Listen Now – In Praise of Libraries

Being the (Wayne or Fred) philistine that I am, I hadn’t heard of Peter Goldsworthy until earlier this week during the post-post banter that followed Mickey Randall’s Exile on Adelaide Oval piece.

So, after a trip to the pathology place to provide my annual, how’s-my-haemochromatosis-going? blood sample, I popped across to the adjacent municipal community knowledge centre, i.e. the Bentleigh Branch of the Glen Eira Library Service.

This is something I do regularly, often not with anything in particular in mind, just whatever catches my eye , but only after I’ve looked at the New Books shelves (where I note that a hardback copy of Ponting – At The Close of Play has been staring back forlornly at me at each of my three previous visits).

For example, I found by accident the memoirs of English author Christopher Fowler, firstly Film Freak and his touching and hilarious tale of his early years Paperboy. Didn’t go looking for it, just saw the title and the rest was (literally) history.

My inner tight-wad was warmed when I also discovered that the Library had taken out a subscription to music magazine Mojo, which I can now borrow each month, making sure that I am quick enough to get to it before the free CD is rendered unlistenable (or worse, unrippable).

Not to mention the eclectic (is there a better word?) range of DVDs/Blu-Rays (think Ripping Yarns, Aunty Jack, Wake In Fright, Piranha, True Grit, Animal Kingdom, Day of The Triffids) that I’ve borrowed.

Occasionally, I’ll spot a CD that looks interesting, perhaps from an artist who I have ignored until now (Gram Parsons, Willy Nelson), but, what the heck, why not have a listen? Or maybe a newish artist (Arctic Monkeys) will appear on the shelves.

For the youngsters, video games of several popular flavours. For others, the Large Print collection, the Talking Books, or even the Russian language section.

And, wait for it, it costs me virtually nothing (at least at the margin, according to my recollections of Trevor Mules’ 1979 Microeconomics II lectures, as I am a ratepayer).

Whenever I go there, the place is full of people who might find this service a life-changer – I could pay for all of the stuff that I borrow, I’ve got broadband at home, I (still) get the newspaper delivered, but for many people, public libraries might be the only affordable way for them to gain access into the virtual necessities of life. It might be emails home to relatives in far-off places, or searches for jobs or just the pursuit of enlightenment, but there it is, free to anyone that walks through the doors.

(I will admit to getting a bit annoyed late last year when during the pre-exam period, it was clear that a tutor was conducting a (loud) revision session with at least three students around one of the comfy tables and chairs arrangement – should he be free-riding by conducting what is essentially a business on council property? It was a classic case of OK for one, but what if everybody did it? I left that one for the council to arbitrate on.)

I reflected on my visits as a 6yo to the Elizabeth South branch of the Elizabeth Council library. Occupying a tiny shop at the neighbourhood shopping centre, it was my only source of literary sustenance, apart from the 24 volume Colliers Encyclopedia that my parents somehow decided to buy (including the Year Book subscription) from a door to door salesman in 1964. I can’t remember what I borrowed from there, but I know that it was often.

Elizabeth’s main library at the Town Centre was my next step up when I was old enough to get there on my own, a 20 minute walk, or I could go the long way and catch the South-Grove-Vale-East Transway bus that took closer to an hour, but was more scenic. For some reason, my memory has failed to shake the time I borrowed the double bill of Jackson Browne’s The Pretender and “The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver” (album name long forgotten). I know that I borrowed my fair share of cricket books from there, footy literature hadn’t yet hit the great heights of Sticks or Real Footballers Don’t Cry.

Later in my teens, I moved to the more salubrious suburb of Para Hills, which, being in the City of Salisbury, had a more enlightened view of its services, and allowed us to listen to (gasp!) records. It was here that I first heard the ‘more Doors than the Doors but let’s jump on the punk bandwagon’ Rattus Norvegicus by The Stranglers and the Ultravox! self titled debut.

Finally, as the alluring sophistication of Kintore Avenue claimed another young mind, I discovered that cassettes could be borrowed from the State Library, ensuring that you would be back there again in another fortnight (hopefully coinciding with a Centrals fixture at Adelaide Oval).

Yes, the occasional book was also borrowed throughout these times, but it is the music that I borrowed that provided the most pleasure.

