The opening scene is an Australian soldier, 1943, in the thick and steamy jungles of New Guinea, in a clearing, in a jeep with two fuzzy-wuzzies, as he called them, with him. You can’t see it in this photo but he is wearing long shorts. You can see an open army fatigue shirt, a rifle slung slantwise over his shoulder, a .303 most probably, maybe – although it isn’t likely – the rifle I learnt to shoot on later in college-boy army cadets, wearing old uniforms from World War II, parading after school in the playground of a leafy college. It is different shooting at targets in peacetime in a firing range by the Indian Ocean to firing at Japanese soldiers in wartime in a New Guinea jungle.
I stared at the photo in our sunroom by the river. I stared and tried to imagine my father dodging bullets, firing bullets, in the thick humid air, the lush growth beneath steamy skies. I stared like I stared earlier at breakfast at King Willy Weetie holding up a box of his own cereal with his image on it holding up a box of his cereal with his own image on it, again and again, ad infinitum. I tried to count how many images I could see of King Willy, how many images echoed back to the Beginning. Who knew?. Maybe the printer who made the box. I stared at my father with two natives in the jungle in the same way, mesmerized, unable to puzzle out how all the other images of father came to this one in my hand on a pillow in our sunroom by the Swan River. I came from one of these images of my father. Maybe before, maybe after this photo, he left the jeep and waved to his native friends and crawled into bed with my mother way over on the east coast of Australia, in a suburb where the war was headline material and the ladies knitted for the boys ‘over there’. I wriggled loose from that soldier in his fatigues and swam harder than I have ever been able to swim again, swam that night or day in the mysteries of my mother’s body to an egg that, like a Siren, called for me, and we embraced.
I pulled into the parking area behind the church hall so no one would see me. You can’t be too careful, can you. This night could make or break me, and I was nervous. You wouldn’t have known it. I present well: all you will see is the mask over the mask before the mask. Underneath them all must be me, insecure, overweight, depressed. Suck in the night air, smelling of eucalypts and parking lot dust. White Ford Cortina Ghia or green Holden Kingswood station wagon? I can’t remember and it matters not one iota. But life is made up of little things, isn’t it. From little things, big things grow, Paul Kelly sings. Just split an atom and see.
I walked around the old weatherboard hall and up a few steps. Inside the hall the lights were on and a man waited at the door to greet all comers.
I am no one special. A writer, yes, and once upon a time I thought that made me special. An Australian, a male, a chatterbox – none of these characteristics are particularly special. So, why am I writing this autobiography? Well, some people close to me have asked for it, but truly it is for a different reason: to stick to the truth. There are variations, let’s call them, of certain events in my life, variations I have created and spoken so often I myself believe them. His Bobship once sang, He not busy being born is busy dying. Here I am adding to my birth, attempting to find the true Andrew, or even that person I am before I am named by my parents. We don’t come into this world with a name, do we – just a gender and a string of inclinations and inherited characteristics.
Today I chewed a fingernail off. Today I pulled a hair out of the top curve of my ear. Today my body, this house of who I am, is growing, is changing, is throwing a shadow, is taking it back again, is pulsing and rhythmic. Today this body is a link in the chain that is me. I’m surprised I am not a papier mache sculpture, all the pages I have read and written glued together layer over layer, waste bins full of over-valued thoughts, searching soul inventories, shopping lists of the heart and poems of the ego. Today I am sixty five, titular proprietor of this body corporate, and writing this.