusive young male voice who just happens to be a street Arab (literally) in Crusader Jerusalem.
It's a controversial approach, but it works for me, and I hope Emily Bazalon's boys get to read it one day.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Commonwealth Games

Sport's really very tiring. I'm worn out.
I've been to the MCG to the athletics twice, spent most of a day down at Docklands by the race-walking course, basketball finals tonight, squash tomorrow, more athletics the night after that.
Screaming and clapping takes it out of you. There's been the odd tear shed as well, especially after the women's marathon.
Then when you're not actually there, you have to be glued to the TV until all hours, even though for once in our lives we're in the right time zone. It's compulsory in our family.
Good thing this only happens once every four years (well, two years if you count the Olympics).

Friday, March 17, 2006

Game time

I'm vanishing for ten days home to Melbourne for the Commonwealth Games, so if there's a deafening silence on this blog, it's because I'm in the stand at the MCG shouting at the top of my lungs. Or having a decent coffee.

So call me Ishmael

If you spend any time on websites designed for would-be writers (or reading "how to be a brilliant writer" books) you'll have noticed a new orthodoxy has taken hold.
Advice, directives, and critical feedback on manuscripts always includes the following dictates:
- Avoid adjectives and adverbs
- Never use passive voice
- Show don't tell.
These are pronounced endlessly with that stultifying tone of the pedant. The writing police patrol with their grammar-checker baton. Sometimes they teach courses or even write books about it.
Yet the first rule is ludicrous in every sense. Granted, adjectives and adverbs aren't fairy dust to be sprinkled at whim, but the oft-repeated injunction to avoid them at all cost is ... Pardon me while I search for an adjective to describe it.
The second two rules are based in perfectly good advice, but have become ludicrously over-stated, especially since most zealots (and Microsoft Word) seem unable to tell passive voice from past tense out of context.
Voice is pivotal: to create a voice, a writer plays with language, with sound, with tense - with everything at her or his disposal.
Here's what the original style gurus, Strunk and White, had to say:
Style is an increment in writing. When we speak of Fitzgerald's style, we don't mean his command of the relative pronoun, we mean the sound his words make on paper. Every writer, by the way he uses the language, reveals something of his spirit, his habits, his capacities, his bias. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable.

Let's address this deadening imperialism of style that calls for every writer, regardless of the effect they seek, to sound the same as everyone else. The object of this exercise is to turn everyone, no matter what their natural style or genre, into a B-grade Hemingway (or sometimes Mailer) read-a-like.
Someone I've never met recently posted comments on this blog. He later visited my website for kids, found an extract from my book, and rewrote it according to these rules so that 12-year-old Lily Swann sounds just like Jake Barnes. ("I warned you", he commented, furious at me for suggesting there were illiterate people in the US. Thanks for sharing.)
Melville's first line of Moby Dick is often quoted as the best example of this most direct narrative style. "Call me Ishmael." Ignore the rest of the book, with its metaphysical meandering, not to mention all those superfluous adjectives. Just stick with the first short sentence.
So how about some of those other famous first sentences?
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a good wife," really ought to read: "Rich men must marry - everyone knows that".
I've written before that Dickens would never get away with the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities nowadays: too much telling, instead of showing.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Here's another obvious travesty:
He - for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it - was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which hung from the rafters.
- Orlando

The writing police would issue a ticket to Miss Sackville-West, and rewrite it as: "A Moor's head hung from the rafters. He sliced it."
How about this blooper?
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.
- The Bell Jar.
Two adjectives! Sylvia, you should be ashamed.
(By the way, one of my favourite first lines is: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink," from Dodie Smith's probably far too lyrical I Capture the Castle.)
This is how we're all supposed to sound:
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

It's spare, dust-dry writing (pardon the adjectives) aimed at a certain effect which it achieves, of course, perfectly. Few people can achieve that precision. Few people can get away with it. No punctuation at all. No adjectives - unless you count "late" - although the second sentence includes some adjectives and commas:
In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.

