peteg's blog - noise - books - 2023 11 16 Herbert DisturbingElement

Xavier Herbert: Disturbing Element. (1963)

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On dead tree bought from Adelaide Booksellers a while back in expectation of getting to it before now. The Australian Dictionary of Biography's entry for Xavier Herbert claims this is an unreliable autobiography which might be a polite way of observing that it is generally inadequate.

The ADB details what Herbert needlessly mystifies: his to-be-wed parents had him in Geraldton W.A. in 1901 and the family soon moved to Fremantle where he studied pharmacy in an archaic master/indentured apprentice manner before moving to Melbourne to acquire medical credentials. This plan was abandoned after a year and the book abruptly ends with him on a boat to Sydney (I took it to be England) after the first World War. The title was what his train-engine-driving Dad called him whenever he was a problem which was often.

Annoyingly he doesn't give us any idea how he came by the source material for or views he expresses in Capricornia: I wanted to know how he got to the Northern Territory and about all those jobs he had. Instead we get too many tales of manliness: fisticuffs and tupping the sheilas, some really tedious med student humour. On his account if you were born in Australia between about 1917 and 1984 there's a good chance he’s your father. We don't hear about how or where he met his wife (ADB: on a boat to England in 1930) and what she thought of his salad days. It is as prolix as you'd expect but too short; I don't think this was the most interesting time in his life.

Summarised at length at The Australian Legend. Apparently Herbert was buried in 1984 at Alice Springs Garden Cemetery on the Stuart Highway, near the trucking hall of fame. This is quite distant from the town cemetery where Namatjira was buried thirty years prior. I was probably better off reading Frances Olivia de Groen's 630-page PhD thesis on Herbert.