The Last Free Man and Other Stories

The Last Free Man and Other Stories

Lewis Woolston

Truth Serum Press 2019


The Last Free Man and Other Stories is the debut story collection from Alice Springs writer Lewis Woolston.

I was captivated by Woolston’s writing, a mixture of honesty and true-blue Australian-ism we don’t often see, these stories teleport the reader into the Australian outback. The outback is a place of drifters, stories, and backpackers. It’s a place you don’t stay unless you’re running from something.

Filled with stories from multiple perspectives and set roadhouses and other remote work around Alice Springs, the Nullarbor, and many other areas, Woolston has creates a picture of a quiet, nomadic life-style with the potential to make money and leave or, alternatively, live a quiet life away from the big smoke.

One of my favourite stories in this collection was ‘Driftwood’. Set across Brisbane, Perth, Mundrabilla, and Adelaide this story follows the main character and his relationship with Helen from their first meeting in Brisbane to their working and intimate lives. What I like most about this story is that is seems to give a wider picture of the characters’ lives, including Justin and Helen’s friend Louise, who are more than just supporting characters in the main characters’ easy-going love story.

Certainly, this isn’t a short story collection everyone will enjoy, like many Australian stories these might seem quite strange to some. Features such as curse words, outback slang, and drug use might be off-putting to some audiences; however, the no-fuss inclusion of these things is something I personally found comforting. Not often do you come across coarse language in a book that feels like it ought to be there. In Tim Winton’s work, certainly. But many writers do not do it well. Woolston’s inclusion of swear words throughout his stories spoke more about a cultural approach to these words and to the people; the drifters of the outback roadhouses, recovering addicts, and those who wanted to escape something.

I would recommend Woolston’s work to other readers of Australian fiction, particularly those who, like me, have not had the experience of being out there meeting eccentric personalities and learning how to maintain an awareness of what’s around you in face of Australia’s diverse and threatening wildlife.

To purchase a copy of Woolston’s book visit: https://truthserumpress.net/catalogue/fiction/the-last-free-man-and-other-stories/.

Words by Kayla Gaskell

Breath

This adaptation of the Tim Winton novel of the same name, is a love letter to the hard, unpredictable, nature of the ocean. The film is the directorial debut by Simon Baker, of The Mentalist fame, and was adapted for the screen by Winton, Baker and Gerard Lee. It’s a close adaptation of the novel, which follows Pikelet (Samson Coulson) and Loonie (Ben Spence), two young Australian boys. The film starts with them falling in love with surfing at the age of thirteen. Enigmatic former pro surfer, Sando (Simon Baker) and his wife, Eva (Elizabeth Debicki), enter their lives soon after.

 

Set in the South West Coast of Western Australia, Breath is a lush, beautiful piece of cinema. The action and character interaction are interspersed with long beautiful shots of the beach, and Pikelet and his best friend Loonie (Ben Spence) drifting along the ocean’s current. The long shots of the surf and the creek beds and the silhouetted gum tree added an almost haunted sense of solitude and stillness. The film’s evocative use of landscape is one of its strongest features, and I couldn’t help but think of Tim Winton’s prose as I watched.

 

As much as Breath is a film about the ocean, it is also about boyhood, fear, and the danger of obsessive love. The boys fall in love with the feeling of dancing on water, and when Sando appears in their lives they try desperately to write themselves into his thrill-seeking life. Sando chases bigger and more dangerous waves, and the two boys – Loonie especially – follow him in his quest. Fear rules most of Pikelet’s time on his board – he loves the ocean and surfing but cannot seem to commit himself with the same reckless abandon as his mate, Loonie. Loonie, a kid who has grown up with abusive parents and the grim certainty he will never matter – sees surfing as something he can lose himself in entirely.

 

The emotional arc of the movie follows the timid Pikelet working up enough courage to stand up for himself. The character is prone to panic attacks and bouts of being completely frozen in frightening situations. Loonie and even Sando sometimes, sees these attacks as Pikelet being a ‘pussy’ or somehow less manly. In the end, Pikelet rejects this rigid form of masculinity – he still loves surfing and the ocean but he wants to do it on his terms.

 

However, Breath is also home to many moments of tenderness. The relationship between the much older Sando and the boys is built on a foundation of mutual affection. Sando is always quick to help Pikelet calm down during one of his panics and takes on Loonie’s wildness with a sense of admiration. Despite being rife with the posturing and insecurities and jealousy of teenage boys, the relationship between Pikelet and Loonie is a caring one. Pikelet often offers Loonie a safe place to stay when his father is being abusive. The scenes where they attempt to earn enough money for their first surfboards by doing a bunch of shitty jobs for not very much money, are delightful.

