Monday, February 8, 2010

Kenneth Cook

Kenneth Cook wrote Wake in Fright. This is why I remember that: A few days ago, Zhen suggested that I see the movie Walkabout. I told her I probably wouldn't see it, but I have read the book. Then I remembered that I used to confuse Walkabout with Wake in Fright. When I found Walkabout at the used bookstore, I was so excited because I thought it was something else. Anyway, so I remembered how I used to be confused. I googled Wake in Fright, thinking I'd add someone from it to my list. The director turned out to be not Australian, but the author of the original novel was. I added Cook to my list which meant I'd be writing about him in about six months. Yeah, the list is long. But then it turned out he was ALREADY on my list, and coming up in a few days.

I've seen bits of Wake in Fright on YouTube. I think there was a beginning scene with a teacher in a classroom? Besides that, I really have no idea what it's about.

 I'm eager to learn.

Lord Wiki has a short entry on Cook.

He was born sometime in 1929, maybe before the Stock Market crash, or maybe after. His birthplace was Lakemba, which is a south-west suburb of Sydney. I'm looking at Google Maps now. Lakemba is a little bit below (and left of) Croydon. We were there on our last day of Sydney....Croydon, not Lakemba.

Cook went to Fort Street High School. That's that prestigious state school.

When he finished school, he had a variety of jobs. I guess he was trying to find his way...see where he fit in.

In 1966, he did political stuff. He and a businessman founded their own political party. It was called the Liberal Reform Group. The party was made up of disgruntled Liberal Party members who were against conscription. Cook tried to get the Parramatta seat in Federal Parliament, but that didn't work out. He lost to a Canadian-Australian named Nigel Bowen.

I have a thing for Australia. Kenneth Cook had a thing for butterflies. In the 1970's, he established Australia's first butterfly farm. Cool.

Cook was married twice. He died while on a camping trip with his second wife. He was only fifty-seven. Then three out of four of his children died relatively early as well. They seem a bit cursed.

That's about it. Then Lord Wiki lists Cook's books. I'm going to glance at some of them...see if the internet has interesting information.

It looks like Wake in Fright was Cook's first published book. That was in 1961...before he started the political party. This UK site talks about the book a bit. They say it's about a school teacher who works in the outback. I guess he's not too happy there. He plans to take six weeks off to go to Sydney. On the way there, he has some dreadful adventures. The website says that the foreword in the revised edition suggests that the book hindered Australian tourism. I wonder if that's true. I sort of doubt it.

A man named Stephen Smith has a essay about the book on Margo Kingston's Webdiary site. He compares the mining tone in the story to the immigration detention camps of today. He says the book is about stifling conformity. And he says, We can interpret Wake in Fright to say that conformity and exclusion are never far from the surface. It is cultural, not simply a dark parody of the outback.

Conformity and exclusion make me think of cliques. I think it's so easy to become trapped by one. They can make people feel secure...loved and special. They fail to see that their membership in the club is dependent on their willingness to conform, or at least hide/downplay their differences. And a clique can't have a strong bond if they do not have OTHERS to exclude. They need to have people that they can mutually reject, ridicule, and attack.

Stephen Smith takes the book to a more political level. I'm thinking more in terms of personal/social stuff. But in terms of the political world, I can see that too. The most patriotism I've seen in America came immediately after September 11. We had American flags coming out of our asses. Why? Because we had a common enemy, and a common fear. Then slowly some of us started drifting away from that. The country divided once again.

It looks like after Wake in Fright, Cook didn't publish anything for over twenty years. His next book came out in 1983. It's called Judas Fish. It's about Eden; not the garden of Eden, but the whaling place in Australia. I've heard of it. Was Tim's Winton's whaling book set there?

There's a whole website about this Eden place, and they have information about Cook's book. It's about how killer whales were used by humans to hunt other whales.

Well, I don't think Tim Winton's book was set there. He usually writes about Western Australia. I'm looking at Google maps. Eden is in southern New South Wales. It's about seven hours south of Sydney.

Oh shit. Never mind. There wasn't a twenty-plus year gap in Cook's publishing history. Lord Wiki just wasn't nice enough to put his damn bibliography in chronological order. What's the deal with that?

Let's back up then.....

Cook's next book came out in 1962. It was called Chain of Darkness. Then in 1963, he had five books published. I can't find much about them. The titles are intriguing though: Stormalong, Wanted Dead, Bloodhouse, Take This Hammer, and Vantage to the Gale.

Stormalong makes me think of the pool we sometimes swim at in Disney World. It's called Stormalong Bay.

In 1967, my parents got married, my husband was born, and Cook wrote a book called Tuna.

I hate canned tuna fish. It totally disgusts me. But I'm less grossed out by other forms of tuna.

In 1976, Cook wrote a book about Eliza Fraser. She's the one who was shipwrecked off the coast of Queensland. Sydney Nolan did a painting of her. I think it's one of the creepiest works of art I've ever seen. has the book he published in 1978. It's called Play Little Victims. A reviewer says it's in children's book format, but it's not really for children. It's an allegorical tale about mice who survive the Apocalypse. Their society mirrors our own. The reviewer liked the book. He says, This book is a real downer, but it is so well written and well illustrated, and makes such an important point, that I still recommend it highly.

In the 1980's, Cook wrote about pigs, killer koalas, wombats, and frilled-neck lizards.

