Born and educated in Melbourne, I grew up in a culturally mixed family - Greek Cypriot on my father's side, Anglo-Australian on my mother's. I have a younger sister and brother. We never learnt or spoke Greek at home, partly because we were not close to Dad, partly because, in the conformist sixties, we were suspicious of 'wog-talk'. Paradoxically, other kids at school saw me as Greek, or at least tainted by foreignness, so that I often felt that I was a hybrid oddity hanging from the rim of the blond world. It was not until I was in my twenties, after my parents had separated, that I travelled to Cyprus and Greece and developed a rudimentary understanding of my father's past. For all that, I never felt emotionally committed to Hellenic ways.
It is not fashionable these days for people to locate themselves according to class, but I continue to believe that much of a person's life is determined by his or her economic beginnings. My father worked as a tally clerk for forty years at General Motors in Fishermans Bend. In the eighties, when his role was superseded by the common pocket calculator, he was given a white coat and shown how to buff alloys to reveal their composition. For a few weeks he boasted that he was a scientist. He'd always styled himself an educated man, though as far as I can make out he never progressed beyond the early years of secondary school. A matter of money. After the initial euphoria of his new role at General Motors he gradually grew bitter with the realisation that he'd been demoted and was now an unskilled process worker. He worked until he was seventy, hating every day.
My mother is the daughter of a small businessman who dabbled successfully in illegal bookmaking. She showed an aptitude for illustration and at sixteen spent a term at art school. Her ambition was to become a commercial artist, but for financial reasons she had to drop out. She went on to work as a stenographer until she met and married my father. In later life, after we children went to school, she became a kindergarten assistant. Nevertheless, she never ceased to paint and draw, up until her late seventies. I now recognise that this devotion to the arts was common among working class people. The arts were seen as somehow transcending material circumstances and social hierarchy. Not surprisingly, I absorbed this attitude very young. Both my sister and I became enthusiastic painters, and in the seventies, when Gough Whitlam made higher education available to anyone who aspired to it, we studied to become art teachers.
I graduated from Melbourne State College in 1978 with a fine arts degree. While teaching in secondary schools I began to write fiction, at the same time studying literature and creative writing at Melbourne University. After spending time in Cyprus and Greece, I took up a teaching appointment in the central Victorian town of Wedderburn in 1984, where I remained for thirteen years. Towards the end of that period I resigned from teaching to run a small horticultural business with my wife Evalyn. In 1996 we moved to Glenrowan, and before long we had a retail garden centre in nearby Wangaratta. Evalyn and I divided the working day so that I had the mornings free to write. I'd never before given myself wholly to the task. Despite my longstanding interest in fiction and a few short stories published in little magazines twenty years before, I was starting from scratch.
My first novel - Furies, UQP, 2004 - drew on my experience of rural life in Wedderburn. It was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book. There are countless novels that explore the flawed dream of rural simplicity, going back centuries. But what I attempt here is to evoke the blind hope - and subsequent disenchantment - of individuals in situ. The old realist project, no doubt. For my thoughts on literary forms see my ON WRITING page.
My second novel Silent Parts, UQP, 2006, explores an Australian family's private myth about a WW1 soldier who didn't come back from France. Silent Parts was longlisted for the Miles Franklin award in 2007, and later adapted by screen writer Blake Ayshford into the telemovie An Accidental Soldier (2013). The impetus was a short entry in Brent C. Dickerson's Old Rose Advisor, Timber Press, 1992. It reproduces the reminiscences of an American soldier, apparently an older man, who had a few hours to kill between trains in the French city of Dijon in 1917. Knowing that he is headed for the brutality of the front, he searches for a local nursery that is the source of a famous rose cultivar that he grew back in America - Gloire de Dijon. Reading this, it occurred to me that he visits the site as a homage to his domestic values. I could not imagine a more poignant emblem of bourgeois aspirations, or the longing for peace, home and human co-operation.
In 2007 we sold our property in North East Victoria and moved to Bendigo. This is significant because the town has a university, and I was able to complete an arts degree I had begun back in Melbourne. I particularly enjoyed studying literary theory, which had shifted a long way in 25 years. I'd long been aware of criticisms of realist writing, and I benefited from getting to the source texts of that criticism. After completing my undergraduate studies in Bendigo, I undertook a creative writing Ph D at Deakin University, Burwood. My theoretical focus was French philosopher Paul Ricoeur's notion of narrative identity. I received the doctorate in 2015.
My most recent project is Two Greeks, which was published by UQP in August, 2011. While not a memoir, this novel draws on the peculiar dynamics of my parents' failed marriage, or the clash between 'mother-culture' and 'father-culture, and also reflects the broader shifts in gender relations that were happening across Australia in the 1970s. Ultimately, however, it's a story about a child who wants desperately to believe in the providential wisdom of adults.