 

My biggest issue about the film comes in the form of Eva, Sando’s wife. Eva is a former professional skier from Utah, USA. She is forced to give up the sport after an accident does severe and permanent damage to her knee. For much of the film she exists as a dark, angry spectre on the edge of the boy’s close relationship with her husband. ‘I don’t want them here,’ she hisses to Sando, upon seeing the boys in her driveway. After Sando and Loonie disappear to Indonesia leaving her and the other boy behind, Eva seduces the school age Pikelet into an increasingly disturbing sexual relationship. The relationship ends after Pikelet discovers Eva is pregnant. It’s unclear whether the child is his or Sando’s. The script doesn’t offer Eva much beyond being Sando’s wife and her relationship with Pikelet. She is obviously a character in pain and frustrated by the turn her life has taken and there seems to be no escape for her. The last we see of Eva is her carefully blank face as she tells Pikelet to go home after he sees the new swell of her belly. Indeed, ‘carefully blank’ seems to be the most we get out of the only female character with any significant screen time.

 

I enjoyed this film for the most part and I think fans of Tim Winton will not be disappointed by this adaptation.

 


Words by Riana Kinlough.

Three stars.

Best of the Best: Modern Australian Short Stories

This powerful book encompassing 25 short stories written by the crème de la crème of Australian literary talent is worth a visit. The editor, Barry Oakley, was the literary editor of the Australian Newspaper between 1988 and 1997. Barry Oakley is a prolific Australian playwright, novelist and short story writer, and by-the-by was encouraged by the publishers to include his own futuristic dystopian peace at the tail end of this impressive body of writing.

 

Mr Oakley handpicked these 25 stories from a list of over 167 short stories he edited for Five Mile Press volumes. Most of these stories were written in the decade leading up to 2009, while his selection was based on the writers’ abilities to ‘replace our world with theirs’. Therefore, he avoids what Patrick White terms the ‘dreary, dun-coloured offspring of journalistic realism’ often encountered in shorter, year-specific collections. The result is a confluence of compelling dramas, magic realisms, and teased-out situations.

 

The Australian short story has long been linked to Australia’s isolated geography. This trend continues: coping with fears, grief and sudden change are certain features of this geography.

 

Mr Oakley has grouped the short stories under themes to assist the reader’s appreciation: Childhoods: a place where innocence is threatened; Fabulations: see myths and magic merge; Impositions: where difficulties are encountered; Letting Go: when strings are cut or should be; On the Margins: out of town; Desperations: when crimes are committed; Resolutions: in one’s family. Threads of racism, violence, multiculturalism, horror, and so forth, are equally stitched.

 

Matthew Condon’s The Sandfly Man is a story about the ghostly spirit of a caravan park that haunts a young boy: ‘If I closed my eyes I could see the Sandfly Man, coming for me through that swirling mist, moving slowly forward, his boots crunching on the dirt laneways.’ David Malouf’s Blacksoil Country examines a terrible chain reaction set off between two cultures: ‘The whole country had a new light over it. I had to look at it in a new way. What I saw in it now was hiding-places.’ Julie Gittus’s Driving the Inland Road shows relationships fraying on a bush-block in paradise: ‘At Gunnedah my headlights shine on a billboard beside a stone church. Have faith. He loves you. But I keep driving south into the night.’

 

Cate Kennedy’s Habit is about an elderly woman who attempts to pass through Customs with cocaine in tow. Carmel Bird’s The Hair and The Teeth tells of the emotional toll carried by a woman whose house was burgled. Tim Winton’s Commission begins when a son goes in search of his father at his mother’s request in the West Australian outback.

 

A majority of the stories’ POVs are written in the first person, some in the third person. Most of the plots tend to follow the traditional linear path, with or without flashbacks, with about a third circling the main issue. One jumbles its timeframes.

 

The themes in these stories should appeal to a wide variety of readers. They satisfy my personal tastes. There are an equal number of male and female characters albeit a slight majority of POVs are male-centric. Each story feels like an emotional canvas: when you least expect it, the porcelain breaks. It never once felt like any two stories covered the same ground. I give this collection 4.5 stars out of 5 stars. Worth reading with tea and chocolates.


Best of the Best: Modern Australian Short Stories

Edited by Barry Oakley

Stories from Tim Winton, David Malouf, Thea Astley, Cate Kennedy, Peter Goldsworthy, Margo Lanagan, and Others

RRP: A$24.95

ISBN 9781742117454 (pbk.)

320 pages

Printed 2009, 1st Edition, Five Mile Press, Victoria


Words by Dane Miller.

Dane Miller is an established writer and poet from South Australia.