Her way

by Beryl Fletcher / 05 July, 2003

CRAFT FOR A DRY LAKE, by Kim Mahood (Random, $26.95).

What is it about memoir? Everybody's writing it, from the famous to the downright ordinary. Maybe prominent people want to get their oar in before some lying toad of a biographer subjects them to tortuous Freudian analysis that reduces their life's work to Something Awful That Mummy or Daddy Did.

But for relative unknowns such as Kim Mahood, writing memoir seems to be an attempt to make sense of childhood experience so that one can reside comfortably within the present. It's easy to fall into the terrible sin of skiting, or to produce a vengeful memoir where everyone except the writer comes across as a right bastard. Mahood has risen above these temptations, and the result is a fantastic read.

Mahood is 50 years old, she is a visual artist, this is her first published book, and the place she writes about is the Outback, a place so mythologised and embedded in the Australian psyche that it has functioned as a literary (and literal) Dreamtime for generations of urban sophisticates. Has she said anything fresh?

The answer is a resounding yes. Mahood's account of her life moves beyond personal anecdotes to a lyrical and moving analysis of Australians' complex and constantly shifting relationships to the land.

One day, she gets into her clapped-out car with her dog Sam and drives back to her childhood home and the old haunts of her father. During this long journey, she begins to make sense of the mysteries of the past, in particular, the character of her late father. On the surface, he seemed to be a typically laconic cattle rancher. But, like her, he was an artist, a loner. She discovers that although she came back to the remote station to lay the ghost of her father, she is confronted instead with herself.

Another insight occurs when towards the end of her journey she is invited to participate in an Aboriginal ritual. Although she mixed with Aborigines as a child, and spoke the local language, she finds that the women's ceremony "has shaken me out of the notion that I have any real knowledge of, or relationship with, Aborigines and their culture. The stories I have told to city friends, that have given my life a glamorous and exotic edge, seem like flimsy posturing."

We enter into a conversation with Mahood, a dialogue that is at once both personal and universal. Her beautifully written stories and insights are always shaped by the immensity of the landscape, both geographical and mythological. In the end, she sees the constant shift and reinterpretation of the Outback myth as barely relevant to the awesome presence of the country itself.

Latest

Excavated cult-horror film Suspiria is an ambitious failure
98994 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Movies

Excavated cult-horror film Suspiria is an ambitiou…

by James Robins

Released in 1977, Dario Argento’s campy Suspiria was a landmark in cult horror. Now, director Luca Guadagnino has remade it in a new style.

Read more
Scottish-Bengali crime writer Abir Mukherjee on his 'cultural schizophrenia'
98517 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Books

Scottish-Bengali crime writer Abir Mukherjee on hi…

by Craig Sisterson

Abir Mukherjee uses India’s painful struggle for independence as the backdrop for his Sam Wyndham detective stories.

Read more
Lunchtime legends: 5 hospo stalwarts on Auckland's restaurant evolution
93848 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Auckland Eats

Lunchtime legends: 5 hospo stalwarts on Auckland's…

by Alice Neville

Restaurant veterans Chris Rupe, Krishna Botica, Tony Adcock, Geeling Ching and Judith Tabron reflect on the Auckland dining scene.

Read more
Best Auckland BYO restaurants where the food is good too
97751 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Auckland Eats

Best Auckland BYO restaurants where the food is go…

by Metro

Head to one of these Metro Top 50 Cheap Eats and 50 under $50 restaurants for BYO dining that won't break the bank.

Read more
Get a lesson in mezcal at new Snickel Lane bar La Fuente
99033 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Auckland Eats

Get a lesson in mezcal at new Snickel Lane bar La …

by Jean Teng

Mezcal was once regarded as a tipple for the lower-class – now it's the hero at new bar La Fuente.

Read more
Forget the love trysts, our relationship with China is a much bigger affair
98673 2018-11-13 00:00:00Z Politics

Forget the love trysts, our relationship with Chin…

by Bevan Rapson

Ross’s tape didn’t stand up his allegations of electoral fraud, but it helpfully drew renewed attention to questions about Chinese influence in NZ.

Read more
Bill Ralston: Simon Bridges looks like a dead man walking
98830 2018-11-13 00:00:00Z Politics

Bill Ralston: Simon Bridges looks like a dead man …

by Bill Ralston

The National Party’s ongoing ructions suggest a long spell in the wilderness lies ahead.

Read more
The history of NZ newspapers would shame the Facebook generation
98735 2018-11-13 00:00:00Z History

The history of NZ newspapers would shame the Faceb…

by Karl du Fresne

In the 19th century, there were more newspapers in New Zealand per head of population than anywhere else in the world says writer Ian F Grant.

Read more