*Thank you to Maria Takolander for presenting this speech at the launch of Scott Pearce’s book, faded yellow by the winter on 27th April 2019 at Place Gallery, Richmond.
On faded yellow by the winter
I first met Scott when he started a PhD at Deakin University, some years ago now, and when I was lucky enough to become his PhD supervisor. Scott came to Deakin with a great moustache; a love of Westerns; a growing posse of children; and a longstanding and passionate commitment to the Hawthorn Football Club—and, of course, his wife.
But he also came to Deakin with an innate understanding of the poetry of language; an exceptional talent for imagining character, place and plot; and an exceptional work ethic that would see him complete his PhD—this novel and a scholarly dissertation—in record time despite a full-time teaching job and said posse of kids.
Scott had, from the very beginning, the idea for a novel that would bring together Aussie Rules and the Western, and that would become this mythic, moving, profound and beautiful book, faded yellow by the winter.
When you open your copy, you will soon meet Vic in his ute, parked on a hill overlooking the country town of Henrithvale. Vic—wife to Jane, father of two—is something of a lost soul.
Parked on that hill, Vic can see the apple farm he inherited from his dead mother and father. He can see the dying river system, which means that his farm and his town are dying. The government is offering to buy out farms, but the townspeople, including Vic, are trying to hold on, for the sake of tradition.
From his spot on the hill, Vic can also see the station house, where a couple of American desperadoes holed up after robbing a gold coach back in the 1800s, and where Vic used to flee as a kid when his violent father was angry—where he still flees when times get tough now.
Vic can also see ‘the blessed football ground,’ where his father remains a legend but where he, every weekend, struggles to get a kick. Nevertheless, that footy ground, that footy club—everything seems to hinge on it.
Scott’s novel was described, by one of his PhD examiners, as a ready-made Australian classic. And part of the reason for its ready-made classic status is the descriptions of the footy games—not just the sweat and guts of it, the mud and the rain, the swearing and the speeches, but also the mindset, what it all means. What Scott captures is the mythos of this country’s game, and not just for the hopeful players who front up every weekend, but also for the fans.
At a huddle around the players at quarter time, we read: ‘Vic felt their presence around him like a rising pressure. They needed something, something they could not articulate, but they knew it had to do with the ground and the jumper and the players.’
The club wants something from Vic, the townspeople want something from Vic, but there are also other forces competing for his soul.
The mysterious Mulholland begins showing up at Vic’s farm. A man of modernity, he wants to persuade Vic to give up his farm and his life in the town—and to give up on his past, on a painful history associated with his violent father. Vic’s wife also wants to sell up and move to the city—to give herself and her daughters a chance at a better life.
But then there’s Vic’s dead father, and the American desperadoes. Appearing to him as gothic apparitions, as ghosts, they appeal to Vic’s manliness. Go out fighting, they say. Die hard.
This is a story for our times. It addresses the problem of male violence and its legacies, the problem of reconciling the past and the future, the problem of upholding tradition but also knowing when to let go.
In addition to all of this, faded yellow by the winter is simply a great read. You won’t want to put it down. You’ll keep turning those pages—for the characters you’ll come to love or fear; for the outcomes of the footy matches; for the authentic poetry of the language, including the fantastic swearing and insults hurled on the ground and in the locker room; and for the future of Vic, his marriage, his farm, his town.
Congratulations to Reading Sideways Press for publishing this excellent book.
And congratulations to Scott for writing this wonderful novel. Scott, you are truly an exciting new voice and talent in Australian literature. This novel, I am sure, will be the first of many, but I am honoured to have been around when you were writing this one, and I am thrilled to be here today celebrating its launch.
May faded Yellow by the winter receive the accolades and audience it deserves.