Happy 100th birthday, Ron Pop

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Meekatharra Hobby Joe Annie Ron Ivy about 1935

The Hobby family ca. 1935 in Meekathara, Joe and Annie (centre) with children Ivy (left) and Ron (right)

Today is the 100th birthday of my late grandfather, the Reverend Ron Hobby. He was a complex man, and since he died in 2006, I’ve spent a long time thinking about him.

Grandad’s parents weren’t married when he was born. A hundred years later, it’s not a big deal, but it was then. He never told his children or grandchildren, but I think he was painfully conscious of it and felt ashamed. I think he felt he had to prove himself to the world. He did this by working relentlessly. He was an Anglican minister and Granny used to tell the story of how the one time he had no engagements in the evening, he checked through the pew sheet to see if there were any meetings he could attend. He ended up heading off to the parish’s Mothers’ Union. Even if the story isn’t literally true, my dad says they didn’t see much of him when they were kids. So many people who have been around WA Anglican circles from the 1950s to the 1990s remember my grandad. He used to say he wasn’t much of a preacher, it was the other parts of ministry he was gifted in. He was energetic, determined, and caring.

Most of the stories about Grandad are too vague or disconnected in my memory. He lived in many places, mainly in Western Australia, and had many phases of life. He trained with the Claremont Football Club colts in the 1930s but gave football up to train for ministry. He worked as a miner to support his mother after his father died. He helped build a shell-brick chapel with his bare hands at Shark Bay. He went back to university in the 1970s and completed a bachelor of social science at WAIT, for which he liked to say he had to pretend to be a Marxist. He was tough. In his late seventies he went on a hike of a week or two by himself in Tasmania. He seemed to me like a pioneer, a connection to the settler days. He told the story of his mother or grandmother walking some great distance from Esperance – was it to Kalgoorlie? He told the story, too, of his great bike ride from Meekathara to somewhere across the desert. He liked anecdotes; I don’t think he was keen on self-reflection or confession.

I lived with my grandparents when I came to Perth to study in 1999. I look back with gratitude that I had a chance to get to know them. We talked a lot about politics and religion as my worldview shifted leftwards. After I moved out, Granny once said that I should come around more often, Grandad came more alive when he was debating me. I asked my uncle later about the debates he’d had with Grandad, but he said he never did. I may have been the only one who dared debate him, my uncle said. Grandad was fragile as well as tough. I wrote something on holy communion once which made him furious and, having inherited his stubbornness and conviction that nothing matters more than truth, I dug my heels in. We fell out again soon after over what occupation I should be doing.  I would handle Grandad differently these days.

I had visions of writing a biography-memoir of Grandad in time for his centenary. It would be my way of keeping his memory alive and understanding him better. I’d combine my own memories with historical research. But now he’s one hundred and I haven’t written that book and I don’t see myself doing it anytime soon.

However, his WA-based descendants are gathering for a reunion on Saturday. And my dad, who has been working on family history for years, is putting together what he’s discovered about Grandad’s life for the day. There’ll be twenty-three of his thirty or so great-grandchildren. He only lived long enough to see one great-grandchild; he would be so pleased to see the herd of descendants now growing up. I hope in time my own son, Thomas, who bears Grandad’s surname, will be interested in my stories of him and can feel some sort of connection to him, dead as he is.

 

Closing down: a walk along Albany Highway

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I moved to Perth from the country when I was eighteen to study and haven’t left. I’m thirty-six today, which means I’ve now been here half my life. I’ve lived in nine different suburbs from North Lake in the south to Lesmurdie in the hills, but it’s Victoria Park in the inner-city which has become home. My brother and I moved into a decaying weatherboard house in East Victoria Park in 2002. It was before the boom, and it cost $120 a week. There was a hole in the bedroom wall and the feel of the 1950s still in the old carpet and fittings and the overgrown quarter-acre backyard. We were shocked at the price – far beyond us – when it was put up for sale for $350,000 the next year. After a few years in share houses in East Victoria Park until I got married in 2006, it took six years to get back to the area, but Nicole and I had often thought we probably would, and now we’ve been back in Victoria Park for five years. Continue reading

Dear Steve Irons

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Dear Mr Irons,
We’re writing to you as our representative in parliament. The biggest issue for us is climate change, and we are so upset by the path your government is taking. We don’t feel that you’re committed to taking real action to reduce emissions. Coal is the worst possible energy source to be investing in at the moment. As new parents with a young son, we are deeply offended by Scott Morrison’s stunt with a lump of coal in parliament as Australia faces more extreme weather. Please, for the sake of our toddler and all of our futures, take some courageous action on climate change. We would welcome an emissions trading scheme and more renewables. We want to be proud of Australia leading the way for the world.
Yours sincerely, Nathan and Nicole Hobby

Governess: a reading in February from the KSP biography

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In case you missed it on my other blog, here’s the details of a reading I’m giving on Sunday at KSP Writers’ Centre. Love to see you there!

A Biographer in Perth

governess Katharine ca. 1904, from her autobiography, Child of the Hurricane, p. 42.

