Beat of the City

I bought Hesba Brinsmead's Beat of the City second-hand last year, as part of my getting-to-know-early-Australian-authors project. I'd never heard of it, but I really love Pastures of the Blue Crane and I hadn't read any other Brinsmead books.

Well, it hasn't aged as well as Pastures, despite being published only a year later. Pastures is set on the Queensland coast, but Beat is completely urban. It's set in Melbourne in the mid-60s, published in the year I was born, in fact. This aspect was absolutely fascinating -- the story swirls around the axis of Johnston St, from the students of the university at one end to the Convent and the river at the other, and there's lots of nostalgia for a Melbourne resident: Allans Music Store, Abbotsford and Fitzroy's 'hugger-mugger of factories, tenements, migrant hostels, and almost brand-new slums', Whelan the Wrecker, Russell St police headquarters.

But it's very self-conscious about examining the 'with-it', 'way out' yoof with their dead, empty eyes, pursuing the dead, empty pleasures of 'canned' rock music and dancing; redemption is found when the characters are exposed to the delights of 'real' folk music! I must say I was drawn deeper into the story the longer I persisted, and I ended up enjoying it, though it was a bit of a struggle at the start. The illustrations didn't help, I felt they were quite unsympathetic, almost cartoonish, and I found them alienating.

I only discovered this morning that there was a TV miniseries made from the book, in 1975! Now that would be interesting to see!

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