Australian Grunge

Journal: 056

Melanie at Grab The Lapels and I are planning to buddy read and review Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap (in about four weeks) and I thought I would provide some background about Tsiolkas’ writing, hence the title of today’s Journal.

But let me first say here just how angry I am that WordPress have steamrolled the introduction of block editing. Like all modern editors WordPress of course knows much better than I what I am attempting to achieve. I used to use HTML to produce single spaced lists. The new editor is happy for me to do this. In draft. And then publishes the list double spaced. I pay them for my business site and if I can’t produce simple posts with lists and pix on my phone then I will take my business to someone who can.

Yes I am sure there is a block for single spaced lists and blocks for photos. But I drive trucks 15 hours a day for a week or ten days at a time; apart from audiobooks I am barely reading; my Blog Unread folder is backing up alarmingly; and I just can’t be stuffed learning yet another new system.

And before I go on I must say thank you to Karen at BookerTalk who has dedicated a lot of her posts this year, and much time and energy commenting, to WordPress features and the new editor.

Back to Tsiolkas. He was born in 1965, in Melbourne, and went to school at Blackburn High – as did two of my kids, Psyche and Lou, a decade later. His parents were migrants from Greece. He’s gay. His first novel was Loaded (1995). The Slap (2008) was his fourth.

I wrote an essay on Loaded and Australian grunge in 2005:

The work of a number of young authors published for the first time in the 1990s, commencing with Andrew McGahan (Praise, 1992) and including Justine Ettler (River Ophelia, 1995), Linda Jaivin (Eat Me, 1995) and Christos Tsiolkas (Loaded, 1995), has been given the label Australian Grunge.

“At the Melbourne Writers Festival in 1998 the Aust.Lit. discusssion group including McGahan, Fiona McGregor, Jaivin and Tsiolkas “all remonstrated at how hateful they found the label and how they did not wish to be associated with it.”

Grunge seems to have been a fashion that passed. Internationally it had its antecedents in Beat (William Burroughs) and Punk (Kathy Acker). Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting came out in 1993. In Australia we had William Dick and Mudrooroo in the 50s and Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip in 1977, but that’s about it. What druggy, inner-suburban novels have I missed?

I wrote a bit about Loaded. How about:

Loaded is even more pernicious. Sex between men mocks the whole notion of mateship – the great bond that unites and succours the ‘legends’ in the bush. Ari struggles with his identity as a man, as a man in Australia, and as a man of Greek extraction. “I’m a man I say in a deep drawl. And I take it up the arse. Of course you do, she answers, you’re Greek, we all take it up the arse.”

Jaivin, who was older than the others, and whose Eat Me was actually middle class erotica, quickly produced a couple of ‘grunge’ novels to take advantage of her unexpected notoriety. If you ever see Rock ‘n Roll Babes from Outer Space give it a try, it’s quite amusing.

The others moved on. McGahan wrote one more and then his next was a police procedural. The next of Tsiolkas’ that I read was Dead Europe (2005). I seem to remember an Australian gay man in Athens and then up in the mountains seeking out rellos.

At this point I am down about 30 cm – maybe 50 lines by 12 words across, so 600 words. Despairing sigh. Karen! Where’s the word count?

I was going to write something about the books I listened to this last trip, but they were boring, why bother. Yesterday I started four and DNF’d them all, one after 10 hours that wasn’t going anywhere, two I just didn’t like, and one by a Palestinian-American that was hopeless, ie. completely bereft of hope in the face of the Zionist juggernaut.

WA has tightened up its Covid rules once again for travellers from Melbourne and so I am back in isolation. I always thought I could survive solitary confinement if I had enough books. Now I am not so sure.

I’ve copied the lists of current reading from an earlier Journal, which I’ll overwrite. If they stay single spaced they’re in, if not they’re out. But of course WordPress knows I don’t really want two empty lines before the lists (or perhaps it’s simply against the rules). Now where the hell are Tags and Categories.

