In which I disagree with a Nobel Prize Winner. Book Review “Grimmish” by Michael Winkler

J.M. Coetzee described it as “The strangest book you are likely to read this year.” I don’t know. Maybe if you restrict yourself to only reading books released this year. But if, like me, you tend to read books from five, twenty, thirty, fifty years ago, as well as newly published books, you will read much stranger.

“Grimmish” is not that strange, apart from the brief appearances of a talking goat. It is based on the life of an Italian- American boxer, Joe Grim, born Saverio Giannone. It focuses on Grim’s tour of Australia in 1908/09. If reading about boxing is not your favourite pastime, I’d still give this book a try. Winkler explores, through Grim’s ordeals, the wider subject of pugilism as spectacle or performance, the motivations of the boxers and the spectators, the apparent male need for pain and punishment, as well as the futility and pain of writing.

It seems that Grim was a spectacularly bad boxer except for one thing – he could take inhuman amounts of punishment without being knocked out – that is until the very end of his boxing career. This allowed him to be matched against some of the great boxers of the early twentieth century. At the end of a bout, usually having been outclassed, beaten, battered, bloodied but still standing, he would exclaim to the delighted crowd “I am Joe Grim. I fear no man on earth.”

This is a work of fiction but the author incorporates extensive factual footnotes, pointing the reader to his sources – boxing magazines, newspapers, newsreel footage of bouts. It is told in the voice of a failed writer / narrator and his “uncle” who had met and researched Grim. Plus the talking (mostly through expletives and blue jokes) goat.

I’m not a boxing enthusiast, but this book did draw me into the strange life of Grim. I felt for the man, despite the self-destructive path he chose. Winkler writes well and weaves fact and fiction together skilfully. Serious subjects are explored with humour and empathy.

Grimmish was shortlisted for the 2022 Miles Franklin Award.

Joe Grim
Mike Hopkins 2022

“Ya Don’t Go ta the beach in Adelaide”

Many years ago, I was listening to the ABC radio commentary on a test match in Adelaide. I can’t remember who Australia was playing, but one of the commentators was the late Rod Marsh, ex Australian wicketkeeper, from Western Australia. Asked by his fellow commentator what else he did whilst in Adelaide, did he for instance go to the beach, Marsh replied something like “Nah, ya don’t go ta the beach in Adelaide”. I was stunned by this comment, but it typifies the strange parochialism of Australians, the weird interstate one-upmanship that goes on. South Australia being one of the least populous states, and Adelaide one of the smaller State capitals, is often the target of such remarks, usually made by men (it’s pretty much always men) from the eastern states and in this case the west.

One explanation is that Marsh reputedly drank 51 cans of beer on the flight from Australia to London for the 1989 Ashes series. Beaches may not have been top of his list of preferred places to be.

What is stunning to me about this remark is either the wilful or deliberate ignorance of surely some of the best city beaches in the world. I’ve recently sold my house in the inner suburbs and am trying out living in a beachside suburb. I’m not ON the beach, but conveniently enough situated that I go to the beach once or twice daily, to walk, run, cycle or drink coffee. It’s winter here so I’ve not yet been brave enough to try a cold, cold water swim. It never fails to take my breath away, that first sight of the vast ocean, the expanse of white sand, the waves breaking on the beach. Often (maybe thanks to remarks such as those of Rod Marsh), there are very few people there, though that will change on summer weekends.

Yesterday (a Saturday) I cycled about twenty kilometres along the seafront cycle path from home up to West Beach and back. Rod Marsh’s words came to mind. So I took a few pics to justify my incredulity.

Ain’t gahn ta the beach

Too much white sand ‘n breakers

Gi’us a beer instead

© text and images Mike Hopkins 2022

Hanson Haiku

When the chips are down

The fishwife comes to the fore

With a load of cod


For non-Australian readers, Pauline Hanson is a right-wing Australian politician, famous for her incoherent racist ramblings. Before entering politics as a Liberal (read Tory) party selection, she was the owner of a fish and chip shop in Queensland. She founded the One Nation party, which has gone through a number of manifestations. It has been a vehicle enabling her to grift a living out of the Australian electoral system, which reimburses any party that achieves 4+% of the first preference vote. She recently squeaked back into the Federal Senate. Amongst her attention seeking stunts is the wearing of a burqa into Parliament and most recently walking out during the acknowledgement of country (which acknowledges and pays respect to First Nations peoples as the Traditional Owners and ongoing custodians of the land).

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2022. Image courtesy SBS: