'And What Do You Do Mr Gable?' 'The Australian Disease' – Richard Flanagan

Although neither of us these days reside there, I suspect that he, like I, still regards the North West Coast as the homelands. So I liked this bit:- ‘She would sometimes halt our car…on the side of a new highway cutting that had sliced open the red earth of Tasmania’s north west coast, a flick-knife (great metaphor RF) of progress slashing the land. After looking furtively up and down the road, she would get out of the boot old fertiliser bags and order us children to fill them with that rich and sweating red earth. We would take that dirt all the way south to our Hobart home, where she would empty it over that part of our backyard she decreed would be a vegetable garden…With her foot she would scuff back the surface of some of the sour grey clay of southern Tasmania, and say:
‘Smell that son.’
And we would smell the richness together as she let it fall through her fingers, a shower of red earth saying:
‘Now that’s what I call soil.’

That red earth is the stuff of miracles; the same red earth that grows the world’s best spuds. I’ve a good life here in the sour-soiled south, but that dirt from the opposite end of the state, good enough to be placed on a plate and be served as a meal – well, I miss it, I really do. That, as well as the homeland’s accompanying fecundity, lushness, greenness. It’s a part of my soul, as it is for Richard Flanagan.


‘The Australian Disease’ is a short – and cheap at less than ten bucks – mash-up of several of the essays featured in the Man-Booker winning author’s ‘And What Do You Do Mr Gable? Much of the latter, particularly his railing against the obscenity that was the hold Gunns had on both sides of government here on our island for many years, I’d read before. And I do admit I found some of the other offerings too cerebral for my aged and addled brain. Others, though, I enjoyed immensely – some even moving me to the core, such as the reminiscence that contained the extract I used in the intro, simply entitled ‘Bread’. In this the great man writes of his fondness for ‘roo and wallaby chorizo (I wonder where he sources that from?) and gives us his own recipe for a loaf – so simple; its perfection being in the love imparted from maker to dough. And then there’s the view that the rot first set in on humankind when we transformed ourselves from hunter-gatherers to reapers of grains. Hmmm!


He also gifts us his reflection on how Peter Dombrovskis’ images of wilderness changed the way we looked at wild places, Tasmanian or otherwise. In turn that camerasmith took his cues from the ground-breaking Olegas Truchanas – and uncannily both died in much the same way, out doing what they loved. ‘They created another Tasmania; an invitation to a dream open to all.‘Another image poignantly features in his ‘Family is Everything’, his take on the 2001 election campaign when a Kim Beazley decision to align his party to Howard’s hard-line attitude to legal refugee seekers, trying to find a better life for themselves and their children in our previously welcoming country, grew into the great shame that was the culmination of that policy under the thankfully now departed Abbott. Shorten has attached himself to that too – it is to be hoped that Turnbull can usher in a softer stance.

In ‘Sheep Management’ Flanagan makes a case for fiction as opposed to the prevailing plethora of factual tomes. Yet another campaign is covered when he joins the media pack following a Mark Latham trying to convince that being a nut case shouldn’t exclude one from being PM (‘The Rohypnol Decade’).

Flanagan, Richard

‘The Australian Disease’ gives a synopsis of the bigger collection, being the transcript to his Alan Missen Oration’, again from 2011. Back then there was a possibility, that he touches on, of a ticket of Putin/Palin ruling the world. What could be worse? Dare I suggest – Putin/Trump?

Richard Flanagan’s website = http://richardflanagan.com/

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