I am Burnie born and bred. Most of my life has been spent living in the town – my working life in teaching its youngsters and those of its satellite communities. Most of my time there I hankered to be somewhere else – but I was patient, knowing the town might have its limitations – but its people were wonderful. My retirement does indeed see me in another place – but in my mind I am still Burnie. I write Burnie Tales – it’s what I write about the most. About the lives of the people, like me, in someway still connected to the town. These are stories that are ‘…sometimes truth, but mainly fiction’. Few will ever read them. I plonk them on my blog and send them off to mates and family who have expressed some liking for them – but they are mainly written for me. Composing them is therapeutic – it makes me happy, content with life, my Burnie Tales.
And here’s a Burnie tale of three girls, three best of friends, growing up and going to high school in my home town. They weren’t the most popular trio of their cohort – but they weren’t the most unpopular either. As they journeyed through their senior years and on into college, to the cusp of adulthood, they shared so much. This included their passions for boy bands and Spice Girls, the Adelaide Crows and Hawthorn Hawks, as well as ultimately, the more perplexing matter of the opposite gender. They were there for each other when times were tough, as they sometimes could be. There were family issues and heartbreaks in love. But they celebrated with zest each others’ successes – of which there were more than a few. Most of all, the best bit, was that with these three girls goodness emanated from every pore of their being. It was my good fortune to share teaching duties with two of them at Yolla District School where I watched with delight as they grew into consummate, caring professionals in their chosen vocation. Children of all ages pick up on goodness – and these two had that quality in spades. This characteristic has also assisted them in becoming gorgeous mothers to beloved offspring. What happened to the third you may ask – what did she become? Well, she became a writer – and a bloody good one.
Burnie is, has always been, a town set on improving itself. Today it is a far cry from the place the citizens of far ‘sophisticated’ locales took delight in pillorying for its industrial ugliness. But those factories gave employment. Now they are gone and even if the town is far more ‘liveable’, something of its soul has been lost in the process. Especially now, as we have a federal government doing its level best to make life in communities such as Burnie even more untenable, people are being forced to desert it in order to make a living. And Burnie people are such good people. Sure it has its fair share of drop kicks and the much derided bogans like every community, but generally the resilient bunch that keep the town’s spirit going have done an amazing job. Burnie keeps bouncing back from adversity. It is sad, though, that it remains tougher to call Burnie home these days. So those remaining stick together; they support each other through the hits they take, but can party like mad when there’s a celebration to be had at a milestone of life passed. The Burnie people I know do their level best to be good citizens. It’s this inherent goodness that Kate Gordon, the author in the previous threesome, writes of in her marvellous saga of what its like to be young and in such a place. Kate knows the town facing Bass Strait so well. She is one of its daughters as well.
In ‘Writing Clementine’ there are also three friends with goodness at their core – Clem herself, Chelsea-Grace and Cleo. They are not facsimiles of the aforementioned threesome – in fact mostly different apart from the fact they they were also neither the most popular nor the most shunned. They’ve been tight for so long – ever since their junior years. But now that they’ve reached Grade 9 fissures are starting to show. Boys, and all the attendant angst they cause, have entered the scene. Clem starts to feel on the outer, has issues with her body image and starts to gravitate to a new kid on the block, the quirkily attired Fred. He is another outsider as she is starting to perceive herself to be. Fred – the Fred Paul – of that weird cape, opens up to her one of the area’s best kept secrets, the Burnie Steampunk Society.
In a town like Clemmie’s there’s precious little for a teenager to do if one isn’t into sport or riding in noisy cars interminably around the main drag. Kids have to invent their own fun and Kate Gordon, the BSS is a glorious invention, befitting the town’s heyday of steam emitting factory chimneys. Through making their own entertainment, Clem starts to find her place out in the world. Fred Paul is as supportive a boyfriend as an emerging lass could have and Gordon has constructed him perfectly. He’s the antithesis of the school jock Clem had so much trouble with on the banks of the Cam. He is, in contrast, an odious creation – but not an unrealistic one as misogyny is alive and well still in our schools, despite our educators best efforts.
Then there is our heroine’s family. There is a delightful dad, still gyrating to Jimmy Buffett with his daughter after all these years. He works from home, in contrast to his equally caring wife who labours long hours, but is still very much an involved figure. Both her big sister Soph and elder bother Fergus have issues – which Clemmie does her level best to solve for them. Neither prove easy challenges and here the author delves further into the negatives of teenage-dom – body image and depression.
Nothing becomes too dire though. Overall the novel possesses a lightness in tone. The target audience will find it a page turner. It is a book full of joy and hope – a welcome relief to some of the depressing fare that is dished up to our young people in some of the doom and dystopian gloom on the market. In fact, ‘Writing Clementine’ is a tad like a Jimmy Buffett song – sure there are bad bits, but the world overall is a pretty magic place so get out there and enjoy. Both JB’s parrothead whimsy and Kate Gordon’s novel will make you feel joyful. The offering is clever in its structure as it is written in the form of journal entries from Clem to one of her teachers – and here lies my only minor quibble. Coming from my background I would have enjoyed more of Ms Hiller’s feedback to her. But that is just being plain picky – I know. It’s the teacher coming out.
Over the years there have been so many beautiful young ladies I’ve taught like Clem – not popular, not unpopular – just unsure of their place in the world. Perhaps they may even harbour Kate Gordon’s and Clem’s deepest, darkest secret – a decidedly uncool love of country music. How I’d love to be in the position now to hand this book over to them all with the words, ‘Here, this will help. The hero is just like you. Heed its message of ‘never be afraid to swim against the tide’ and you’ll be okay in the world. The world will go easy on you.’ This is the adage I’ve always attempted to convey in my teaching, but Ms Gordon can do it so much better in the power of a book. In its considered way ‘Writing Clementine’ will have this sort of impact on all who read it – and they will grin broadly afterwards. The author knows her young readers so well.
I was fortunate to attend the launch of this lovely book at the wonderful Fullers in Hobart one vile Tasmanian winter’s morning. But with the support of those assembled, despite the lashing rain outside, Katie G, soon had her rapt audience following her every word, sharing the emotion of bringing her book of ‘…sometimes truth, but mainly fiction’ out into the world. Those who know her well understand that recent years haven’t been entirely easy – but surrounded by the love of those who patently adore her, as well as being cheered on by her amazing Tessa Tiger, she has come out the other side with a work that will bring Buffettesque summer sunshine-y smiles to all those who purchase and read. Later in the year she’ll take ‘Writing Clementine’ home to the region of the state that first nurtured her and it. The equally wonderful ‘Not Just Books’ in Burnie will host its northern launch, with a mini-tour of local schools involved as well. People attending, in that part of the world and reading ‘Writing Clementine’, will recognise much about what makes their community so special in the book – those people, like myself and the author, who are Burnie born and bred. Good on you Katie girl.
Kate Gordon’s website = http://www.kategordon.com.au/