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Baker's Dozen

A Life Turning Pages: Robert Forster's Favourite Books
Aug Stone , April 8th, 2020 09:22

The Go-Betweens founder takes Aug Stone through his 'eclectic even to himself' reading tastes


David Malouf - Johnno
This is another book we read at school. David Malouf is an Australian writer and when I was 15 or 16 his books came along through the school system. Johnno is set in Brisbane and I went 'Wow'. I had read A Tale Of Two Cities that was 19th century London and Paris. I'd read The Catcher In The Rye that was set in New York in the 50s, The Great Gatsby which was in the 20s, Catch 22 which was set in Europe during the Second World War. So I'd been thinking all books are a long way from my life and Johnno comes along set in Brisbane in the 1940s and it was like 'oh, my hometown can be in a book'. Back then in the 70's when I read it Brisbane would've been like a town comparable to the Midwest in the USA. A long way away, sure there's a million people there but a lot might not be going on. It might be a bit dull. So to have a book like that...

During the Second World War, Brisbane was a center for the American army and navy. General McArthur established his headquarters for the Southwest Pacific Area there. So Brisbane changed a lot in the 40's because we got an influx of American troops. And this is another connection, my father was a teenage boy then and he used to talk about Brisbane in the Second World War with all the American troops. It was a big thing. This is what the book is about, this young guy in Brisbane in the 40's, sort of like my father in a way.

It's a famous book in Australia. Also, David Malouf had gone to the same school that I'd gone to. So it was like 'not only is it set in Brisbane, but I'm going to the same school the author did'. I had no idea about being a writer or songwriter, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. But that the book we're reading was from a former student, it went in that you could actually go to the school that I was going to and become a writer. And it's a really good book. So that was important for me to read at that time.