EXCLUSIVE: Clinton Walker talks GOLDEN MILES


by - November 27th, 2009


Today, Clinton Walker drops by the Boomerang Books Blog to discuss his latest release, the buzzed-about Golden Miles. Part-autobiography, part-mediation on beauty, loss and national identity, Golden Miles is a must-buy for Aussie rev-heads and pop culture lovers alike this holiday season.

I wrote Golden Miles for the same basic reason I’ve written all my books – I’d been gripped by the story and simply wasn’t going to be happy until I’d got it down and out there in some form. I guess you could say my speciality is sort of underclass or overlooked history and for Golden Miles, these cars that I’d grown up with and been entranced by could be, I could see, a great vehicle for my broader interest in the social and cultural history of life in the Australian suburbs and fringes.

It’s always seemed to me, perhaps because it’s all still so close, that people seem to look down on the suburbia they came from or even still live in. But in the course of seven books over the past twenty or so years, this history has proved not so close that the people who lived through it aren’t starting to drop off. This was certainly the case with my book about aboriginal hillbilly music, Buried Country: statistics said many of these elderly aborigines should have been dead a long time back, and in fact, a few have died since the book (and film and CD) was completed in 2000, but that only doubled my original determination to get their stories down before it was too late and it’s one my great prides that I did.

More than once, people have said to me, ‘You write books for people who don’t read, or don’t buy books.’ Apart from the fact that at different times with diffferent titles, I’ve sold a lot of books (my 1994 biography of late AC/DC legend Bon Scott has sold around one hundred thousand copies and is still selling at a rate of knots), what I think these people are saying is that my subject matter is declasse. Writers can write all sorts of books about all sorts of things and hope (or expect) that readers will come to a subject that they might not ordinarily broach. I write books about subjects that are not ‘legitimate’ – aboriginal hillbilly singers, small-time Australian football culture, suburban rev-heads… and I ask, just because those subjects are not populated by people who are readers, is that any reason not to cover that subject? Or for typical readers to come to it? In fact, to me, of course, it again doubles my determination.

I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne in the 1960s, and I was probably a slightly precocious kid who was into comic books and bubblegum cards and hot rod magazines and, increasingly, rock’n’roll. I drew rheems of my own dream-machine custom cars because I just loved the lines and I loved the promise in them, a promise of break-out and sensuality and speed and glamour and all possible tomorrows.

I wanted to be a car designer, I told people. Life intervened of course, and by the time I finished high school in Queensland, I was running right off the rails, intoxicated by drugs and rock’n’roll, and so it was only very reluctantly that I started an architecture course at university because, I suppose, my parents thought it was the thing I should do with my talents for design. I soon dropped out and enrolled in art school… but soon dropped out of that too, to start writing for rock magazines. I fell into writing because I had a story to tell, not because I was ambitious to be a writer, and in a lot of ways, my motivation remains the same.

After writing a few books about Australian rock (including Inner City Sound, Stranded and the Bon Scott biography, Highway to Hell), I realised my interests were broadening out or returning to my general fascination with vernacular, popular culture, and thus almost stumbled over the stories I wrote in  Buried Country and Football Life.

Golden Miles is a love song to these particular cars of this particular era in Australian history, and if it’s true, as I admit, that I am in so many ways a dilattante, because I’ve never owned such a car and wouldn’t know how to do more than change a tyre on one if did, I think this unconsummated aspect of  our relationship only makes my dedication more ardent!

It was a fascination I’d had since childhood and I finally wanted to understand what it was all about. And I think, having written the book, I now do.

The book always had to be illustrated, and beautifully designed. What point is a book about beautiful design that isn’t beautifully designed itself? As a former art student, I remain dedicated to the visual even though I have a line that says, ‘your literary credibility declines in direct proportion to the number of illustrations your book includes’. But how could I not include some of this beautiful, evocative and provocative imagery?

I designed the book in conjunction with my design partner, Jim Paton, who learned his trade at Reader’s Digest. I love the way this book looks.

When I go back and glance through it now, I enjoy the way it reads too. 🙂

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