Sure. I wanted to be Hemingway when I grew up, too. But the world is not full of Hemingways, all books are not A Farewell to Arms, other writers either can't or don't wish to replicate his style, and people write who (amazing though it may be) are not American men. Bad Hemingway impersonations, which are legion, are a great deal worse than an original passive voice dotted with adjectives.
Hemingway, funnily enough, would have hated this new regime. Fitzgerald would have laughed. Then they would have had a drink.
Most importantly, writing before and after Hemingway is filled with myriad possibilities and precedents.
Without that multitude of voices, styles, character, imagination and cultural differences the world would be a dusty plain indeed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


This morning I woke up imagining I had writer’s block. (I wasn’t in italics, you’ll be pleased to know, although my hair was sticking up quite a lot.)
Two weeks ago I bought a nice fresh notebook, to start writing another book, and I haven’t written a word in it yet. I’ve carried it around with me every day. I’ve even opened it a few times, got out the pencil and just stared. But I haven’t written anything.
“Oh God,” I groaned out loud this morning. “It’s happened. I’ve got fifth book syndrome.” Or maybe it’s the sixth. More, counting the picture books. Whatever the number, this was serious.
Two months ago I finished the draft of a new novel. I had a list of a million future ideas and a desperate fear that there simply wasn’t enough time in the world to write all the books in my head. I rubbed my hands maniacally and bought new stationery, which is, after all, a critical part of the creative process. Couldn’t wait to get started.
But then I didn’t.
I wavered over what to do next. I read lots of other children’s books until I nearly went mad and swore to my girlfriend that I’d gone off books completely. She didn’t believe me. (Quite rightly – an hour later I’d recovered from that aberration and was happily ensconced in Peter Ackroyd’s Albion: The History of the British Imagination.)
I spent a few weeks working on the website, and wrote some short pieces (all accepted, which is nice). But all the time, a little voice has been whispering just behind my right ear.
“Quick! You’re wasting time.”
“See? You’re a fraud. You’ll never be able to do this.”
“All talk, no action. What a poser.”
Someone asked me the other day how I start my research, and perhaps that’s the problem. First, immersion in history texts and other novels about the period (or written in the period), then random researching of basic facts, including everything I feel sure I already know. I draft the story at the same time, and can spend hours or days looking up specific information. I have to be able to see the characters in their historical context: what they wear, what they eat, where they walk; as well as how they smile and sound.
I admit it’s daunting starting something new, especially when you have to wrench your head out of Restoration London and into Roman Britain or 15th century Amsterdam or any one of a thousand other possibilities.
Perhaps I just needed to take a deep breath before launching into another new world.
At any rate, walking from ferry to office this morning, I had to sit down on a bench in the sunshine and scribble in the fresh notebook. And so it begins.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Student days

I don't know what possessed me, but for some reason I decided to study this year. I enrolled in the famous Diploma of Children's Literature, at the Christchurch College of Education, basically to make sure I know what I'm doing.
But I swore after my Masters I wouldn't do any more until I retired. Then I forgot about that sacred oath. Somehow, distance education didn't seem quite so daunting.
Last week a pile of papers arrived, equivalent to my own body weight. These are my correspondence course study notes. I may need a new office to keep them all in. The Post Office probably had to employ an extra driver to deliver them. It would never have fitted on the back of the usual motorbike. Not without some risk to the rider and all other road users.
So yesterday I was casually flicking through them and noticed to my horror my first assignment is due on Friday.
At my age.
I must be mad.
And I will be forced to read more books.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sunday rain

I need another coffee. A strong one.
Very late night last night. A birthday party - hundreds of people, some in tiaras and medals, the odd feather boa, one small pirate and two lions. I ran off just before midnight to catch the last boat home, and the 70-year-old was still raging.
The birthday girl was Margaret Mahy, officially a national treasure, and unofficially a favourite storyteller of generations of children since the publication in 1969 of her first book, The Lion in the Meadow.
It was really very moving, and I feel privileged to have been there.
There were speeches and tributes, performances and songs, balloons, the launch of her latest novel for young readers, Portable Ghosts (HarperCollins gave everyone a signed copy), a spontaneous haka, and a lion-shaped cake.
But the highlight was the recitation of her newest picture book, Down the Back of the Chair, by the small pirate, Harry, who looks to be about six or seven. AKA Margaret's grandson, Harry had somehow memorised the entire text without anyone knowing, and started reciting it one evening at another function, much to everyone's amazement. So last night he and Margaret performed it together (she had to refer to the book - Harry knew it off by heart and told the story with some vigour).
I was a bit shy, talking to all those bona fide authors. But one told me he felt like a fraud because he'd only published two so far, with another three in production, and Witi Ihimeara said he still can't believe it when he gets his advance copy from the publishers. Everyone was very sweet to me. Then I was introduced to Margaret just as I was leaving, and she told me she couldn't wait to read my book and would I sign her copy? So it felt like my birthday, too.
I should have shown her my pirate tattoo. She's got one too.
Michael Hurst read this extract from one of her poems to finish the evening (it's in Tessa Duder's biography, A Writer's Life):
When I am old and wrinkled like a raisin
I will dance like a kite on the bucking back of the wind.
I won't look ahead at the few bright days I am facing
Or look back at the years trailing out like streamers behind.
Everyone else will be gone. The silence will seem to be mocking,
but I will dangle and and dance in the bright and clear air of the day...
Well, this morning I feel way beyond 70. Woke up at six for no good reason. Don't even drink, so I can't blame a hangover. Need coffee. Panadol. Too stupid to work. Have to lie on the couch with a book.
But I bet the 70-year-old is out having another party.
Happy birthday.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Pirates published

