It is often the books we read in our teens that stay with us. For a while I have been thinking of A Man Called Possum, a book I first read when I was about 13. It’s a true story about a man who lives as a vagrant on the land for 50 years, travelling along the Murray River. I was desperate to get my hands on a copy to find out if it had the same effect on me. It sounds unusual that a book about a hermit could relate to a young teen, especially one who spent hours on the internet and didn’t get outside much. Yes, my mum’s family have a country background but I was a town girl. Self-sufficiency? I knew how to raid the fridge if that’s what you mean.
A Man Called Possum was written by Max Jones, a country detective in Renmark. He became fascinated by Possum (real name Dave James Jones) when Max saw him untangling barb wire from a wild brumby’s foot. Possum had an amazing ability with animals and also helped farmers by doing odd jobs on their properties, usually without them knowing. He didn’t want to be paid, and was stubborn to ever accept supplies or food. Possum was very shy and often hid from people, preferring his own company. Max took an interest in Possum and spent the next thirty years of his life tracking him down across three states. At first Max was suspicious of him and thought he was a criminal on the run. But after Possum’s criminal record came back clear he became interested in him. Max wanted to help him, but mostly to find out why he ran away from a normal life. They met a few times over the years and their friendship was honest and based on the love of the land.
I finally got the RMIT library to hunt this book down for me and I read it again over the weekend. It is not a hard book to read but I think I understand why I loved it then and why I still love it now. It is similar to A Fortunate Life by A.B Facey, set in the Australian bush capturing the harsh beauty of it. It is an ode to the other Australia, where the country which is nothing but honest. Especially from the 1920’s to 1970 when Possum camped in the country, when the environment was not yet exploited for tourism. When I think of escaping I think of heading out bush. And who hasn’t ever felt like Possum? Thinking of running away from the pointlessness of work, the expectations of people? It would be a lonely life, but it would be honest.
I know now why A Man called Possum related to me early on. Age is irrelevant, it is rather the human desire for freedom. Whether you are 13, or 70, we will all carry with us the need for independence. It is the romantic view of self-sufficiency, and not relying on The Man. Next year I am travelling around Australia, it won’t be quite up to Possum’s standard of setting rabbit traps and mending broken pelican’s legs, but it’s still a break from the civilised world.
I can’t wait.