‘Here are stories from Australia’s dark heart: Of catastrophe and misfortune, intrigue and passion, betrayal and tragedy. Some you may think you know – others, you have never heard of – but will capture your imagination.’
This is a little gem of a book. Jack Marx, a Walkley Award winning journalist, has collected together true tales that reflect a fresh, un-sanitised version of Australian history. He says, ‘My original purpose … was to unearth stories that had not been widely distributed…and present them in the somewhat sensational style of the old penny dreadfuls …’
The result is a wonderfully dark, gripping and uncompromising read. Marx writes with an incisive wit and a larrikin charm. These are strange, sad and shocking stories, though beautifully told. Fresh versions of our past.
‘Anyone who has ever snored through lessons at an Australian school knows that the official history of our nation is boring as milk,’ says Marx. ‘Where American kids get to thrill to tales from the War of Independence, the Civil War, the various bloody encounters of the Wild West and enough assassinations to keep conspiracy theorists busy for a century yet, our poor little bastards are forced to dream up ingenious ways to stay awake during lectures on the Gold Rush, Federation and the ‘adventures’ of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth.’
No such problems here! I defy anybody to snore through the tempestuous tale of Jim Hall, the Sydney-born boxer who knocked out more opponents than Les Darcy ever would, but who never made the record books. Or to remain unmoved by the tale of Moloch, ‘ … a fiery Prince of Hell who takes pleasure in the sorrow of mothers.’ Then there’s the heart-wrenching tale of Bob Bungey, a talented Battle of Britain fly-boy, who ‘learned to cope with dreadful things – alone in the air, watching death come to friends, and enemies too, who never were machines, never would be less than human beings in the minds of those who killed them.‘ The twist at the end of this story left me staggered.
Marx also gives us cryptic and unfamiliar spins on well-known figures such as Merle Oberon, Steve Irwin, Martin Bryant and Michael Hutchence. He leaves us variously intrigued, angry, shocked and saddened. In my case, I was even a little ashamed of my fascination with these stories; stories that had slipped through the cracks of Australia’s official history. Thank you Jack Marx, for giving me a wealth of material for future fiction. Now I want to read another of your books – Sorry, The Wretched Tale Of Little Stevie Wright. ‘Mind-blowingly good,’ says one Goodreads reviewer. I look forward to finding out for myself.