Barnes takes his child­hood pain on tour

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - REAL ESTATE - David Free

JIMMY Barnes has been try­ing to lift the story of his child­hood off his chest since the early 1990s. He had aban­doned the project twice when a view­ing of the movie Snow­town im­pelled him to push through with it once and for all. “The flood­gates opened and I couldn’t hold back the past any longer.” When Snow­town serves as a trig­ger for the re­mem­brance of things past, it’s a fair sign your child­hood was less than ideal.

He doesn’t just have a scar­i­fy­ing story to tell. He has a grip­pingly ef­fec­tive way of telling it: one that does full jus­tice to the grim facts with­out over­cook­ing them.

The re­sult, Work­ing Class Boy, is a stun­ning piece of work – re­lent­less, earnest, shock­ingly vivid. You don’t open a book by Jimmy Barnes ex­pect­ing a clas­sic of Aus­tralian au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. But he has writ­ten one by re­vis­it­ing the Dick­en­sian squalors of his child­hood in a spirit of near-fa­nat­i­cal hon­esty.

The book’s early pages don’t pre­pare you for what’s com­ing. Only later does it be­come ap­par­ent he is ner­vously clear­ing his throat, find­ing the right tone to talk about the all­too-de­tailed hor­ror show that only he knows is com­ing.

Barnes spent the first five years of his life in Scot­land in a rough sub­urb of Glas­gow called Cow­cad­dens. His mother was a for­mi­da­ble and some­times vi­o­lent woman with a “voice that sounded like an open ra­zor, slash­ing ev­ery­thing it came close to”. His father was a cham­pion boxer and ab­ject al­co­holic, with a habit of drink­ing away money that oth­er­wise might have fed and clothed his chil­dren.

Jimmy was one of six: three boys and three girls. Many of his first mem­o­ries re­volve around hunger. He re­mem­bers worse things, too.

When Jimmy was five the fam­ily im­mi­grated to South Aus­tralia, where their first home was a sti­fling tin hut.

Nor did things im­prove much when the fam­ily moved to a tiny house in El­iz­a­beth, a new sub­urb on the fringe of Ade­laide. “The fights were get­ting more in­tense, more ex­treme, and we were in more dan­ger.”

Some of the vi­o­lence is un­be­liev­able.

Whether he found the book’s style in­stinc­tively or had to work at it, I don’t know. But as he ca­reers to­wards the har­row­ing cen­tral chap­ters, he stops crack­ing jokes. Here he is leav­ing home for good, tak­ing a jacket that once be­longed to his older brother, who has left too:

He left it with the rest of the rub­bish. The shit he didn’t want to see any­more. I was part of that rub­bish, now that I think of it. So were the rest of the fam­ily. I don’t blame him. I don’t want to see him or any of this again ei­ther.

What makes this so ef­fec­tive is that it’s not writ­ten for ef­fect. Barnes’s only aim is to say how he felt at the time. But his hair-rais­ing com­mit­ment to the facts, and his shock­ing lack of sen­ti­men­tal­ity, forge a mem­o­rable style.

You can’t fake such a tone. You have to earn it.

Picture: John Ap­p­le­yard

Rock leg­end Jimmy Barnes’ "Work­ing Class Boy" is now a tour­ing show

Work­ing Class Boy, the top-sell­ing mem­oir by Jimmy Barnes

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