Another rule when it comes to Brisbane is that we don’t what to hear any preaching or self-aggrandising.
We want real stories, real lives that are dictated by actions rather than emotions. Only then does the emotion reach the reader sincerely.
The qualities we look for in an epic hero narrative are used either as inspiration or as a what-not-to-do tale, and the best ones are a combination of the two.
So over the following pages we’re offering up a celebration of those who have swum against the tide of popular opinion, who’ve made great failures and triumphs in the public eye.
Let the late summer reading begin!
SMITHY BY IAN MACKERSEY
There are actually two tomes on Charles Kingsford Smith, one by aviation writer Ian Mackersey and a more recent one by media everywhere-man Peter Fitzsimons. Reviewed here is the original.
This is no Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, this is the story of a deeply flawed man, so driven to run from the adrenalin that lived in his body that he took to the skies, to absurd adventures, anything to stop the misery of his panic attacks.
Being a fighter pilot in WWI saw him bomb and shoot down the enemy with aplomb, which later left him with a hangover of undiagnosed PTSD when he returned to civilian life.
If only the world could accept him, then surely everything would be fine and that Lake Eyre-sized pool of anxiety that lived under his ribs would finally dry up? But through all the adulation and the world records, the emptiness remained and he medicated with hard drinking, loutish behaviour, and strange conspiracy theories.
Perhaps none of us are really right in the head, and it’s the flawed men and women who change the world, both for the better and for the worse.
Mackersey’s life work was to chronicle the man and place him in his era, as such, this biography is meticulously researched and includes all the spur-of-the-moment decisions Smithy made that changed the course of aviation history.
The story charts Smithy and his plane Southern Cross as they became national touchstones. He was the biggest celebrity in the land, wasn’t averse to a media stunt, and at all times he remained a larrikin of the highest order.
Young Smithy had a way with the ladies as well, doing joy-flights at country fairs, only to land in a secluded paddock and have his way with them before going back to pick up another one.
He regularly crisscrossed the Australian continent and even made it to London in 10 days, but it was his successful trips across the wide abyss of the Pacific Ocean that put him on the map. These adventures were as brave as flying to the moon would have been 40 years later.
His Pacific exploits brought a wealth of laughs as well, such as the time he made an emergency stop on a Fijian island. The Southern Cross was forced to land because it was leaking oil and the co-pilot had to plug up the hole with his clothes.
Few on the island had any idea what a plane was, even less had seen a white man, but they watched and cheered as the Southern Cross made a successful landing, having no idea what it was.
When the plane turned around, the co-pilot fell through the fabric of the fuselage, naked, onto the ground, a white guy covered in grease.
Some of the locals screamed and fled back into the jungle, thinking the plane was some kind of bird that had given birth to a weird slimy baby.
Between adventures, his business dealings became shadier than a botanical garden, as he did anything to raise the money for his next trip. His increased association with The New Guard in the 1930s also became a concern. The New Guard were a fascist group that rose in Australia that – inspired by Hitler – had begun to take up arms.
Tragedy and comedy, pathos and bathos, heroism and villainry, they all intersect in Smithy, and Mackersey absolutely nails one of Australia’s most riveting life stories.