Sunday, February 25, 2007

In Sunshine or in Shadow by Martin Flanagan

I bought this for my Dad a couple of years ago. Because Martin Flanagan is my favourite writer I broke the unwritten law and read it before I wrapped it. I have just got around to borrowing it back and reading it a bit more carefully.

He writes about his life and the people he has met. He writes about growing up in Tasmania, and travelling the world alone and desperate, then coming back here. He writes about his life now, as a journalist with The Age, as a kind of thoughtful football scribe and interpreter-at-large of aboriginal Australia for its white counterpart. His columns frequently appear in the football section of the paper, but they encompass so much more than the increasingly homogenous world of Australian Rules.

I can't think of any other sportswriter who paints a picture of their subjects as human beings, as well as Flanagan does. You can imagine the subjects of his stories being afraid, being sorry, having weaknesses, falling in love. Even if they are a niggling tagger, or a mean back pocket hard man.

He loves to write about aboriginal footballers. Through this initial connection he has met and talked with an amazing cross-section of aboriginal Australia. It is an education to hear their stories through him. I envy him his contacts, his journalistic skills and his tenacity that has enable him to gain such insights.

His father Arch won the Devonport Gift, and later was in Hintok prison camp in Burma with Weary Dunlop. Martin accompanied Dunlop when he returned to Burma. Weary Dunlop was an immensely gifted man, a surgeon who represented Australia in rugby. Arch had one word for Weary - "kindness".

My only reservation about this book is that it might be too honest. Martin is at heart a poet, and sometimes describes himself doing things that poets are supposed to do - speaking to the wind, that sort of thing. You wouldn't catch me admitting to that sort of flim-flam.

However - this is a very fine book, written in an honest and very engaging voice, and drawing together many things I find very interesting - aboriginality, politics, the environment, Tasmanian history and sport. Martin's work has always left a deep impression on me, so much so that whenever I write, I imagine it as a letter to him. If its not good enough, I keep at it until it is up to scratch.

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