Growing Up home page Introduction What the Critics said
‘ … a fine evocation of what it was like to be young and ‘growing up’ in those years…’ William Taylor.
The stories are roughly chronological, beginning with the end of the Second World in 1945, and finishing at a dinner party forty years later, when the Cold War was still at its height. They are told from a variety of perspectives: some from the adult point of view, others from the child. Some are set in past, some in the present, and some combine the two. And while there is a common theme linking the stories, there is no other continuity between the characters. Each story is separate and is meant to be complete in itself.
Dance is the story of a boy who discovers the disturbing power of music and art at a very young age: and in coming to realise that it marks him as different to most other children, Louis also understands that in surrendering to the music he has shouldered a burden he will have to carry for the rest of his life.
Royal Tour tells of The Queen’s first visit to Australia in 1954, and of how Josephine and her patriotic parents stand with the crowds ready to cheer and wave their flags as Her Majesty passes, waiting for her to smile and wave especially at them…
Pigs concerns the difficult business of learning to write at school with pen and ink … of vanity and disaster … and of how, so often, when trying to make things better we only make them worse.
A Last Nowell is every child’s and every parent’s Christmas story, when we must at last confront the question ‘Daddy, is there really a Father Christmas?’ And decide how to answer it, ‘wondering if the truth will hurt too much?’
Patsy A tale of loss, and of grief, and of the dreadful damage that may be inflicted by the self-righteous who wrongly accuse a child of stealing … and are quite certain that God will forgive them when they are shown to be wrong. Would that they might seek forgiveness from the child.
Revenge is an outer suburban tale of sibling rivalry – small and trivial in its way, though the reptilian fears it evokes are real enough to support the conclusion that ‘wars have been started for no less foolish reasons.’
Growing Up The title story, one which has become widely anthologised. It concerns a young Aboriginal boy from a country town, and his best mate, a white kid, who lives on a property and invites him to stay for the weekend. William Taylor writes: ‘It is sad and it is lyrical and it rings with too many unpalatable truths. There is an almost unbearable inevitability to it. It encapsulates everything about being an 'outsider’…
Letters From School A collection of letters written by a young boy in a boarding school to his Nanny – and one last letter from the adult man, reflecting on what he has just read in the bundle that has been sent from the past. They are largely based on real letters, written by myself to my old Nurse.
The Tortoise A poignant story of the love of an animal … a beloved pony … a dying tortoise … of loss and of acceptance by a young teenage girl out for a ride by the river with her friends.
Bees Probably my favourite story from the collection. It’s about the uncertainties and ambivalence faced by every adolescent, standing at the top of the hill and wondering what lies on the other side of the distant mountains … but knowing that in end life will probably drag him back to the drones in their beehives in the city at his feet.
Discovery The usual crisis of conflict and misunderstanding between the generations. A mother finds a condom in her daughter’s purse, and is pursued by all kinds of doubts, unknowns and memories of her own young womanhood as she grapples with how best to confront Virginia.
Incident is a story based on something I witnessed on the bus going home one evening: a shabby old woman was physically removed from the vehicle by an Inspector ‘because you can’t travel on your pension card out of hours.’ One of those nasty little tyrannies with which bureaucracy blights our lives … and nobody else on the bus had the courage to speak one word in 'Mad Sally’s' defence.
When the Sun Came Up is another story of relations between black and white Australians – a young teenage girl is running away into the desert, because of a family row over her friendship with an Aboriginal boy. It culminates in a deeply mystical location I once visited on the edge of the Western Australian desert, and which has remained with me ever since.
At Dinner is a conversation between an older man and the teenage son of his friend, soon to go to university, but gripped with pessimism and disillusion about the world. A story that concerns truth and compromise and the enduring values. Some have thought it a bit didactic – but discussions across a dinner table usually are, and it's what happened.
This is social history in its most appealing form from one of Australia’s leading exponents writing for young people…. Sandy Campbell, Canberra Times.