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Tim Winton gave a talk at the Adelaide Convention Centre last night – Tender Hearts, Sons of Brutes – as part of his tour to promote his latest book. The place was packed.

Winton is an iconic Australian author. I remember when we first moved here, I wanted to immerse myself in Australian culture and literature, and was promptly pointed in his direction. I started with Cloudstreet and have never looked back. In 2007, he was named a Living Treasure by the National Trust and has won the Miles Franklin Award four times.

The protagonist in The Shepherd’s Hut is Jaxie Clackton, a young boy searching for a better way to be, having learnt everything about being a man from his dad, a brute and a bully, and so has been shaped by, and marinated in, violence, as Winton shared:

I think we forget or simply don’t notice the ways in which men, too, are shackled by misogyny. It narrows their lives. Distorts them. And that sort of damage radiates; it travels, just as trauma is embedded and travels through families.

Winton opened the session with an extract from the book speaking as Jaxie, explaining how he now knows what he wants but has ‘been through fire to get here’. For Winton, a novel is not a tool but a toy; something to explore with curiosity because ‘useless stuff resonates, experiences linger’ – ‘useless beauty’ is why he writes. He’d planned to write the story from three or four people’s perspectives, but it didn’t work because all he could hear was the voice of the ‘unlovely boy’ and so gave him the floor.

Having read only six of his twenty-nine books (Dirt Music and Minimum of Two I borrowed from friends), I still have some reading to do. His writing is inspirational with a focus on landscape and place (his novel In the Winter Dark spurred me to write a poem called ‘primordial’ I’m rather proud of and is currently finding a home).

Winton spoke well to a captivated crowd, exploring childhood, identity, poisonous masculinity, domestic violence:

In this airless universe there are no conversations, only declarations and fraught silences

and was humble, describing himself as ‘just a storyteller’, a brilliantly iconic one at that.

When we first moved here, over 5 years ago now, I was keen to immerse myself in Australian literature and quickly learnt that Tim Winton is iconic.

And so I began with Cloudstreet, arguably one of Winton’s most famous novels, in which we meet the Pickles and the Lambs, two working class Australian families who live together in a house in Perth and whose lives are charted over a twenty-year period. It’s a captivating read, winning the Miles Franklin Award in 1992 and one that firmly established Winton’s writing career.

Winton himself hails from Western Australia. Awarded the Centenary Medal for service to literature, he’s been named a Living Treasure by the National Trust. Reading him, you can see why. Winton’s writing is music with no unnecessary note as he conducts matters of the human heart – love, sorrow, pain, desire – in a spellbinding way.

I was so inspired after finishing In the Winter Dark I wrote a poem to try to encapsulate what it left me with, such a hauntingly atmospheric novella about human existence among others. I’ve also read Dirt Music where the wife of a local fisherman legend becomes fascinated with a stranger poaching fish, which inevitably has consequences. Have yet to read Eyrie.

And now I’m part-way through Minimum of Two, an absorbing collection of short stories with characters and plots that will linger for a while. Perfect little snapshots of life.

So, if you’re not familiar with Winton’s work I strongly recommend you be. You won’t be disappointed.

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