Ac­ci­den­tal ex­pert re­counts mis­ad­ven­tures

False Start: A Mem­oir of Things Best For­got­ten

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ross Fitzger­ald

By Mark O’Flynn Finch Pub­lish­ing, 255pp, $29.99

THE first 15 pages of this three-part book, set in the 1980s, are lit­tered with some­what pre­ten­tious lit­er­ary al­lu­sions to writ­ers as di­verse as Sartre, Wordsworth, Pa­trick White and Alexan­der Pope. Name-drop­ping is not nec­es­sar­ily the best way to be­gin but, then again, the ti­tle of the book is False Start.

Yet as this un­re­li­able mem­oir of many things best for­got­ten gath­ers pace, Mark O’Flynn’s la­conic Aus­tralian com­edy ex­hibits a voice and a com­pelling tim­bre of its own.

He man­ages to cap­ture, in this mem­oir, what it’s like for a so-called ‘‘ ac­ci­den­tal ex­pert with an arts de­gree’’, namely him­self, to work in an iso­lated quarry in out­back cen­tral Queens­land. This is a world of beer, men, meat, flies and 40C heat.

As O’Flynn doc­u­ments, at night in one of their prefabricated Nis­sen huts, all the men in the min­ing camp bar one ob­ses­sively played pon­toon — for wads of money — sweat­ing over their cards in the still, sti­fling air.

The camp is a place that at­tracts ‘‘ strange lit­tle bush bees, thirsty lit­tle in­sects that did not sting, but that also loved the saliva at the cor­ners of your mouth’’.

For some rea­son he does not men­tion that the honey from th­ese stin­g­less na­tive bees, which graced Aus­tralia well be­fore white in­va­sion and which we hap­pen to keep in in­ner-Syd­ney Red­fern, is ab­so­lutely or­gias­tic. Per­haps O’Flynn wasn’t able to gather, and taste, the tiny amount of honey they pro­duce each year.

His only pre­vi­ous work ex­pe­ri­ence — as a part-time cherry picker — hardly pre­pared this naive 22-year-old Mel­bur­nian for life in the Queens­land bush. And, at first glance, it did not seem help­ful for some­one who wanted pri­mar­ily to write po­etry and plays on his bat­tered yel­low type­writer. He also had a yen to per­form.

In the lat­ter parts of this rib-tick­ling book, O’Flynn re­veals that while liv­ing with an act­ing en­sem­ble in the Vic­to­rian coun­try­side and suf­fer­ing from tin­ni­tus as a re­sult of the deaf­en­ing min­ing ma­chin­ery of his Queens­land job, he acted in a play — The Curse of the Were­wolf — and wrote an­other — Pater­son’s Curse. While in the former he was gravely mis­cast as a ly­can­thropic Ir­ish­man who played the penny whis­tle, the lat­ter was based on that nox­ious pur­ple weed that is such a prob­lem for farm­ers and is poi­sonous to horses.

To say Pater­son’s Curse bombed in the coun­try town O’Flynn calls Woop-Woop is an un­der­state­ment. But as the au­thor says, even though it was ac­tu­ally ut­ter tripe, as time went by it be­came merely a play that had some prob­lems.

Yet even in Woop-Woop beauty was to be found: ‘‘ The mud wasps build­ing their nests against the eaves; the leaves of the wild roses fad­ing to yel­low.’’

The re­al­ity is that so much of the past is so for­get­table and me­mory is in­deed fickle, and of­ten be­yond re­cap­ture and re­call.

The last 50 pages of False Start, set in Syd­ney, Por­tu­gal and Ire­land, are deeply touch­ing and ut­terly hi­lar­i­ous. In the main they fo­cus on O’Flynn and his then girl­friend, now wife, Barb, act­ing as a proxy for her Catholic fa­ther Davo — a fer­vent mem­ber of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fa­tima — who was too un­well to leave Aus­tralia.

Their joint mis­sion in­volved trans­port­ing from Lis­bon to a chap called Tom McCarthy, in ru­ral Ire­land, a life-sized statue of the Vir­gin Mary and de­liv­er­ing a large win­ter over­coat to

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