Reviewed by Ian Lipke
The author of this collection of tales has the pedigree of a raconteur and performer who has lived the life of the outback Australian. He has built a solid reputation as an authentic writer of tales of that part of the country, and has earned high regard as ‘a portrait painter in words’ documenting the lives of Australian country folk. He knows when someone is having ‘a lend of him’. I looked forward to reading the trucking stories he has presented in his book.
It’s important to realise that the stories were presented to Marsh in oral form. The author has recorded the stories, written them down, and edited them. The issue of authenticity in the strictest sense arises. A sameness of presentation is evident throughout the book. Were these the actual words, sentence structure and idioms of the contributors? Some tale-tellers were uneducated in the twists and turns of the English language. Nobody questions their extensive knowledge of their professions or trades, but most stories are recounts, that vary little in the structure of their presentation.
I am making an issue of this argument to support Marsh’s published acknowledgment that he recorded the stories of the contributors and transcribed them. He has been open about his methodology. Potential readers should not throw Marsh aside as just another someone trying to use the outback as a means of making money. Read the stories themselves to find the flavour of the real Australian bush.
Some of the tales are educational in the cognitive sense, some affect the reader emotionally, some refer to tragedy, others show grit and the resourcefulness of humankind, while still others fail to hide the wit and humour of the laid-back Australian. There is no pompousness of the ‘stuffed-shirt’ brigade, so often found in cities, or among the folk who believe their families share some dubious link to royalty or gubernatorial position. They have no place here.
Earthiness is illustrated in the entry Every Little Bit which begins with a man, living in a small town in Western Australia for seventy-two years, who applies to Centrelink for a pension. “[They] couldn’t believe how someone would want to live in the one bloody spot for such a long time” (48). The Future is the story of a drover who thought, back in the 1940s or 1950s, that the belief that the future for livestock transport lay in trucks “was all bullshit” (73). I was carried away by the writer of Pissy aka Bruce ‘Pissy’ Pepperill, a character whose name appears on the Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs. As the writer’s authentic, bushie voice explains:
Shit, that’s fantastic you know, for a guy like Pissy. Because it was just great to see an Aboriginal bloke get the recognition, ay? And it wasn’t just because of his colour neither, but for him being the real genuine bloke he was and for all the hard yakka he put into the trucking industry throughout the Northern Territory (160).
Nobody could make this stuff up. It’s real, it’s alive, it’s today, as much as it was yesterday and all the yesterdays before that. Bill ‘Swampy’ Marsh’s collection and collation of these stories has done Australia a great service.
Who is Bill?
Bill ‘Swampy’ Marsh has been gathering and publishing stories for a long time. Collections of his work came out in 2007 and again in 2010. These were followed by a series about the Country Women’s Association in 2011, the Flying Doctor stories in 2013 and his Great Australian series that featured Outback Schools and now Trucking. He has been interviewed on Australia All Over and is well known by most of the country people of this nation.
His latest collection is a ‘must read’. I loved it.
By Bill ‘Swampy’ Marsh
ABC Books – AU