The Mooroopna farmer’s market second hand bookseller’s ‘ Would you like a plastic bag for that?’ chaffed. What I needed was the seven dollars in loose change from my wife to pay for the purchase; and not his suspicions. Yes. I had the anthology of Henry Lawson poems and short stories under my left arm. I was not slinking off. I was standing my ground.
My relationship with Henry, one of our nation’s preeminent bards, has been unfortunate. My first volume of his stories had not survived the interminable undergraduate house shifts. Worse was my attendance at Leonard Teale’s one-man-show recitals of Lawson classics in Darwin. Andrea had bought the tickets. Nabil refused to go; as did all others. I had worked through the night before and that day and was too exhausted to refuse. We sat in the front row of the tiny intimate theatre. I could had leaned forward and tapped Leonard on the knee. He could have leaned forward in response to my yawns. We left Henry at interval.
I have not read Henry for many years. Then, my life was urban, and I had remarkable family links to his life. My grandmother lived on the lower north shore of Sydney at the time Henry regularly descended into alcoholic oblivion. Then, she lived with us and read the Sydney Morning Herald, cover to cover, like Henry. My parents were married at Lavender Bay. My sister, who now lives near Blues Point Rd, once pointed the church out to me as she hurled their Toyota Hi-lux round the narrow streets like a moto GP driver, not Formula 1.
Now, I live in the bush. A bush that is so distant to that of Henry’s. With the NBN and refrigerative air-conditioning, life is more connected and comfortable. I am able to discern qualities in local rural characters that are akin to Henry’s but the familial affinity that I experienced when last I read Henry has shifted to me viewing the text as a museum exhibit.