But back to present day Bentleigh. A trawl through the electronic catalogue (no paper-thin index cards to be seen nowadays), revealed that the Peter Goldsworthy memoir as brought to my attention by Peter B, was there on the shelf waiting for me to take it home.

Another win for libraries.

About Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt

Saw my first SANFL game in 1967 - Dogs v Peckers. Have only ever seen the Dogs win 1 final in the flesh (1972 1st Semi) Mediocre forward pocket for the AUFC Blacks (1982-89) Life member - Ormond Netball Club -That's me on the right


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great stuff Swish and yes libraries are a hidden treasure the best book I have borrowed is a copy of , The Rose Boys so good a book I had to go and buy a copy . Spot on tho the best bit it allows you to explore for nothing and end up with new interests

  2. Mickey Randall says

    “Being the (Wayne or Fred) philistine” is a great opening line Swish. Terrific recount. Disgracefully, it costs $50 a year to join the National Library here. A considerable sum for the many who could really use the service. But, this is Singapore.
    When I was about sixteen the Kapunda librarian asked me to help select some cassettes for folks like me. The highpoint of my community service!

  3. Great stuff, Swish. I know you will love Peter Goldsworthy’s SA memoir. I found it the same way as you describe. Randomly when on a library search for something else.
    I hadn’t been in a library for many years, until I hit some hard times a decade or so ago. It was a life saving resource in many ways.
    Then when I was putting my pieces back together doing long hours in an ‘on the road’ sales job – I found the library’s talking book CD’s invaluable. I couldn’t wait to get back in the car and hear the next part of the story.
    I was afraid to turn the car radio on, for fear of it finding its way to Racing Radio. So in many ways libraries did contribute to saving my life.
    Now I haunt 2nd hand book shops a lot. But I did buy Almanacker David Whish-Wilson’s wonderful new Aussie crime noir “Zero at the Bone” at the Perth Writers Festival. (Think Corriss or Temple with an Indian Ocean outlook,. Do yourself a favour.)
    When I was rebuilding myself I read all the Paolo Coelho books, because they were simple metaphors for life’s inner and outer journey.
    I now buy second hand copies to give to my recovery clients because they hint at the choices and journey we all travail. Young men lap up “The Alchemist” because it makes it OK and important to know you are on a noble journey, with no particular understanding of the route or the destination. Women seem to see more of themselves in the “And on the Seventh Day” trilogy.
    Every man or woman needs to be the hero of their own life.
    Thanks for returning the inspiration, Swish.

  4. Neil Anderson says

    It sounds like you are catching up with old ‘friends’ now that you’ve discovered your local library. A lot of reading memories as well as looking for something new.
    I also read by chance Peter Goldsworthy’s autobiography recently Swish and Peter. I’m fascinated by people who achieve after not looking like it when they are young.
    It would be a good read if you were brought up in Adelaide and the surrounding district and even Darwin gets a mention.
    I am lucky enough to have a teacher-librarian in the house who is available to recommend the latest reading, but gives up on me as soon as the football season starts.
    Our local library in the country is well equipped like yours and you never know who you’re going to meet there.
    Two years ago a Mr J T Harms called in to flog a few books and tell the locals about a web-site called the Footy Almanac.
    He managed to convince a tragic Bulldog supporter to check it out and the rest is history.

  5. Peter Fuller says

    Peter B & Swish.,
    That’s a nice coincident recommendation for Peter Goldsworthy’s memoir, which I must look out for in one of the four municipal libraries in Melbourne to which I belong. A very recent read is his daughter Anna’s autobiog, (from a local library, naturally) in which she refers to her father embarking on his writing career (if I have the story correct) with his novel Maestro. He wrote it while he was a doctor, but used its relative success to launch a writing career, a brave decision for someone middle-aged. Maestro apparently used a key teacher in Anna’s development as a pianist, as a central character.
    Like you blokes, I love local libraries, particularly for the serendipitous discoveries. I’m also rapt to be reminded by Neil, that JTH’s visit to libraries in the (Victorian) western provinces was the trigger for bringing him into the fold, and into my circle of friends.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I now find that Peter Goldsworthy was

    Chairman of the Libraries Board of South Australia 1995-2010

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Finished the book, gee he was an onanist

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