I thought I’d start the first blog post with some details around the novel – Sons of The Shire. It’s been a massive process, taking over eight years to write. And what a learning curve…The next book will come out a lot quicker than that…No, seriously, it will.
In the Beginning…
Ten years ago, I received a text message. Would anyone like to guess what it said? Here’s the gist: “This Sunday, every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla to support Leb and Wog bashing day…”
Pretty nasty stuff. I sent a text back to the guy with a WTF and never heard from him again.
That Sunday, I was at a family BBQ out in the western suburbs of Sydney and at that stage had been living out of The Shire for twelve months. I’d heard about the lead up and figured a group would likely get down to the Alley, sink some piss and then clear off. How wrong I was…
During the day I got a couple more text messages from other guys who were there. And, no, they weren’t those guys you saw on the tele with their shirts off, beer in one hand, flag in the other – they were spectators and they made it pretty clear things were out of control.
At the end of the BBQ, I decided to go down to see what was happening. I was listening to news reports in the car and I remember this notion of being both shocked and yet not surprised. I got down to Cronulla at the end of the day. At street level, things were pretty messy. Guys had finished drinking their twenty beers and it was clear they no longer cared if you were a Leb or not. I had more than a few of those looks – the ones where you can see the guy searching for a reason to start something. And as I wandered further into the mall, the feeling that you could be lynched was quite real.
Visually, Cronulla looked like it was celebrating Australia Day. It was camouflaged in the Australian flag, which had become the rioters’ symbol of patriotism, nationalism - a celebration of all things white and pure. But let's be honest - the flags were there to say: ‘we belong and you don’t.’ I sensed Cronulla would become the ugly face of racism in Australia. And I was right.
On the three-hour journey west, it got me thinking about my own experience of growing up in The Shire. The fact was – my childhood was idyllic. My teenage years were amazing. I loved growing up in The Sutherland Shire, but I began to sense perhaps growing up there had been a markedly different experience to growing up in other parts of Sydney. That maybe it was easy for me, because I was white, middle class, I surfed - I fit in perfectly. And as the weeks went on, I wondered why I felt haunted by what I’d seen that Sunday. Searching through my own memories, I realised, when I was younger, I’d made people feel like they didn’t belong. I’d done things that now make me shudder. And I’d done them because it was normal - that's how things were.
Another idea that struck me, was the media’s lack of knowledge surrounding the history of The Shire and the lead up to the day. Sure, they talked about non-locals and their lack of beach etiquette and disrespect of local women – but these were base issues that everyone was aware of. What about the history of Cronulla? The years of animosity between locals and everyone else? I'd seen and been in fights from 1991-95. I'd seen two serious brawls involving fifty guys. And what was really interesting was some of the animosity wasn't just aimed at westies or Lebs - I was once told to go home, and I’d ridden a bike down from Caringbah! I never got the sense the media understood what was really happening or had happened in Cronulla over the years. They didn't understood ‘The Shire mentality’ and how it had evolved and flourished.
Over the next year I began to put together some notes on ideas I had. During that time, I came across the documentary, Dog Town and Zboys and that really resonated with me. I felt that some of the earlier scenes in that doco mirrored my experiences of growing up in a surfing community. And even though my mates and I hadn’t created modern day skateboarding, I felt compelled to write about being a young surfer – about being a part of a tribe.
Then I got side-tracked in a new job and didn’t do a thing for two years. I thought about it – planned it in my head and sat on it like an egg. And that would make me a chicken. Note to future writers – don’t be a chicken. Anyway, I’ll skip this part because it’s boring and soul crushing. Life’s sometimes like that…
Then I got back on track and after going over my notes and throwing together some ideas, I decided I had a story. People were fascinated by The Shire and I wanted to write a story about my youth. One that was spent in the water – surrounded by mates who had helped ‘shape’ me into the man I’ve become today. I wanted to tell a story about the power of violence, but more importantly, the power of redemption.
In 2008, a week before my first son was born, I began typing…I got down about ten pages and then little mate was born and I stopped typing for two months…
Next week, I’ll cover the process and the years spent writing – freaking riveting stuff, trust me! It's a great guide of what not to do as an author.
And below is an obligatory glamour shot. For those of you who don't think it's any good - that's the best i've got. Now go buy my book.