Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Identity 1

Roy Rupert Carrington Prideaux

My father was a bank manager in Deniliquin. A town in far south-western NSW - in the early 1950s.

He was also an alcoholic. This cost him his job and in the early 1950s my mother and I had to leave Deniliquin to go to Sydney. We ended up there with my father.

I am not sure how - and lived in a house in 10 Knox Street Ashfield. I was seven years old.

This was not our house – but a house we shared with other people. I think we had just the front room and shared a bathroom. This is what we had become. From a Bank Manager’s family to a family that rented a room in what was then a very poor suburb of Sydney.

Eventually my mother realised that my father was a hopeless case and took me from there to live with a distant relative in Manly – Pacific Parade. I lived on the outside verandah – open to the elements – but it suited me as I was alone. My ‘Auntie’ hated me with a passion which was palpable – and who could blame her.

My mother would not allow me to see my father - but I used to visit him. He still lived at 10 Knox Street. On Saturday nights I would walk down to Manly Wharf and catch the ferry to Circular Quay. I would then catch the train from Circular Quay to Ashfield.

From Circular Quay we went to the City Circle and then Central and the railway yards Macdonaldtown then Newtown, Stanmore, Petersham, Lewisham and Summer Hill. An endless succession of grim backyards with uniformly awful back gardens.

As I was a pre-teen I was usually the target for the perverts and pedophiles that prowl the trains (then and now) and was always hit upon by these dregs who would grope me and proposition me. I was not attractive but I was young. And so na├»ve that I would decline politely – even though they were grabbing my balls - rather that tear their eyes out.

I would get to Ashfield and walk up to Knox Street – about 10 minutes away. In those days it was Greek and Italian – now it is Asian– and probably the better for it. I can still see it and smell it.

I would walk past the movie theater – where I used to spend many a Saturday afternoon – and where I saw ‘The Blob’ with Steve McQueen – a movie so scary I had to leave the theatre - but also where I saw Bus Stop and fell in love with Marilyn Monroe and women in general.

Now I am a lot tougher.

I would stand outside 10 Knox Street and listen to my father in the front bedroom. He was of course always drunk and always holding forth on whatever took his fancy. I loved his voice. I loved him. I would stay for an hour and drink his voice and remember his smell. I never rang the doorbell -he did not want to see me.

When I was very small In Deniliquin I would go in to his bed early in the morning and try to snuggle up next to him but he always turned away from me. I was born nine years after my brothers and was not wanted. But I still clung to him then – as I did in Knox Street– and still do now.


  1. A very moving story. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Very moving, yes. Touching and illuminating all at once.

  3. Beautifully expressed and very brave of you to be so "exposed".
    We are complex creatures, aren't we?

  4. I attached the following comment to your article of February 2, 2010 entitled Can we find 1,000,000 nitwits - You Betcha!:

    I feel, Badger, that the people are crying out for a keynote state-of-the-union address from you, to tell us finally and formally, in a digital nutshell, who exactly you are.

    I was merely attempting to make a humorous allusion to the fact that your most significant remarks about the USA were elevating you to a presidential status. Besides, the title of your article was a direct evocation of your main contender, Ms Failin' Palin. I never meant to suggest seriously that it was time for you to provide us with genuine autobiographical stuff. Now, you may have misunderstood me. Be that as it may, the consequences are unexpected and excellent. This inaugural identity statement is a brilliantly-written autobiographical gem. I say "unexpected" because it's moving to envisage the wise writer of Wien, whom we seem to know so well, as a child of Deniliquin and Ashfield, the victim of an appalling family drama. This must be the start of a long story, which you will have to write... not necessarily on your blog (which could nevertheless be used to "test" various themes). In any case, this first instalment is truly splendid.

  5. I read this last night and was too moved to find any words.
    All I can think of now is of Frank McCourt.