Get lost, ya moll! Puberty Blues hits TV
I’m in a bedroom. I’m 10 years old (give or take). There’s a group of us girls. I’m the youngest. The others are family and friends. They’re handing around a book carefully, gingerly, as if it has germs. But they’re reading it hungrily. I’m at the end of the line, keen to see what’s inside. One of the girls (who I don’t know), says: She can’t have it, she’s too young. But I’m family (through the stepkid line). My wonderful 14-year-old rel says, Don’t worry, she’s alright. I get the nod of approval. I feel so honoured. I’m in the in-crowd. I’m handed the copy of Puberty Blues.
At the time it hits me like a tonne of bricks. The language. The brutality of the boys (and girls). The fights with fists. The relentless talk of and desire for sex (even when it seems painful and pointless). The need to conform at any cost. I am seduced and repelled by it. I want to escape this kind of world. I don’t want to go to high school. I escape in a sense (to a girls’ boarding school) for a few years. When I meet boys in their early teens, they may not be surfies but things haven’t moved on (we’re in the 80s now). They communicate with their tongues and their insults. I struggle to remain visible. I want to burst out. My brain’s in here, I want to cry. Can we talk? There’s one boy. I use the word impersonate. He looks at me, dumbstruck. He hops on his BMX and rides off. I decide to keep words to less than two syllables from then on. It’s a habit (dumbing down) that I’ve struggled to overcome ever since.
Years later, and I’m writing my first novel. It has a strong and lively character in the name of Layla. Hers is a voice I inhabit easily. She’s 14 years old. She struts across the page and, as she swans, I remember this earlier, unforgettable voice, from Puberty Blues, and how it has formed and shaped me. Layla goes to school in Western Sydney. She is obsessed with boys. She is desperate to please. She inhabits Facebook and watches video on her mobile, but she’s essentially the same as those girls, the ‘molls’ living on Sydney’s shire fringe.
I remember the first film version as being true to the book, but perhaps too much so, a flat narrative that failed to penetrate the landscape. The new version, now screening on TEN, is a series, offering time for some character development and in particular a deeper analysis of the parents and where they fit in. I don’t remember the parents in the book. Perhaps I tossed those pages aside at the time, eager just to get to the good bits. But like all great narratives, Puberty Blues charts more than the lives of the teenagers (and the series explores this beautifully). It inhabits a decade where everything seems possible, where society is undergoing rapid change, where immigration is starting to have an impact (on the ‘white’ cultural values in Cronulla) and where feminism is starting to mean changes for some women (see Susie Porter and Dan Wyllie let it all hang out as The Knights) while leaving others behind.
Glendyn Ivin directed one of the most evocative short films I’ve seen, Cracker Bag (which went on to win the top prize for shorts at Cannes), and his first feature, Last Ride, was a wonderful exploration of childhood in peril (see my RealTime review). He seems to have been the perfect choice as director to launch this ripe mix of teen angst and 70s culture. And unlike Channel 9’s Howzat, this isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia, a chance to wear funny moustaches and parade around in harry high pants, but a serious take on where we’ve come from and where we’re at.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? HAVE YOU READ PUBERTY BLUES OR SEEN THE RECENT SERIES? WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Your review of Glendyn Ivin’s film “Last Ride” is beautiful and evocative. I don’t see many films anymore (despite having a former short lived career as a film reviewer!) but I definitely want to see this. I also loved “Cracker Bag”. I was at film school with Glendyn (and also Emma Freeman who directs “Puberty Blues”) and admire their film making craft. If only we had a more robust film industry!! I very much look forward to reading your novel.
I thought Last Ride was really wonderful; completely under-rated. I don’t see many either but for a while there I was reviewing pretty much every Oz film that came out, which was great. I think the industry is becoming more and more robust.
I have only watched the first episode of the series, but am recording the rest for later viewing. Absolutely love it. This is the life I lived in the 70s. The main characters look and act like my friends and I did. The only thing that is not familiar – the parents. But I don’t feel they are an exaggeration, it’s just that our parents were not like that.
To see all this again is somewhat frightening, then somewhat comforting. I share this history with more people than I could have believed.
I noted with interest that Rick Maier is involved (writing or producing, I’m not sure). Rick wrote some of our early pub theatre scripts. I always thought the projects he worked on were good quality.
It’s a rare thing for me to feel that an Oz drama has legs. I hope it sustains itself!
And legs with cheat notes, at that! The boys are hard to get to know. Were the surfies like that in your day?
We were in a group of surfies – about 10 guys and 1/2 dozen girls (the group was fluid – ‘friends’ coming and going) and because we were on the ‘in’, so to speak, the guys were pretty easy to get along with. But the interactions were all about surf, food and 70s style flirting, which wasn’t subtle. The focus of the guys was to get girls and visa versa. The girls were particularly territorial – of the guys, the group and the hang.
We used to hang at the beach all weekend. We were cool and owned North Steyne (Manly), which meant there was an area that was for our sole use. I can’t remember anyone else in our spot. In any given day we would move from beach to grass and benches, to back of someone’s combi van, to the Branding Iron diner across the road and back to beach. I think the main topic of conversation was roasting other people (we called it ‘baking’). I found it easier to get on with the guys than the girls generally. The girls could be really vicious!
It’s so weird. I can’t piece that little history with the image I have of you at all. You really did live it.
I just can’t believe that’s Dot from the Phryne Fisher mysteries on the right in the school bus.
I haven’t seen that series yet. Something of a different character, I imagine:-)