Penguin Viking $32.95
By Bruce Pascoe
I’m a huge fan of Bruce Pascoe. As soon as I read Ruby-Eyed Coucal (1996) I knew I wanted to be able to write like him when I grew up. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, but at least I am still being inspired by his novels like Shark (1999) and more recently the work Bloke – about a typical Aussie fella. Well he’s typical in that he likes fishing and women, but not so typical when you read about life in the little town of Nullakarn on the East Gippsland Coast, where –
To get abalone you have to dive deep, into a sea of inhabited by some very big fish. Combine danger with money and you attract eccentrics: mad poets, Maori musicians, alternative medicine freaks, cricketers wondering what to do after the bats broke, water-colourists – they were all in Nullakarn and they had the best parties too.
Add to the mix, the Bloke’s trips to Bolivia, Singapore and Darwin, police raids on the boat he’s captaining on the Arafura Sea, stints in gaol, and his extraordinary circle of acquaintances and colleagues, then it’s more than a book about fishing!
Jim Bloke’s story begins around life diving for abalone, making lots of money but asking few questions. We’re told that
Most fisherman were decent blokes who couldn’t keep away from the sea. They got into it because they were already in love with the ocean floor. Some of them were benefactors of their towns, sponsors of any sporting team willing to pull on the town colours, supporters of the library and the elderly cits.
But the fishermen in this novel aren’t all good blokes’, oh no, there’s a few undesirables. And it’s the characters in Pascoe’s fiction that I really like. Their diversity and voices engage me page after page. They move the story along, they give it life, spice, interest.
The narrator Jim Bloke is an interesting and troubled creature himself. Given his name at an orphanage, he was removed under the policy of protection and never saw his mother again. He is reunited with his extended family in the story, and there we meet the cheeky child Lilly who loves to hear a good yarn. Her mother Retha – Jim’s cousin – steals too many of Bloke’s thoughts and causes a conundrum for both of them. And then there’s Aunty Cookup who doesn’t suffer fools and make’s sure he knows his responsibility to family. And just in case he forgets, she reminds him again.
There’s king of the fisherman, Stoker Stevens who’s built like a brick you-know-what and always good for a slab and a bottle of Jim Beam. He’s a drug-lord fisherman – the mafia of the sea.
There’s Scrubber Higgins whose brain is like a 1950s computer, and we meet
Smearcat Solomon and Nugget Nectar in the Barwon Detention Centre. The stories about how they go their names are shear gold!
And then of course there’s the love interest Giovanna – ex-wife of Bruno Baras, a rather ‘bad-bloke’. Through Giovanna we get some insight into the delicate and respectful way that men can consider women. Well, at least in fiction. J
I began reading this book as a “blokes’ tale” with some important insights into how men think about women. But the work contains serious comments on the issues and consequences around the Stolen Generations, blackfellas incarcerated and the loyalty amongst prisoners, Aboriginal identity and community responsibility.
So, it’s a fishing tale, a social commentary and a love story, so there’s something for everyone!