Governess – Katharine Susannah Prichard at Yarram, 1904: a reading by Nathan Hobby
KSP Writers’ Centre Sunday Session
4:00pm – 5:30pm Sunday 19 February 2017
11 Old York Rd, Greenmount WA
$10 general entry / $5 members (proceeds to KSP Writers’ Centre)
Refreshments provided
https://www.facebook.com/events/709078175927574/

Patience is an important virtue in writing a biography—or any book—and realistically it’s going to be a couple of years before my biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard appears. In the meantime, I’m excited to have a chance to share a chapter at the KSP Writers’ Centre Sunday Session.

The writers’ centre is in the hills of Perth, in the house Katharine lived in from 1919 until her death in 1969. Being involved with the centre has put me in touch with a community of writers who care about Katharine and her legacy. It’s…

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The Choir of Gravediggers by Mel Hall

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choir-gravediggers

Any novel under 70,000 words tends to get called a novella, which I think is a misnomer. The true novella – say, 15,000 to 40,000 words – is a rare beast; publishers won’t tend to touch it, despite the fact it has the reading time roughly equivalent to watching a film. Kudos, then, to Ginninderra Press, an independent Adelaide-based publisher, who have published a true novella in The Choir of Gravediggers, 48 pages long, by my friend, the Western Australian Mel Hall.

The Choir of Gravediggers has a frame narrative – a kind of biographical quest – as the narrator looks through the documents and photos that remain of her flamboyant father, Charles Truelove, who ran the St Kilda Cemetery and a choir at the turn of the twentieth century before being plagued by scandals and disappearing. Choir has a zany, engaging narrative voice, by turns poetic, inquisitive, elegiac. Mel’s historical research is worn lightly, making the narrative sparkle with authentic detail as she evokes historical Melbourne. Choir compresses a big story into a small book. This reader would always rather a book which leaves too soon than one which stays too long, though it might be that this is one narrative suited to a 300 page novel. (As a defender of the novella form, I do hate to say this!) An afterword reveals the strong historical basis for the work – Charles Truelove was a historical figure; indeed, he was Mel’s great-great grandfather.

 

Leonard Cohen: A Memoir

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I loved Leonard Cohen most when he had fallen into neglect. The time at the turn of the century when he was still out of fashion. The men behind the counters of vinyl shops in Perth met his name with derision. “What would you want to listen to that for?” demanded the owner at the underground one in Fremantle who always checked what you were looking for as you came in. “Music to slit your wrists to!”   For a time, I played Cohen’s albums obsessively. The artists who mean the most to me always make me feel we share a special understanding. Of course, any sense of reciprocity in that is an illusion.

One of his verses gave me comfort in a break-up, even if the sentiments were aspirational rather than true.

I don’t mean to suggest
That I loved you the best
I can’t keep track of each fallen robin
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
That’s all, I don’t think of you that often

I ordered his novel The Favourite Game, then only in print in Canada, and thought it a brilliant novel. I’ve been meaning to re-read, but I hesitate, because it’s no longer the right season to be reading it.

I wrote my second (failed) novel in thrall to him, calling my main character “Leo” in tribute. For a time, it was titled “The Revolution’s Pride” from a line in “Diamonds in the Mine.” His song “Famous Blue Raincoat” shaped the plot and the feel of that novel. It was the song I listened to more than any, and it seemed so perfectly sad and beautiful.

Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?

When I married a musician, she told me he didn’t sing in tune. I couldn’t really tell, but I wasn’t surprised. His songs were poetry, and they were a mood, and perhaps even a mode.

I never thought I’d see him play, but I did. It was at the Sandalford Winery on 7 February 2009. Just before I was due to leave – I was going alone – a parcel arrived. The courier must have been working overtime. It was my publisher, returning the manuscript of that failed second novel. It was, actually, the moment its failure became apparent after working with them on it for five years of back and forth. I felt like I’d been punched in the guts and I was miserable as I listened to Leonard Cohen on the grassy bank in the heat.

He was in fashion again – which I’m glad of, for his sake – and all the baby boomers of Perth were there to hear him. They were all big fans, they all knew the words to “Hallelujah.” I’d always imagined that I’d see Cohen in a dingy bar strumming his guitar solo, an intimate performance to a gathering of hardcore fans. This concert was the opposite of that, a huge line-up of musicians and dancers on stage transforming his sound.

Stuck in a traffic jam trying to leave in the hot dark, the radio had rolling coverage of massive bushfires in Victoria. I couldn’t believe the things they were saying there in the dark, whole towns burnt, so many people dead. It felt the world was coming to an end. Cohen’s contemporary, John Updike, had just died too. Updike and Cohen were always on this list in my head of heroes whose demise I await with dread. But Cohen lived on and I lived on and incredibly he even gave us three more albums. It’s only now that day has finally come and he joins that long list of celebrities who didn’t survive 2016. Perhaps it will always be remarked that the news of his death came as the world reeled from Trump’s election win. “Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye.” But it was. In public terms, he died as well as a man could. Thank you Leonard Cohen for all you gave us.