You can judge this memoir by its poignant cover. It shows a picture of the author taken in 1966 when he was eight or nine years old. Behind him is one of the accessories of the baby boomer period, a Volkswagen. The Beetle is parked near long grass, redolent of Melbourne’s outer suburban fringe, an area that features prominently in Shaun Carney’s account of his origins. Frankston and Carrum Downs are the heartland of this book.
In the photo, young Shaun Carney looks stiff and uncomfortable. Jimmy, his father, embraces him with one arm. Despite the smile on his face, Jimmy seems awkward. His eyes have nowhere to focus. Jimmy was a chain smoker and heavy drinker; he tried to maintain simultaneous relationships with different women. By the time Shaun started school at the age of four, Jimmy ‘was always coming up with reasons not to be around’. In the photo, the cigarette in Jimmy’s right hand is beautifully balanced by a watch on his son’s wrist. That contrast encapsulates an essential difference between the two men. Shaun Carney will tell us that he worked at The Age for twenty-six years, six months, and twenty-eight days. There is a strong sense in this book of the passing of time.