Vow Of Poverty
First kid in the family to finish school, first to go to university, and there was this expectation, I’d taken a sort of a vow of poverty to become a novelist.1 That was the sort of implicit and explicit understanding of what I was doing to myself.2 But somehow by — or for reasons that were just — that none of us could ever understand then or now, had somehow prospered, and you know, now I’d become middle class. And then found myself making — having more wealth and status than my parents, and so on and so on, to come from a part of that world, and then to be — as a result, sort of sensitized to how people in that part of the world, in that part of my culture or my society were prospering — or not prospering.
And just, you know, having — I guess for when I was writing Breath that was during the global financial meltdown. I had an apartment that I was working in, in a city, in Fremantle. And it was a kind of a — you know, I’d been spending much more time out of the city than in the city, and we were a little isolated from some of the social realities that were going on, and I worked for a few years in a building which was a pretty kind of unglamorous building in an unglamorous part of town, and I guess I was exposed in that sort of vertical environment, to the kind of — yeah, it was almost like a diagram of how things were going.3 You would see and hear and smell people prospering and not prospering. It was kind of in your face in a way that was — that I wasn’t experiencing, except in a much more abstract way, by you know, reading the newspapers and journals and through the news feed.
So, I guess you realize that there are winners and losers, and it was just sad to see a kind of decay of a sense of civic responsibility, you know, from those who were doing well. And given that there had always been quite a significant part of the Australian experience, it’s almost to see, you know, letting something good go, and to feel a kind of a — sort of a hardness coming upon the society as a result. And of course, you know, being involved in environmental activism, you know, seeing the huge environmental cost as well as the hidden social cost.4 It was almost as if though you’re in school and you learned all this stuff about the 20s, and the kind of madness of the American boom of the 20s, and we’ve kind of had it all down, you know, we could just do digital dot points and make essays out of it, but nobody a couple of generations later, joined the dots between that experience and what was happening to ourselves.