Book reviews

The joyful cover art on Chasing the McCubbin by debut Australian author Sandi Scaunich depicting a garage sale wasn’t the only reason why I chose to purchase this book for my Australian reading/book buying challenge. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I like fossicking through other people’s unwanted bits and pieces, although I’m more likely to visit an Op Shop than attend a garage sale. Usually I’m looking for books so would probably bypass a painting by Frederick McCubbin in my hunt for books that I’ve been busting to read but unable to find!

Chasing the McCubbin tells the story of an odd couple, Ron and Joseph who teamed up to scrounge through hard rubbish collections and garage sales around Melbourne during the early 1990s. Ron had been buying and selling for years, but after the death of his wife needed assistance from someone to direct him to the advertised sales, then to help him to carry and load his purchases into his van for a percentage of the profits.

Since the death of his wife Ron’s health had continued to worsen but the possibility of finding valuable items in other people’s cast-offs had long been his obsession. The items Ron bought and sold supplemented his meagre income during the recession that Australia ‘had to have’.

Joseph was a troubled school-leaver from a poor area who had been unable to find a job when he unwillingly teamed up with Ron at the request of his mother. The recent death of Joseph’s older brother had left Joseph and his mother emotionally devastated and generally unable to cope with day-to-day life. Joseph’s tragic back story of family violence was told over the course of the story.

Each week Joseph and Ron met their fellow collectors at the garage sales, people who Ron had nicknamed according to their characteristics or by what they collected. They formed a community of sorts and consisted of The Crone, the Tool-Men, the Thief, the Record Men, Fritz the German and others. Over the course of a year Joseph began to learn from Ron which items were valuable and which were not, along with the more valuable lesson that families should value their own histories.

Viewing paintings by Frederick McCubbin gives me (and I suspect most Australians) a sense of belonging despite many of his paintings depicting an Australian bush life which very few people actually ever lived, except for in our romantic visions of ourselves. Since European settlement began in Australia more Australians have lived in cities than in the bush.

View of the Yarra River towards Richmond from below McCubbin’s House, Kensington Road

I loved that this story reminded me of scrounging through sheds on family member’s farms and hearing stories about the past generations who had treasured those items. I liked Ron and Joseph, the Melbourne setting and the period when the story was set. I’ll definitely read whatever Sandi Scaunich writes next.

My purchase of Chasing the McCubbin by Sandi Scaunich continues to satisfy my New Year’s resolution for 2021 which is to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (April).

Comments on: "Chasing the McCubbin by Sandi Scaunich" (17)

  1. Sounds quite interesting! I’ve not heard of Frederick McCubbin though, but then there are gaps in my knowledge of artists. I just looked him up and his paintings do seem quite romantic, I like them.

  2. Sounds perfect for your Australian challenge! I haven’t heard of Frederick McCubbin, but I shall go and google some images…

  3. I like them, too. The most famous is a set of three called The Pioneer which starts with a young couple clearing a bush block, the second has them a few years down the track with a home and a young family, and the third shows him at a gravesite with the city growing nearer to them. I think most of his paintings tell a story.

  4. I don’t think Frederick McCubbin was very well known outside of Australia but expect most Australians would be able to point out his paintings.

  5. You make me realise how little I know about Australia – maybe a list of top 5 titles/authors/artists one day?

  6. maybe some recipes too – Australia Day!

  7. I just had a look at The Pioneer – I do like paintings which tell a story, I like how this one could be interpreted in different ways.

  8. I think Australians are much more conscious of the rest of the world than the rest of the world is about us!
    I follow several bloggers who concentrate on Australian literature and are much better read than me 🙂 But if you are looking for a contemporary Australian writer, my first recommendation is anything by Tim Winton. I’ll put some more thought into this, though and start a list.

  9. Oh, that’s easy! Lamingtons, Tim Tam truffles, ANZAC biscuits…
    If you would like the recipes, try my other blog –
    If you’re going to try any of them, just remember they are metric.

  10. Yes, there is more in the story than what is immediately apparent.
    The Pioneer is at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne and before Covid I sometimes went to look at it and other favourites during my lunch break 🙂

  11. I have made many a Lamington! I used to bake for a shop run by my friends who spent a couple of years in Melbourne,delicious!!

  12. I particularly liked Bush Idyll. My kind of painter – you don’t have to guess what the picture’s supposed to be! 😉

  13. The making and enjoying of lamingtons makes you an honorary Australian!

  14. Yes, sometimes it is good to just enjoy the obvious without having to think clever thoughts!

  15. Hooray!!!

  16. I’ve seen another review of this book. It sounds really interesting, and I love the cover! The theme of valuing history is appealing – and discussing it through objects is particularly appealing I think.

  17. I really enjoyed reading about the objects that the characters were buying and selling (or seeking) and some of them made me think of things that past generations of my family valued.
    The cover really spoke to me. The bright cheerful balloons and the hopefulness of the bright blue sky made me feel happy.

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