Bob Hawke and I went to the same high school. One difference was that he tried very hard to get into it (it’s detailed in his biography) whereas I had no idea what a ‘scholarship’ was or where the school was or what it meant.
I hope he had better teachers than I did. Mine were pretty ordinary – like the high school teacher I myself went on to be – lacking any advice whatsoever or imagination about whatever else I could have done – a schoolteacher was about the last thing I should have aspired to be.
Bob was in favour of unions. I never liked having to be a member of a union, and especially not being told that I was required to go on strike. Despite such orders, I think I somehow never missed a day of being there for my students. For me, that was the point – doing that job – not how much we got paid.
Bob’s father was employed by a religious organisation. Religions – organised or not – were not of any importance in my family, thank God! Bob never gave it up – like alcohol, which he got right back into as soon as he could.
It always seemed obvious to me, from adolescence, that it was necessary to have a library. If you read The Grapes of Wrath, you needed also to own Tortilla Flats. As with The Old Man and the Sea and To Have and Have Not. You expected not only to be able to read The Turn of the Screw when you wanted to, but also to able to read it again.
Not only that, but you were the person who owned copies of those books. To some extent, it defined who you were.
All that has changed.
The canon is no longer of any consequence. And even further: not only is the ownership of books no longer of any consequence, but neither are printed books themselves of any value of any kind.
Many, most, of the books I have are paperbacks. They are dirty and deteriorating. They have no monetary or any other kind of value as artefacts.
The cultural value they allegedly contain has come in question, and indeed found wanting, post modernism.
Having written all that, I find that I have convinced myself that I can throw into recycling or into landfill – it doesn’t matter much, as the one may become the other – almost of my capital L Literature library.
I shall of course ask my heirs and assignees (whatever that means) – as I happen to be still alive – how they feel about it, but I think they will agree with the conclusion I’ve come to.
When my mother died, there was no problems about books. I had already taken my books out of the house when I came back to reside permanently in Western Australia in 1985. However, there was something else that surprised me.
I had never thought about the piano in the house, nor about the (sheet) music. The printed music had been there forever, and it never occurred to me that it would not still be there for me to inherit. However, my mother must have allowed someone to go through it and take whatever they wanted, as there are many items that I expected to be able to play again which had gone.
There was also the piano. We only ever had two. The Volmer was my mother’s own. It wasn’t a top-class instrument, but it was the one I grew up with – and may have been partly responsible for my lack of discrimination in pianistic finesse – in that it didn’t respond much to stylistic variation.
My father took on a new trade at the age of something like 50, moving from being a fitter and turner in an engineering factory to becoming a self-employed artisan piano repairer and tuner. Props!
He created a modified piano, late in life. It had no front door, just a sonically neutral cover, so that what came from the soundboard was literally right in your face. And he also created a rather silly row of press studs hanging on tapes which could be lowered in front of the hammers to create a ‘honky-tonk’ effect as the hammer struck the string with the press stud in between.
That’s quite hard to describe, and you might not have understood what I’m trying to convey. The point is that it was a unique piano. And after my mother’s death, I found that it was no longer in the lounge room. I have no idea who the lucky new owner is/was, but I felt deprived.
All of that is an analogy with my current problem (as I prepare to die) with books.
Having set that up as the topic, I now have to go. I hope to get back to this …
Gillian Alcock was a prefect and dux of Narrogin High School in 1967. She went on to become an expert maker of hammered dulcimers and related instruments. She died 2 November 2018, probably as a result of having had MS for many years.
She is the second former student of mine of whose death I have heard. The first was that of architect Murray Etherington, who died of brain cancer in 2016.