The Unsentimental Bloke: Kenneth Cook and Wake in Fright

Reviewed by
November 2009, no. 316

The Unsentimental Bloke: Kenneth Cook and Wake in Fright

Reviewed by
November 2009, no. 316

Kenneth Cook was always a little surprised by the success of Wake in Fright. He dismissed it as a young man’s novel, as indeed it was; he published it in 1961, when he was thirty-two. Among his sixteen other works of fiction he was prouder of Tuna (1967), a partial reimagining of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea set off the coast of South Australia, and The Man Underground (1977), which dealt with opal mining. Perhaps he preferred them because he had enjoyed the research involved. It is true that both are better crafted, more assured, than the novel that made his name. But he could never quite accept that Wake in Fright delineated grim truths about the bush and its inhabitants that his other novels do not capture.

So Ken’s best-known novel did not figure largely in his personal pantheon. He was peeved that so much of his other work – the novels, texts on creative writing, books of photographs, television and stage plays, and a large quantity of journalism – was relatively unknown. Making a living as a writer during the 1960s and 1970s was almost impossible – it is not exactly easy now – so he did a lot of other things to, as he said, earn a quid. His first wife and their four children were largely supported by his company Patrician Films, one of the first independent low-budget film production houses in the country, which for many years made and sold short films, mostly for ABC television.

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