Graeme Sparkes is the author of two travel narratives: Beyond Tijuana and The Red Island. A featured book, You Never Met My Father, is an account of living with a mentally ill parent. His latest book, Macaulay Station is reviewed below.
Graeme is a former teacher who lives with his partner in the outer north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Prizes, Talks, Books
Review: Macaulay Station
"Frank’s shifting personas and his (or Sparkes) beautifully crafted prose allow the very real sense that the unglamorous Frank just has to dig a bit deeper or broader and may well do so. The essential feature of Frank is kindness. That is no mean feat for a human being and for all its pessimism, one gets strength from this novel. One can see what is happening to Frank even if he can’t" From the review team at School by Design See full review
Review: Macaulay Station
"Frank Munro has had change thrust upon him. So he's changing. He's trying.
An award winning journalist, now put out to pasture, Frank is looking to renew his purpose, renew his life, and save the woman he loves from her disastrous infatuation.
Can a conversation with a dead man on Macaulay Station point the way?"
Review:You Never Met My Father
'I never knew you, my friend: how is that possible?
Graeme Sparkes, the boyhood friend whom I never actually knew, has written one of Australia's more vivid memoirs, writes Tony Wright.
'A teacher at a country high school I attended for a year thought boxing was a manly sport for boys and arranged bouts occasionally in the schoolyard.
I was put toe-to-toe one day with a boy named Graeme Sparkes. He was a friend that year, in the same class at Portland High School, south-west Victoria.' [Sydney Morning Herald]"(https://www.smh.com.au/healthcare/i-never-knew-you-my-friend-how-is-that-possible-20141106-11i0el.html)
November 6, 2014
You Never Met My Father, 2014, JoJo Publishing
“Beseiging police defied by armed man. Detectives parley. These were headlines from The Argus (Melbourne) on the 30th November, 1951. The front page of newspapers across Australia bore similar news. The gunman was Denny Sparkes, my father.”
A mentally ill father marred Graeme Sparkes’ childhood. With a diagnosis ranging from psychotic, to schizophrenic, to just a plain old malingerer, Denny Sparkes’ ’emotional immaturity’ would affect not just his son, but through adoption his grandson. Interspersed with public records of his father’s actions, this story also examines memory and how the mind can confuse what is real and what is remembered.
Examining mental illness and its affects on the family, this memoir is a beautifully written and heartfelt account by the author of Beyond Tijuana and The Red Island.
Tony Wright, The Age, wrote:
“One of Australia’s more vivid memoirs….. a wonderfully crafted and pitilessly honest trip behind the doors of his real life….It is a perceptive sometimes humorous story about the anguish of growing up and not fitting in.”
Beyond Tijuana, 1995, Text Publishing
“Foreign lands never yield their secrets to a traveller. The best they offer are tantalising snippets, just enough to inflame the imagination. The secrets they do reveal are your own – the ones you have kept from yourself. And this is reason enough to travel, to leave home.”
Graeme Sparkes travelled with his companion, Tania, through Latin America in 1992, experiencing its cultural and natural wonders, but also witnessing the travails of life in a dozen countries, some where civil war had recently ended. There are poignant moments and hilarious interludes from Ecuador right up to the Mexican-US border.
This is an account as much about the foibles of travellers as exotic lands.
The Red Island, 1997, Text Publishing
“In all the years of exposure to its image, nobody had taken the trouble to tell me how beautiful Uluru was at close quarters. The distant view of the monolith weighing down the earth was mundane compared to the perspective from its base. Its towering walls were streaked with black watermarks and pitted with deep cavities where lightning had struck. Boulders littered the ground. A harsh climate had caused the sandstone to crumble and fall away. The surface was scaly. I understood why the Anangu believed a reptile dwelt within. For the Anangu, who kept out of sight, this was home: a mighty rock set in a desert wilderness, set upon by hordes of tourists. Of course the Anangu could travel anywhere, but before white intruders came, this was their realm. I had travelled the world, crossed three or four continents, seen deserts, jungles, glaciers, immense cities. It hardly took an effort on my part, less effort than the first whites took to travel to Uluru. The breadth of my experience of the world was vast, if somewhat thin. And it came at a price. The price was a sense of attachment and a universe of manageable proportions. I broke my hike near the eastern end of Uluru to watch a small hawk that was gliding across a concave section of the rock face, high up and barely visible. Eventually, it drifted away from the cliff, and I lost it in the pure blue of the morning sky.”
In 1996 Sparkes undertook a journey around his own country, travelling mainly on buses, staying in backpacker hostels, discovering a land that was every bit as exotic and unexpected as many places he had been to overseas. This is a beguiling story about the locals and overseas travellers he encountered along the way.
Graeme is available for talks at schools and public events on the following topics in the context of his memoir You Never Met My Father:
First prize: Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Jim Hamilton Award for An Unpublished Manuscript. 'Death of An Author', a spoof on the famous essay by Roland Barthes.
Macaulay Station-Latest novel
Review: School by Design review team
Macaulay Station by Graeme Sparkes is not a book for children but its beautifully crafted prose (snuck in between some horrors,) and its eternal themes may well strike a chord with teachers. It is a book written by a man about a man, an imperfect, unglamorous man but a kind and honest one and in that it may be rare.SBD
Placing this novel is an unsettling process. Literary contexts fall short, a reflection perhaps of the dilemmas facing the main character whose personas can’t seem to find a home. Camus’ ‘The Outsider’ may be an imperfect parallel but both Macaulay Station and The Outsider, in spite of their wildly differing tales, centre on a sadness which threatens the existence of the main character. (Claims of existentialism however, should provoke impatience; the cerebral is not always the most helpful.)
Frank Munro is a journalist turning 55 who feels the angst of retrenchment and physical deterioration. His preoccupation with the sordid is almost a hostile act. I don’t love me and you won’t either. It is also perhaps a realistic account of the pathway to decline. How disgusting can I be?
The external world has also aged into an oppressive context and Frank can’t save it or solve it. He has done his part as a journalist but the confines of paid employment may be an essential element in his decline. His new freedom is also illusory; the accretions of life have left him unable to even think of a place, a movement, an activity in which to place himself. The political movements of his youth and his most admired friends, the radical movements of the 20th century, have disintegrated (in his mind at least,) with time and exposure to harsh winds while Frank has been whittled by protected office-based compromise.
Frank has lived with his partner Julia for decades in a mutually loving story but Julia too is fractured. She has strong caring feelings but her comments jar with insensitivity or perhaps just lack intrinsic interest. Julia has crystallized through the flames of childhood, adolescent and adult experiences and emerges a whole person but following her progress doesn’t feel like a priority. Julia and Frank’s relationship feels like second best.
Frank’s shifting personas and his (or Sparkes) beautifully crafted prose allow the very real sense that Frank just has to dig a bit deeper or broader and may well do so. The essential feature of Frank is kindness. That is no mean feat for a human being and for all its pessimism, one gets strength from this novel. One can see what is happening to Frank even if he can’t.