Recent audiobooks 

Yelena Akhtiorskaya (F, USA/Ukraine), Panic in a Suitcase (2014)
Lauren Francis-Sharma (F, USA/Trinidad), ‘Til the Well Runs Dry (2014)
Elizabeth Aston (F, Eng), The True Darcy Spirit (2015) – Romance
Charles Willeford (M, USA), New Hope for the Dead (1985) – Crime
Erle Stanley Gardner (M, USA), The Case of the Crying Swallow (1947) – Crime
Erica Jong (F, USA), Fear of Dying (2015) DNF
Susan Abulhawa (F, Palestine/USA), The Blue between Sky and Water (2015) DNF
Erica Ferencik (F, USA), Into The Jungle (2019) DNF
Joy Fielding (F, USA), All the Wrong Places (2019) – Crime DNF

Currently reading

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap
Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown

34 thoughts on “Australian Grunge

  1. Block editor. I feel your pain Bill. I do use block editor on our travel blog so can help perhaps: Word Count is found if you click the little i (information) symbol above your text, and Categories and Tags are under the Document Tab at the right (not the Block Tab). At least that’s where these things are in the Block Editor on our self-hosted WP blog. I presume it’s the same on your blog? I haven’t been forced over yet on my WG blog interestingly. I love your comment that “I just can’t be stuffed learning yet another new system”. It reminded me of my Mum when confronted with computer or iPad updates – “why do they change things?” – and I’d say “because they are trying to make it more efficient” or “they are picking up on the the things most people do and trying to make those things faster” BUT I mist say that I am starting to feel her pain, and can see that in another decade I’ll be saying the same. I went to block editor kicking and screaming but Mr Gums wanted us to use it so I did – but I haven’t done all the tutorials yet.

    Oh, and good on you and Melanie for doing the buddy read. I’ll be interested to see what you think. Grunge did seem to go almost before it came – and no big loss (at least in terms of terms!)


    • I’m not sure ‘they’ change things to make them more efficient. They change them to make more money, they change them to do more (unnecessary) stuff, they change them because they’re geeks and because they can.

      I’m not a luddite (though luddite isn’t the insult it’s made out to be – by bosses who would rather make stuff without the hassle of employing workers) but I’m sick of change for change’s sake. I can’t even see that the new editor is particularly intuitive, especially on my phone where I used to be able to update my trips, including photos, on the fly and now I can’t.

      I am trying to ignore that you think I have the computer skills of a 90 year old.

      I like Beat/Punk/Grunge but Australian writers treat it as at most a phase they go through before they get onto the serious stuff. I can’t wait to see what Melanie says either.


      • Sorry Bill … I didn’t mean at all that you had the computer skills of a 90-year-old, just the whinges of one!! Seriously though, while I know my “efficiency” answer sounds a bit naive and that there is a geek level to this, I do think some updates are about efficiency – but the problem is that what’s efficient for some isn’t for others, and probably depends on who their beta testers are (probably not people like us). And, I think that trying to be efficient for a phone AND a laptop is almost impossible. I have no idea how you do anything with your blog on your phone. I can’t bear it!

        As for the block editor, no, I don’t think it’s particularly intuitive until you work out what sort of intuition it is aiming for!! That is, until you see what its philosophy is. I do think we are all becoming tired of change, change, change. The latest Mac OS has done some thing to Apple Mail that has taken it back a few steps. I hate it, many have complained, but nothing has changed. Infuriating – and way less efficient!


      • Ok, this morning I sat down quietly (ie. non-angrily (but probably still grumpily)) with my phone. Somehow got to HTML to edit the text block (without poetry, sadly) and then in the next block added an image. Why on my phone? Because that’s where all the photos are, and I like to do it on the fly – so line 2 started off as ‘Mon. ETA Perth 6am’ and became ‘Mon. Perth. Unloaded’.

        Bother B3 said that even so he often can’t tell where I am, and so Lou has got me started on Google Sheets (which apparently teachers use for shared timetables etc) and so now I list in some detail where I am going to be and where I have left each trailer – so the kids can find them (and me) if I’m off unloading one and .. you know.


  2. I’m with you Bill. I hate block editor. I haven’t been forced yet but did use it (or tried) earlier in the year when I changed over to a dot com – it was so horrible that at one stage I thought I would give up blogging. Seriously. Figured I would write a journal instead…. and then I discovered I could switch back to Classic. If I disappear one day, you’ll know why.

    I haven’t read Loaded but I like Tsiolkas’s writing. I’d be interested to read on the basis that it toys with the idea of mateship.


