●Mudeye, by Bary Dowling (Wakefield Press)
In this autobiography the first thing to become clear is that the author’s birth was a disappointment to his mother.
Repeatedly throughout this autobiography she is quoted as saying to strangers... ‘‘this is Bary, our baby. We-really-wanted-a-girl-but-we-love-him-just-the-same.’’ It became something of a mantra, and by he time the child was old enough to understand, it must surely have had a negative effect on his own self-esteem with his parents, his siblings and his peers.
However, he adored his father; a veterinarian, he often took Bary with him on farm visits around Ballarat, and the boy relished it. He was a real helper in all the tasks, and some of them were fairly gruesome, given the methodology used in the 1930s and 40s.
This book is an important picture of a typical Australian country town, especially during the World War II years. The family was relatively well-off, owning and operating a pharmacy, and living opposite Lake Wendoree, which became the author’s childhood playground.
It is to be hoped Bary’s school days were a long way from what we see in Australia today, given the corporal punishment meted out to the boys (never girls) that he describes. His academic progress was slow, despite his family’s interest in his development. But at 16, his mother attempted to change what she considered his improper behaviour and enrolled him in a prestigious private school in Geelong. The outcome was disastrous. He does not pick up his story again until age 59, when he sees a psychologist and undergoes a powerful treatment regime. It ultimately leaves him with the insight and understanding to go on with his life.
We learn from other sources that he became a farmer, a gardener and a writer. Mudeye, his childhood autobiography, is a wonderful piece of work.
— Lee Stephenson