The Jour­ney

How an hour-long car trip changed Peter Carey’s world

Qantas - - Contents -

I was 10 years old, soon to take the most im­por­tant jour­ney of my life. For the mo­ment, I was in the lit­tle town of Bac­chus Marsh, liv­ing with my par­ents in a spa­cious flat above the spare-parts depart­ment of P. S. Carey Mo­tors.

It was there we sat, my mother and I, as she pre­pared her youngest child for board­ing school, sewing my sur­name and first ini­tial onto socks and shirts.

“You do re­alise,” my mother said, “that there will be many wealthy boys.” I heard her anx­i­ety but didn’t un­der­stand it. I imag­ined we were wealthy be­cause we had a Holden deal­er­ship. Of course, we were pau­pers com­pared to mem­bers of the Aus­tralian rul­ing class I would come to know – ac­cord­ing to a plan made long ago at Eton Col­lege and Rugby and then trans­posed to those wind­blown acres on the shore of Vic­to­ria’s Co­rio Bay – only by their fam­ily names: Bail­lieu, Myer, Mur­doch, Fair­fax, Packer. “I know plenty of rich kids,” I said. “Here?” My mother laughed at the idea. “Keith Mad­den,” I said. “Keith Mad­den?” She smiled and did not tell me that a gravel crusher, such as was op­er­ated by Keith’s fa­ther, would not sup­ply the wealth she meant.

So I went off to Gee­long Gram­mar with my small­town nasal ac­cent, hav­ing not the least idea of the strange en­vi­ron­ment that had al­ways lain there wait­ing for me.

So much was fa­mil­iar about this one-hour jour­ney. To the west of the road, the coun­try was gnarled and folded into the Anakie Gorge and the Bris­bane Ranges; to the east, in a mag­nif­i­cent erup­tion, stood those wild and se­cret hills, the You Yangs. There was the dirt track to the prop­erty where the farmer had bashed the mag­gots from the leg of lamb he later served my dad for din­ner. Here was Bal­liang East, where my bad-tem­pered grand­fa­ther had kicked his 10-year-old son out of the car and left him to walk home in dark­ness.

It was the same road along which we had taken my silent el­der brother back to school af­ter his hol­i­days. From him I un­der­stood that no-one would call me by my first name for the next seven years and that the masters, who he im­i­tated so well, spoke in the sort of posh English ac­cents I’d only en­coun­tered in Eal­ing come­dies.

At Gee­long Gram­mar School, I learned to say “cas­tle” as cah-sel, not kessle, a be­trayal of my par­ents that in­tro­duced in­con­sis­ten­cies of pro­nun­ci­a­tion that still linger. But the point is, I had left my home and would never quite re­turn. I had come to sleep in a spar­tan dor­mi­tory with all the com­forts of an open porch. I woke among strangers. I could not find a towel. I did not know that I was sur­rounded by kids who also missed their mother and their dog.

I see now, look­ing back, that I have made my art from a home­sick­ness that be­gan 63 years ago, dur­ing those long ago nights, in a dor­mi­tory of 10-year-olds where the can­vas blinds slapped like sails in the win­ter wind.

In­dus­trial Gee­long pro­vided a pro­le­tar­ian cloak to the im­mense priv­i­lege of Peter Carey’s board­ing school (above)

The jour­ney Bac­chus Marsh to Gee­long, Vic­to­ria The year 1953 The low­down His new novel, A Long Way from Home, is out now.

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