Sitting here on my desk, right next to the laptop, is a copy of my first book.
It looks just like a book, really, with a spine and ISBN and the author's name on the front. I find that rather surprising.
The lovely people from HarperCollins appeared at lunch with a brown paper parcel. I wasn't expecting to see it quite yet.
It really is a book. How odd. You can open it and flick through (it has very cute page numbers displayed on the mainsail of a little square-rigger).
It's so many months since I last proofed pages, I'm finding it quite interesting reading. So far I haven't even found a typo.
I'm playing very loud music (an old Ministry of Sound CD that always reminds me of driving full-pelt to Uluru), grinning every so often in a rather foolish manner, having a cup of tea, and trying to decide where exactly on the bookshelf my book should sit.
Beside all the other pirate books, I think.
I might have to get up in the middle of the night and check on it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Billions of books

Publishers' Weekly reports that after recording a 4.1% decline in overall book publishing sales in 2004, total book sales in the US rose 9.9% to a total of $25.1 billion in 2005.
In 2004 total US book sales were $22.8 billion.
Yes, I said billion.
That's a lot of books. It's actually quite a few books per reader (see? I'm not the only culprit), especially when you consider that the country's population (295 million) has a startlingly high rate of adult illiteracy. says there's a 38% illiteracy rate for adults in the United States. The National Center for Education Statistics (1992) indicates a 21% illiteracy rate among adults, with at least 8 million people "unable to perform even the simplest literacy tasks." According to reports in the Los Angeles Daily News, 53% of workers aged 16 or older in the Los Angeles region are functionally illiterate - meaning they can't read simple forms or compose basic correspondence. A more conservative estimate claims there are at least more than 10 million adults who are illiterate. President Bush's home state of Texas is the most illiterate.
We'll assume a proportion of those people have trouble reading English, but might be able to read in other languages, but still...
Who's reading all those millions of books?
"The largest increase in the trade book sales came in the children’s hardcover category, which the AAP reports rising to a $3.61 billion, a whopping 59.6% increase over the $2.26 billion in juvenile hardcover sales in 2004—an increase that owes much to the sale of 13.5 million copies of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. And this after juvenile hardcover sales were down by 16.7% in 2004. Other hardcover titles that helped contribute to the increase: 1.75 million copies sold of Christopher Paolini’s Eldest; and 1.8 million copies of the 12th installment in Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events.
Children’s paperbacks were up 10% to 8 million."

I'm hoping that's a sign of hope for the future.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The original web

What am I saying to my readers? Well, I never know. Writing to me is not an exercise in addressing readers, it is more as though I were talking to myself while shaving.
My foray into the field of children's literature was an accident, and although I do not mean to suggest that I spun my two yarns in perfect innocence and that I did not set about writing "Charlotte's Web" deliberately, nevertheless, the thing started innocently enough, and I kept on because I found it was fun. It also became rewarding in other ways - and that was a surprise, as I am not essentially a storyteller and was taking a holiday from my regular work.
All that I ever hope to say in books is that I love the world. I guess you can find that in there, if you dig around.

- E.B. White

I think I can see an unnecessary comma in there. I might report him to Mister Strunk. Or possibly Mrs Parker.

Swashbuckler goes live

My website's live: go take a look.

It's designed for young readers.
Hope it works...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Reading Ragtime