Killer Koala is a collection of humorous bush stories. Oh, okay. All the animal books are part of a trilogy. They're each a collection of stories. The same guy who reviewed Play Little Victims, on Amazon, also reviews Wombat Revenge. This James Paige says, by the time you are finished reading this book, you will be convinced that either Australia is the most dangerous continent on earth, or that Mr. Cook is the unluckiest man in all of Australia. (or more likely, Both.) Paige seems to be a big fan of Cook. From his wish list, I can see he's also a fan of video games. Jack would like that about him.

Cook has an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

It says his father left his family when Cook was young.

After Cook finished school, he spent some time in a New South Wales town called Casino. It's nine hours north of Sydney, near Byron Bay. He was a cadet there, and meanwhile he did some writing. Interesting that he'd later become anti-conscription. Did becoming a cadet turn him off of the idea of war, or did he just feel the fighting should be voluntary?

Cook did some acting. He did it in The Genesian Theatre in Sydney. Around that time, he met his first wife. She was a librarian. The lovely couple got married at St. Canice Catholic Church.

After he got married, Cook and his wife went to live in Broken Hill. There he worked for the ABC. The website says he hated it there. Then they moved to Rockhamptom Queensland. I remember that place from the Traveler IQ Challenge. I often got it confused with Rockinham in Western Australia.

I just took the Oceania test for the fun of it. I haven't done so in a long time. I did much better than I expected. I got to level 8 (out of nine). My score was 315, 953. Yes, I'm bragging. But I'll add that I used to obsessively practice this. one point, my Australia obsession didn't have a blog to support it. So I played with map quizzes.

Now where was I? Oh yeah. Rockhampton. Cook wrote a book there, and got it published. Lord Wiki didn't mention this, and the biographical dictionary doesn't give the title of the book. It looks like it wasn't successful though.

Cook moved to Brisbane. Then he moved to Sydney. He resigned from The ABC in 1961, and published Wake in Fright.

He did some television work. He and some other men set up a production company called Patrician Films Pty Ltd. They did mostly television movies for children.

Cook actually tried to get into Federal Parliament twice. First there was Parramatta, which Lord Wiki mentioned. Then in 1969, he aimed for the seat of Bennelong.

Cook wrote some plays. One was an anti-war story called The Wine of God's Anger, and another was set in the Eureka Stockade. The latter was turned into a film released the same year as Wake in Fright.

The 1980's were rough for Cook. He divorced his wife. His butterfly farm failed. He became bankrupt after financing a film. Understandably he became depressed. But he didn't sink into the ground. Instead, he wrote his funny animal books. They sold well; he found a new wife, and things were okay for awhile. Then he went camping and died.

I'm going to go to YouTube soon, and hopefully watch some scenes from Wake in Fright. Before that, I'm going to read this movie review from the Cinema Autopsy blog. Thomas Caldwell says, It was not until I read Wake in Fright that I encountered the idea that the Australian outback could be anything but an idyllic mix of mateship, adventure and honest hard work. Yeah, I think that's probably how I see the outback. I have a very idealistic view.

I guess the purpose of Wake in Fright is to shatter that idealism. Caldwell says, It wasn’t so much that this novel made me start to question the Australia of The Man From Snowy River and Crocodile Dundee, but it unlocked some part of me that had already started suspecting that Australia possessed a heart of darkness that people generally didn’t like to talk about.
Caldwell says the movie has been virtually out of print since the 1970's. He believes it's because Australian audiences failed to embrace it when it was released. They were shocked and affronted.
We want to deny the negative, but eventually we need to come to terms with it.

It makes me think of being with my cousin the first time we went to Sydney. She had just moved there, and HATED it. I was madly in love. The two of us were quite a team. She could find no good. I refused to see the bad. Slowly, through the years I've taken off my rose-colored glasses. I no longer see Australia as some kind of Utopia. I've encountered it's dark side. My love now is based on a more realistic and balanced view. And in some ways, I think it's stronger. Love based on idealism is often shallow and easily deflatable.

Wake in Fright has recently has been restored and released on DVD. It was a bit of a miracle. There was no known good copy of the film. But then finally in Pittsburgh, someone found it in a container marked for destruction.

Here's a little mini-documentary about the film.


Here is the first eight minutes of the not-quite-restored version of Wake in Fright. The little blond girl at 1:40 looks like someone. I'm not sure who.....

I guess that's a mixed-age classroom. Are those common in the outback?

Oh yeah! Donald Pleasance is in the movie. I remember him from Halloween.

The movie score is fun. It makes me want to go into a forest and dance with fairies. I would wear a HappyOrganist hat.

The town in the movie is Timbooda. I'm guessing it's a made-up place.

The bartender says you got snakes in your pocket. I'm guessing that's some kind of Aussie slang? It has something to do with him wanting to be paid. Or maybe it's not common slang. It could be just a creative way of asking, Hey, why haven't you taken out your wallet yet?
Anyway, I'm done watching the first eight minutes. I shall try to see more of the movie another time.


  1. Sometimes art is in the eye of the beholder, but not with that Nolan painting. It is horrible.

  2. Andrew,

    lol. It reminds me of The Ring or some other horror movie.

    It's a bit scary. I don't know if I'd call it bad art. My guess was his intention was to create something creepy, and I think he succeeded.

    Now if he was trying to make something happy and beautiful, I think he failed there.

  3. Darling D, Just wanted you to know I'm still reading you but life's got in the way of making time to comment. Think of you heaps will catch up when the dust settles. xc

  4. Cherie,

    I hope everything is okay, and you're busy with happy stuff. ???

    I did worry you were mad. I always think people are mad at me. I should just require everyone to email me every morning and say "We're not mad at you." Then I could rest easy ; )