    • I’m not sure what I did that allowed the block editor to take over, but I wish I hadn’t! But Kate – KEEP ON BLOGGING.I’m sorry I don’t always comment, but I do always read. You and Melanie are similar in that you sometimes write stuff, girl stuff, that I really have no opinion about at all (like the fat lady who posts photos of herself in bikinis).

      Mateship came up because I was already working on my dissertation and I was thinking all the time about the myths by which Australians define themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! It’s 8.30 pm, I was up at 4.30 this morning to go to work. I’m ready for sleep. Tomorrow I will wake up fresh and free to sit at my computer all day. (Hopefully it will be raining and I can ignore the flat tyre on the back trailer until Wednesday).


    • Emma, I used to write my posts in Word. I might go back to that for my next one and see if it makes formatting easier. With the bonus that the text of my posts will be saved on MY hard disc.


      • I subscribe to my blog, and when the email comes with the full text of my post, I save it into a folder my email system (which downloads emails onto my computer). I can copy them out any time from emails but currently they are safe and backed up there. I’ve tried drafting in Word first but I just don’t like it and somehow don’t feel that my blog creative juices flow the same way.


      • I’m still thinking about your other comment (Sue). I’ve only recently begun to be notified of my own posts, I must have pushed something, but they’re not saved. I view my mail on three devices – does your mail program save to just one device. I got used to writing direct on WordPress, partly because as soon as I think of a post I set up a title and a photo and that makes me feel like I’m underway.


    • I’d say read Loaded. Tsiolkas is angry about being Greek, angry about being gay, angry about drugs, angry about the leafy middle class suburbs, angry about being not white, not Australian, not straight. It rocks. (The movie of the book was called Head On, but I haven’t seen it).

      I’m feeling sorry for myself in iso too. I could always stop going to Melbourne but I keep telling myself it will be over soon. But I do take care. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I used to love Erica Jong (and even wrote a fan letter to her!!!) but she went off in my opinion. Sorry about the editing and the isolation – all sounds a bit crap. I can’t wait to hear what you both think of The Slap (tho I know I’ll have to go to Goodreads, I’m hoping you’ll put a link on your post). I wasn’t keen but wonder if it’s another cultural thing.


    • Fear of Dying went off. Jong was motoring along, feeling old, her parents dying, her aged husband on the verge of dying but the further the novel went the less Jong kept it on track, instead wandering off into flights of fancy, of which I soon got sick and gave up listening. I’d given Fear of Flying as a present to Milly 30 or 35 years ago and she was angry about it though I never worked out why, maybe she thought I was giving her a message about zipless sex. I was an idiot back then so even if she did explain it I wouldn’t have understood.

      I haven’t written to Melanie yet (sorry Melanie) but I’ll publish her post here – no guy writers on GTL! – so you won’t have to go to GR.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel your WordPress pain, Bill. And I’m sorry you have to cop ISO again. Not a fun time for you at all. I’ll be interested in the results of your buddy read. Aussie grunge? Regardless of what they want to call it, I do enjoy it. Mostly. Actually, maybe ‘enjoy’ is the wrong word – especially when it comes to Tsiolkas. Perhaps I think of his work (what I have read of it) as important culturally. Both ‘Loaded” and ‘The Slap’ have – I believe – something important to say. The writing is not always palatable but it has impact.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been in iso pretty constantly since the end of March – just a couple of weeks of normalcy in Darwin then back here in Perth before the second wave struck in Melbourne. It felt for a while like drivers had more freedom than other people, but that came to a shuddering halt! Perhaps Premier McGowan had nightmares about convoys of Covid germs thundering across the Nullarbor to strike his people down.

      I enjoyed Loaded because it was grunge. Just the same as I enjoyed Trainspotting. But I think the importance of Loaded is the visceral migrant experience. Tsialkos feels ‘not white’, and may have been the first to write about how that feels.


  5. I still seem to be able to use the old editor but I don’t know for how long. It looks like the ‘new-improved’ version is, as always these days, aimed at improving the experience on the phone app and at the expense of the desktop version. Why not make it work for both?

    I keep meaning to read something by Tsiolkas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find the block editor on my new Android (Oppo) phone even harder to use than I do on my laptop or desktop, but that might be just me. The ‘classic’ editor now seems to apply to one block at a time, for me anyway. When I stop being cranky I’ll think of a book to read and review in the next few days, on my desktop where I am most comfortable.