Can't wait to read E. L. Doctorow's Civil War novel The March (Random House). It's already won the PEN Faulkner award, been a finalist in the US National Book Awards and is odds-on favourite for the Pulitzer. Last night it won the Fiction category at the US National Book Critics Circle awards.
Reading Ragtime around 1980 remains one of the defining moments in my reading history: it shook up everything I thought I knew about historical fiction, narrative prose, even history itself. He wrote in ragtime, so clear you could hear it, a jazz beat so thumping it was as irresistible as it was unnerving. It has to be one of the Great American Novels. Surely.
Years later, overawed by Mister Morgan's library when I finally made it to New York, I couldn't help but imagine it during the fictional siege in Ragtime. At the same time as I wept over the manuscript of Captains Courageous and the lock of Shelley's hair in the display cabinet, I kept glancing up at the ceiling as if it might explode at any moment - trying to imagine being locked inside with a gang of hyped up, strung out, pushed-to-the-limit desperadoes.
I was less sure about Billy Bathgate, and yet still could hear the cadence of the era, see the colours of the neckties, in every line.
But his take on the Civil War and its great generals may come to be as significant as his version of racism and ragtime. Good thing, too. There's so much guff written (and filmed) about the Civil War.
"Sherman was a wonderful writer," Doctorow recently told John Freeman for The Independent. "He was almost as good a writer as Grant. They were the best writing generals in American history. They were incredible writers. He got a lot of detail, the value of specific detail."
But, writes Freeman, Doctorow has trouble with the term "historical novelist":
"I don't think of myself as writing historical novels," he says, bristling. "There is such a genre, of course. But I don't think I participate in it. My idea of an historical novel is a novel that makes literary history."
"... When Mark Twain wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he set those novels 30, 40 years before the time of the writing. The Scarlet Letter is set 150 years before Hawthorne's own life. We don't think of it as a historical novel."

Literary history is a genre he does participate in, even if he doesn't acknowledge it.
Accepting his award last night, Doctorow said that a book "written in silence and read in silence goes from heart to heart and soul to soul as nothing else can".

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Which classic book are you?

This is cute - an online quiz which, instead of revealing your innermost movie star or dog, tells you what you would be should you turn, overnight, into a classic work of literature. My nephew Conor will be thrilled to learn that I am, in essence, Lord of the Rings.
The official results:
"You are entertaining and imaginative, creating whole new worlds around yourself. Well loved, you have a whole league of imitators, none of which is quite as profound as you are.
Stories and songs give a spark of joy in the middle of your eternal battle with the forces of evil."
Sounds just like me. In dreams.

Take the quiz at Quizilla, please, and share with the group.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Sneak a peek

Here's the cover of the first Swashbuckler book, Ocean Without End, due out in six weeks.
The sensational artwork is by Mark Wilson.

Let the Games begin

In two weeks' time the Commonwealth Games kick off in my home town, Melbourne. 13 days to go, but who's counting?
This is a big deal for us Gardiners.
My father is an athlete. Actually he's a legend. He won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, went to the Tokyo and Mexico Olympics - and turns 70 in the middle of the Games in March. Still competes, too.
Yesterday he carried the Queen's Baton (the Commonwealth version of the Olympic torch - which he also carried in 2000).
I wasn't there yesterday, sadly, to cheer him on. When I was little I'd stand by the side of the track and shout, "Come on Daddy!". I still do that if I watch him race, except now he laughs - which isn't easy to do while race walking at full-pelt - and all his old mates murmur, "The kid must be here".
But I will be there for the track and field once the Games begin, to cheer on the new generation.

Photo by Kathy Gardiner.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Reading between the lines

Parents beware.
Brian Danilo channels conservative US radio talk show host Sean Hannity (or perhaps it was Bishop Brian Tamaki) on McSweeneys to present the Five Most Dangerous Children's Books Ever Written.

Just so you know, The Most Dangerous Children's Book Ever Written is Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Birdwell - too big to get under the bed, perhaps, but still a damned pinko.
"Stories include Clifford Goes to School and Clifford Goes to Work, Where He Organizes a Workers' Revolution. "
But Clifford's got nothing on Madeleine L'Engle who apart from writing A Wrinkle in Time and undermining the very fabric of our society "also invaded Poland in 1939."

Irish diaspora

Yesterday I was writing about the hardships of emigration in the great days of sail, for my new website (why I have decided to write the Encyclopedia of Piracy For Ten Year Olds, I do not know, but as Kipling would say, that's another story).
Then I started reading Colm Toibin's book of travel writing, The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe.
Now I've come over all Irish.
It's been nagging at me for weeks - it's Jan Morris's fault, actually - she started it with her description of the Easter uprising in Farewell the Trumpets.
I'm reminded of Seamus Heaney's Digging -
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Or maybe it was there before, on mornings when I walk to the office past the fishing boats and hear the gulls (there's one calling now - they sound like Irish gulls to me) and walk under the hook. It's a new sculpture at the end of Lighter Wharf, a monolithic granite representation of wharfie's hook that reminds me of my grandfather every time I see it.
He grew up under the hook. So did my mum. I was born there. Port Melbourne. Under the hook, that's what you called it. Port. That's its name to us. A working port. A wharf, a few pubs, a footy team, SP bookies in the back lane (my uncles) and as few police as possible. Micks to the left, Proddies to the right.
No container ships. Cranes, if you were on a modern pier, hooks and winches and blocks and tackles. Nets and ropes. That's how it was.
Now it's all apartments and advertising types at lunch.
They don't know they're under the hook.