by Kim Kelly
THE BANJO OR THE BOOZE?
I often wonder if there are two camps of Australian writers, and maybe Australians in general – the Lawsons and the Patersons. Those who walk with their characters and those who talk about them; those who are realists and those who romanticise; the socialists and the conservatives; the philosophers and the idealists.
Anyone who knows my stories would probably guess I’m a fan of Mr Lawson. It’s his honesty that takes me by the collar and makes me look, even when he says things I disagree with, and this small letter he wrote to The Bulletin in 1903 is one perfect example – and one of my favourite Lawson raves:
I’m awfully surprised to find myself sober. And, being sober, I take up my pen to write a few lines, hoping they will find you as I am at present. I want to know a few things. In the first place: Why does a man get drunk? There seems to be no excuse for it. I get drunk because I am in trouble, and I get drunk because I’ve got out of it. I get drunk because I’m sick, or have corns, or the toothache: and I get drunk because I’m feeling well and grand. I get drunk because I was rejected; and I got awfully drunk the night I was accepted. And, mind you, I don’t like to get drunk at all, because I don’t enjoy it much, and suffer hell afterwards. I’m always far better and happier when I’m sober, and tea tastes better than beer. But I get drunk. I get drunk when I feel that I want a drink, and I get drunk when I don’t. I get drunk because I had a row last night and made a fool of myself and it worries me, and when things are fixed up I get drunk to celebrate it. And, mind you, I’ve got no craving for a drink. I get drunk because I’m frightened about things, and because I don’t care a damn. Because I’m hard up and because I’m flush. And, somehow, I seem to have better luck when I’m drunk. I don’t think the mystery of drunkenness will ever be explained – until all things are explained, and that will be never. A friend says that we don’t drink to feel happier, but to feel less miserable. But I don’t feel miserable when I’m straight. Perhaps I’m not perfectly sober right now, after all. I’ll go and get a drink, and write again later.
The Patersons can find him messy and a bit of a silly old fool, but I love him like a long, lost, strange and often hilarious uncle. There’s not a writing day goes by that I don’t try to shoot for his cheek and his humour.
But who’s your favourite bush bard? Lawson or Paterson or maybe a mix of both?
Whoever you love, here’s cheers!