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Books I have known

By Rafe Champion - posted Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The weatherboard farmhouse sat in the bush surrounded by massive gum trees on the edge of a swamp where Copper Creek ran out of the hills, met Allan Creek and ran into the Duck River. This was ten km inland from Smithton on the far north west coast of Tasmania. The property was called "Allan Water" and I grew up thinking of myself as a bushman and a pioneer.

In a corner of the "sitting room" two good sized bookshelves stood together. One bottom shelf held a gigantic family bible and the dozen or more volumes of Chambers Encyclopedia circa 1900 when the house was built. There was almost half a shelf of Longfellow's poems and a dozen Rudyard Kipling books, including Kim, Barrack Room Ballads and the Just So Stories. Some Warwick Deeping, (Old Pybus) and several of the Whiteoaks or Jalna series by the Canadian Mazo de la Roche (not favorites of mine although my sister enjoyed them) and The Martyrdom of Man by William Winwoode Reade.

My favoured reading was the romantic and swashbuckling yarns of Jeffery Farnoll, especially Black Bartlemy's Treasure, Beau Geste by P C Wren, unforgettably filmed, The Prisoner of Zenda, also filmed, The First Hundred Thousand by Ian Hay, a first world war book written before the full horror unrolled, several volumes of WWI of cartoons by Bairnsfather "If you know of a better 'ole, go to it!" Big bound volumes of the Boys Own Paper covering my father's teen years from 1913 to 1920, several of Ion Idriess, Drums of Mer, Flynn of the Inland, Gold Dust to Ashes.


The Kipling books signal a connection with India where my great grandfather was a missionary. The oral history of the family recorded that one of his sons married a German girl named Leupolt (my grandmother) and recent research revealed that the Reverend Carl Benjamin Leopolt was also a missionary in India. He wrote two books about his experiences which are available on Amazon. Apparently the Champion and Leupolt families met after the missionaries retired in Tasmania. Rev Leupolt lived dangerously but without harm through the Indian Mutiny in 1857. His books provide accurate and detailed information on the religions, castes and customs of the country, and they are especially interesting on the impact of innovations like the telegraph and the railway.

We didn't take Womens Weekly but friends of the family kept back numbers stacked in the woodshed beside the kindling so when we visited I would head off to the woodshed to read the serialized stores about Mandrake the Magician which ran as cartoon strips.

A relative in Launceston took Punch which was a pipeline to that particular kind of British humour. A favorite cartoon depicted a weedy, short-sighted and knock kneed student at the desk of the Vocational Guidance Officer, who asks "Have you considered a life of crime?" This was in the era of the notorious Kray brothers.

More British humour turned up in the library at school in Launceston, the Molesworth series, the story of boarding school life with cartoons from the prolific Ronald Searle who died a few weeks ago. There was a haunting similarity between Molesworth's weekly letters to his parents and the letters that I wrote in the compulsory session after dinner on Sundays.

There was a book about rugby in the library, written by the headmaster, "Jika" Travers Nobody was interested in rugby, although it was rumoured (correctly) that he had played for England when he was in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He moved on to Shore in Sydney, to be replaced by Don Selth from Adelaide. He also had a book in the library, on the 1956 Olympic Games where he was the reserve for the 4 x 440 relay team which won a medal. He was also the reserve wicket-keeper for South Australia. To their credit they both put equal emphasis on sport and studies.

Moving on to the university in Hobart, there was a small library in the now defunct residential college Hytten Hall. Treasures located there included Barzun The House of Intellect, several Graham Green novels, Balzac's Droll Stories, Koestler The Lotus and the Robot. The library was not much used for reading, it was a refuge for students looking for a quite place to meet a deadline or swot for the end of year exams. Rooms in the hall were shared so you could have a problem if your room mate had a lot of rowdy visitors or distracting habits.


My father offered to pay all my bills from the bookshop, out of gratitude for the Agricultural Council Scholarship which covered the fees and living costs for the duration. So in addition to the set texts I treated myself to generous amounts of recreational reading from the second hand and remainder tables.

Learning to Thinkby R D Wall planted a fertile seed, to focus on problem-solving. Alberto Moravia Man as an End: A Defence of Humanism convinced me that I was a humanist. Herbert J Muller The Uses of the Past: Profiles of Former Societies was a beautiful introduction to the complexities, subtleties and profundities of historical studies. There was a footnote reference to "Karl Popper's brilliant but unfair attack on Plato, Hegel and Marx".

Much of The Uses of the Past was read on an all expenses paid trip to Melbourne in 1966 as the Education Officer of the Student's Representative Council. The student Education Officers of Australia met to contemplate the future of the Aborigines and Papua New Guinea. There was great concern that only one Aboriginal had graduated from a university. Apparently my contribution to the discussion was not recorded, certainly it was not implemented: fix primary and secondary education first.

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About the Author

Rafe Champion brings the grafting qualities of the opening batsman and the cunning of the offspin bowler to the task of routing dogmatists, protectionists and other riff-raff who stand in the way of peace, freedom and plenty. He has a website and he blogs at Catallaxy and also at The History of Australian and New Zealand Thought. For more about Rafe visit here. All of his posts on Catallaxy for 2007 can be found at this link. Not all the links work and some need to be cut and pasted into the browser.

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