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Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Q&A with Harold Hunt

Indigenous Australian Harold Hunt has lived an extraordinary life. Growing up in far north-western New South Wales during the Great Depression, Harold has lived to see all of the dramatic social changes that took place in Australia during the 20th century.

Harold’s new memoir, Along My Way, charts his life story, detailing how he went from being an alcoholic to an OAM recipient in recognition of his exemplary community service.

Prior to the launch of his book at WestWords 2016 and touring events in Sydney, Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and regional New South Wales, we interviewed Harold to gain further insight into his very interesting life.

IP: What inspired you to write Along My Way?

I was inspired to write a family history that can be passed on down the generations. I wanted to show that regardless of where and how one begins, goals and dreams are achievable.

IP: What is your favourite memory from your childhood?


The attitude that my mother had to life—she lived her life with love, courage, and honesty. I hope I have done her justice in Along My Way.

IP: You have lived through a number of societal changes, what is one change that you never expected to see in your lifetime?

Harold: I never expected to see Aboriginal people rise above poverty and hopelessness. Nowadays there is an opportunity for us to break into the academic field and become doctors, lawyers, business developers and managers.

IP: Following on from the previous question, what is something that you have done in your life, that you never thought you would have the opportunity to do?

Due to only having a primary school education, I never thought that I would be able to anything other than physical work. But in my life I have been lucky enough to do many different things, including working for the New South Wales Health Commission and the Attorney-General’s later on in life.

IP: In Along My Way you move around a lot, how did you make the transition from growing up in the bush to living in the city?

Harold: Having overcome my alcohol addiction, my horizons widened. My wife and I had many discussions, and with her encouragement, the transition was not too bad. We believed that there was a wider range of opportunities in the city.

IP: You have spent a great deal of time with Alcoholics Anonymous as part of your recovery from alcoholism, do you think this is an effective model for recovery?

Alcoholics Anonymous operates worldwide and is definitely the most effective form of treatment for addictions of all kinds. It has been functioning exceptionally well in Australia for almost a hundred years now.

IP: In 2014 you received an OAM for services to the community, how has this award changed your life?

Harold: The Order of Australia award has not changed me at all. I had already received my rewards in the process of doing the work and being able to help others. However the government must have recognised my work, and it was for this which I received the OAM. I believe my OAM can and will be a great inspiration to other people who began in similar circumstances to what I did.

IP: Tell us about your involvement with the apology speech to the Stolen Generations given by Kevin Rudd. How did it make you feel?

Harold: I just felt that it was at last the decent thing to do.

IP: I believe you also attended Paul Keating’s Redfern speech, in which he publicly addressed the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for the first time. What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, which took place around the same time?

Twenty-five years ago the Australian Government established a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. Ninety-nine cases were examined and 339 recommendations were made. Since then only about 20 of those recommendations have been implemented and not unexpectedly, there has been an increase in deaths in custody since. It seems to raise the question of whether governments have had the political will to enact the recommendations proposed by the Commission. Furthermore, why do governments set up Royal Commissions knowing that they are not legally bound to comply with the Commission’s findings? My view is that the government is falsely telling the public that changes will be made. Where does that leave people like me who believe that a facility as high as a Royal Commission should ensure change?

One of our most exciting recent poetry releases is Jules Leigh Koch's Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky

A while back the release of the book was celebrated in Adelaide with a launch by Mike Ladd of the ABC, who for many years hosted Radio National's PoeticA program.

Courtesy of Rochford Street Review, we're happy to provide you with Mike's very detailed review of the book.

“Jules Leigh Koch finds the surreal within the real in his coastal, suburban and urban settings”: Mike Ladd launches ‘Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky’ by Jules Leigh Koch

Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky (Interactive Press) by Jules Leigh Koch was launched by Mike Ladd at the South Australian Writers’ Centre on Thursday 8 October 2015.
Mike Ladd and Jules Leigh Koch photo by Cary Hamlyn
Mike Ladd and Jules Leigh Koch. photo by Cary Hamlyn (2015)
Thirteen years ago this is what I said about Jules Leigh Koch’s second book, each goldfish is hand-painted: “Jules Leigh Koch is a poet who, like the French and Australian Impressionists works en plein air. He is a colourist, a sketcher with words, who sets up his easel at the beach, in city streets, suburban back yards and gum forests. With affection he records the quotidian details of our suburbs because they are ours. This is the environment we have made. It’s where so many of us live. While not blind to their faults and disappointments, this poet takes on the function of celebrating our lives. His metaphors are full of cleverly inverted perspectives: the jetty has been cast out. The poems seem simple and modular like the suburbs themselves, but look a bit deeper and you’ll discover the playfulness of his language and real human warmth. Jules Leigh Koch works with quick dabs, bright splashes of colour and deftly caught feelings.”
I think this is still fundamentally true of his new collection Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky. After all, Koch has a recognisable style that he’s been honing for decades: short lines, compressed imagery, unpretentious language, and metaphor, metaphor, metaphor.
Now in some circles metaphor is out of fashion. But I still think it’s one of the key poetic tools. It builds connections between the world and us. It works against isolation. At its best it offers new views that refresh our ideas of the world. And Koch really loves metaphor. In fact, he has a poem that’s called ‘After Love-making I Think in Metaphors’ – and I’m wondering if he even thinks in metaphors during it!
He is a romantic, no doubt about it. I often think of Oscar Wilde’s quote “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” when I read Jules Leigh Koch’s work. The stars haunt his poems, as does the moon in various phases, the sunset, clouds, the sea, the romance of rain, but it’s not some naive retreat into nature or an easy escape into myth making. In fact, he’s simultaneously very grounded in urban and suburban reality, there’s an edge and an unease, juxtaposed with the starry. His poems talk about failed relationships, addiction, alienation, and suburban bleakness as well as the beauty around us and above us.
These are some of the metaphors from Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky: “the artificial lake is calm as a sedative”, “sunset is a blood clot” and insomnia is “a tap dripping against flesh and bone.” For a man alone in a bar his drinks go down “like flares with no landing ground.” Sunlight “tears itself along a wall”, bird sounds are “high voltage machinery” and daybreak is operated by “ropes and pulleys.” On the steps of the Salvation Army hostel a “chemically troubled” woman waits “as calmly as a getaway car” (and that’s not calmly at all.) Birds have had their flights cancelled by fog, a kettle has an umbilical cord, sunlight is electric shock therapy, windows are guillotines, and stars are screws that hold the night in place.
Now I’m starting to think I have to modify my earlier description of Koch’s poetry. Maybe the comparison isn’t so much with the impressionists but with the surrealists, because Jules Leigh Koch finds the surreal within the real in his coastal, suburban and urban settings. And here I’m thinking particularly of Rene Magritte. Even the title of this new collection Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky reminds me of one of those strange Magritte paintings where exterior becomes interior and vice versa.
Some of Koch’s surrealism is found in the ordinary everyday – like the lady bowlers who are sponsored by a funeral parlour. Other examples are a little more out there, like this one:
Funeral Flowers
today I will try
to defuse a bomb
the one ticking somewhere
between your heart and genitalia
I will do it blindfolded
not to see the damage
or fallout created,
outside your bedroom I wait
with a bunch of white lilies
and my mini screwdriver kit
White lilies, a screwdriver, a blindfold, a bomb – I leave you to play with that sexual symbolism, but I can almost see it as a Magritte painting, maybe entitled ‘Boudoir of the Assassin.’
In The Essential Rene Magritte, Todd Algren has written a very interesting chapter on the poetic strategies of Magritte. Juxtaposition, dislocation, hybridization, metamorphosis – all these strategies used by the painter could also be applied to several poems by Jules Leigh Koch. But Algren describes another Magritte poetic strategy called “elective affinities” that fits Koch especially well: “he juxtaposes two related objects based on affinities or associative relationships between them” for example “the painting of a giant egg inside a bird cage, the most obvious affinity between the two being a bird.”
That’s it! When Jules Leigh Koch talks about jetties casting themselves out, happy hours spilling into each other, a construction site shovelled in with shadows, a fogbound airport postponing the flights of birds, he’s using elective affinity as a poetic strategy. Now I think I’ve finally nailed down Koch’s technique. But wait a second. Magritte himself also said: “People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking, ‘What does it mean?’ they express a wish that everything be understandable.”
So forget this analysis. Just let Jules Leigh Koch’s images ripple over you like one of his suburban beachscapes, enjoy a wander in his streets, and a patch of his sunlight.
-Mike Ladd