      Start with Loaded.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The minute there’s a new update and we’re asked if we want to try it or stick with classic, I always try it. I’m a techie person, and much of my job is problem solving tech stuff, so I’m more apt to jump in with both feet. I feel like I’ve been using the block editor for years at this point! It does offer a lot of options if you click just one button, so have hope. I especially like their “verse” block, which allows you to quote poems without having huge spaces between the lines.

    “I always thought I could survive solitary confinement if I had enough books. Now I am not so sure.” — I feel you here! Every semester I taught The Autobiography of Malcolm X and we would get to the passage where he basically sat in prison for 8 years just reading, gathering more than a college-educated person, I see myself and think, “Yeah, I would do prison like Malcolm X.” WHO AM I KIDDING???

    I looked at reviews for The Slap on Goodreads, and they’re awful. I’m hoping this is one of those books everyone is wrong about. Folks like to hate books with no likable characters, but if they’re drawn well, then I’m glad to have read about them. My plan right now is to send you my thoughts on The Slap by September 20th so you can include them in whatever way you like on The Australian Legend. Let me know how that sounds!


    • I’ll answer you upside down, appropriate really for antipodeans. Sept 20 sounds sufficiently distant for me to agree. I’ll post both our responses, yours first probably, during that week (it’s also my granddaughter’s 17th birthday, I’d better think what I am going to buy her). My memory of The Slap coming out was that everyone talked about slapping and not about the book, but Tsialkos is definitely a good writer and I should have kept up with his later releases.

      And could you imagine solitary WITHOUT books! And yet it is seemingly quite common. I say quite often I should follow up your Black American reading, but I have barely made a start. My prison ‘memory’ is of Nelson Mandela. But he made it sound like a college for Black revolutionaries.

      My business website has some brief pages about the business – and a surprising number of potential customers say they checked it out and were reassured – and a ‘post’ for each trip which just says what I am doing, my ETA and one or two photos (just because I can). Sounds like I’m going to have to describe my work in poetry.


  7. Thanks for the link to Karen’s post. I should probably learn a thing or two about the Block editor over the next year or so — I think we have another 2 years before the Classic Editor plugin is gone? I dunno. it’s not often I am happy to be self-hosted. Mwahaha.

    What does the phrase “Australian Grunge” mean to you, Bill? In America, I associate grunge with overlarge clothing, big hair, and alt-rock bands out of the Northwestern seaboard. I’m not certain what it means in this context. Dirty? Gritty? Something else entirely?

    Looking forward to reading your buddy reviews in a few weeks. 🙂


  8. “let me define it as writing about the transition from adolescence to adulthood, low rent inner suburban share houses, sex, booze, drugs and rock & roll; the name itself being originally applied to a type of music following on from ‘Punk’ in the 1980s, and the writing having pedigreed antecedents in works like George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch (1964), Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip (1977) and Kathy Acker’s whole body of work (of which I have read only Pussy, King of the Pirates (1996)).” That’s me quoting myself from a 2016 review of Justine Ettler’s The River Ophelia. I agree about the connection you make to music from Seattle at that time. The most famous grunge novel is probably Trainspotting, though I like Kathy Acker and have since reviewed In Memoriam to Identity.

    Chris Tsialkos has moved on from Grunge but I wanted to give a bit of his background.


  9. Interesting! I’ve not registered this one of his novels before. A quick glance at the library catalogue seems to say that the earliest of his books available that way is Dead Europe. Mostly it’s all about his newest titles (and a copy of The Slap translated…into Romanian!) which makes sense, I suppose. I remember enjoying Joy Fielding’s novels in the ’90s but I haven’t tried any of her newer books. I wonder if they’ve gotten rather cookie-cutter-ish after so many years in the same genre.


    • Loaded is (I think) pretty autobiographical, so it gives you some idea of where he is coming from as a writer. The setting is Melbourne working class inner suburban which doesn’t accord with him having gone to (leafy middle suburbs) Blackburn High. So maybe more research needed.
      From memory I DNF’d Joy Fielding because she kept giving us the POV of the rapist/murderer which I can’t stand.


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