Memoirs cut from the same cloth
Salt Story: Of Sea-Dogs and Fisherwomen The Bouncer
By Sarah Drummond Fremantle Press, 160pp, $24.99 By Heath Lander Finch Publishing, 245pp, $24.99
OUR best writers are our best observers. American humorist David Sedaris springs to mind as a writer who generates perfectly articulated social truths through an aptitude for observation. We need writers who are able to identify truths about society, politics and industry. Sarah Drummond and Heath Lander do just that.
Salt Story: Of Sea-Dogs and Fisherwomen is Drummond’s first book, written as a tribute to the inshore and estuarine commercial fishing industry, and to the men and women whose livelihoods depend on it.
Set on the wild south coast of Western Australia, the book follows Drummond’s tutelage under a fisherman named Salt, her employer and guide to a way of life that is under threat, dying of a thousand government cuts.
Drummond’s anxiety is that the stories and knowledge born of this culture will die as well. She makes an intelligent and impassioned case for their endurance, framed by her experiences at sea, and away from it.
‘‘ Initially, these tales of fisher men and fisher women may appear to read as fragments of a day, a life — ripping yarns, beautiful lies and a few home truths,’’ she writes in a nod to the untraditional structure of the book. The 62 ‘‘ fragments’’ that constitute this memoir are not linear or predictable in content or theme. Each, though, is beautifully written, evocative of a fading world, yet measured, the author reining in her obvious zeal.
As a teenager, Drummond was drawn to beaches and jetties and the people who worked on them. ‘‘ I want to understand them, to rub through the veneer of people who spend their lives on the water,’’ she writes. This selfassuredness underpins Salt Story.
‘‘ Land people will never understand what sea people are talking about,’’ she warns.
Heath Lander’s debut book, also a workplace memoir, unfolds in an utterly different world. ‘‘ There was little in my early years to suggest I would work in nightclub security,’’ he writes early on in The Bouncer.
It’s Lander’s failure to conform to the bouncer stereotype, however, that makes his story so compelling. A stranger himself to the gritty underbelly of Melbourne’s nightlife, he is a keen-eyed and and shrewd guide. He recalls a younger version of himself at his first shift at the Royal Hotel in the Melbourne CBD, wearing five shirts to compensate for his unimposing physique. A university graduate with a major in sculpture and education, he is almost an accidental bouncer.
The Royal is the backdrop against which the main events of this memoir unfold. Standing in its doorframe, Lander must quickly develop two qualities to survive: the ability to recognise and defuse danger, and confidence in himself.
Neither is easily gained. The violence he describes on and off the streets is staggering and paints a grim picture of Melbourne after dark. So, too, does it hint at uncomfortable truths about binge drinking in Australia.
Lander isn’t coy in his retelling of these events and the content is frequently confronting as a result. He doesn’t exaggerate, though; as it turns out he knows how to apply just the right amount of force.
In the early chapters, the violence is offset by wry humour. While on duty, Lander is visited by his mother who, he is forced to explain to his colleague, is gay. ‘‘ Whatever credibility I did have as a hard man