Reflections on ‘a wild west’
CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMED SHEPPARTON-BORN AUTHOR ANSON CAMERON MUSES ON THE CITY IN THE 60s AND 70s
Towns, communities and worlds change, there’s no denying that. But for a bit of extra insight, it’s always worthwhile having a look back at what a place used to be so we can see what it has become. The News’ Isabelle Harris sat down — virtually — with Shepparton-born author Anson Cameron to discuss his memoir Boyhoodlum and the nature of memories and change.
Anson Cameron’s self-defined “factional memoir” Boyhoodlum
uses his childhood memories to capture the mix of lawlessness and freedom that shaped his Shepparton childhood in the 1960s and early 70s.
He’s a regular columnist at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald
and critically-acclaimed author of
Silences Long Gone, Stealing Picasso, Nice Shootin’ Cowboy and more, but a gap in writing books gave him the opportunity to write
“I wanted to capture wider Shepparton, I wanted to do it with wider truths . . . the events are all written as closely as I remember them,” he said.
The book is written around these “wider truths” and is written as Anson remembers them, although he said he “didn’t want truth to obstruct fun” and admits some of the story is affected by the “dubious” nature of his memories.
It follows Anson’s childhood through from his memories of his mischief-filled pre-primary years with fights in the schoolyard to holiday pranks on his siblings and neighbours.
“The shtick of the book was ‘I’m a little asshole’ . . . I remember the editor telling me to include one scene hinting at my own, innate goodness,” he said, laughing.
He does share some redeeming moments, such as the time he saved two siblings from an alleyway bashing by a teenaged thug.
“Exploring my past was like going to a foreign country, I hadn’t been there for so long, like visiting a place you haven’t seen since your childhood,” he said.
“(In the book) I was wreaking vengeance on my enemies, exposing the foibles of my sisters and aunties . . . but going back and meeting them in memory, seeing them in a
different light, you can forgive their sins.”
Despite the theme of “Anson’s a beast” (and assumed annoyance
from the adults around him) permeating the book, he said growing up in Shepparton and the experiences and attitudes that came with it formed a huge part of who he was at the time, as well as who he is today.
“Those first dozen years were formative years, the town itself of course shaped who I was . . . it had what I would call a lovely lawlessness of the place,” he said.
“It was a country town and we had wonderful freedom; it was a wonderfully free time. It taught you trials and tribulations you had to figure out by yourself, it taught you patience.”
Although he left Shepparton at age 12 to go to boarding school, he said the town and his memories of it still sat deep within him today.
“You can never quite rub that out . . . a million books will tell you how formative (your childhood) was, but I wouldn’t have grown up anywhere else,” he said.
“I look back on Shepp now and, sh*t, it was a wild west!”
Boyhoodlum captures this feeling of a window into the town Anson describes, but it's still a fragment of the past experienced from a distance.
“I wanted to be as faithful as I can,” he said.
While he’s not sure quite the same atmosphere exists today, the heady feel of lawlessness and possibility lives on in Boyhoodlum.
● Boyhoodlum, alongside Anson’s other works, is available in hardcopy or eBook format via the Penguin Australia website at