As a teenager growing up in 1980s suburban Melbourne, I can’t remember if I first read the book or saw the feature film of Helen Garner’s groundbreaking debut Monkey Grip. Either way the impact of Monkey Grip was immediate and I began to dream about living a different kind of life.
I don’t think my 16 year old self would quite believe that all these years later, I have written and directed a documentary: Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip.
I am sure my teenage self would be in awe that I interviewed Helen Garner, let alone the first question I asked her was, ‘when did you first know you were a writer?’. Or that I would spend a magical weekend in Hobart interviewing James Shuvus Williamson (Helen’s inspiration for the character ‘Javo’) and he would be our personal tour guide of MONA. How I sat at Hilary McPhee’s kitchen table scanning McPhee Gribble photographs, as she made me delicious toast with homemade wheat-free bread. And in a suburb not too far away, there is another teenager named Christos reading Monkey Grip and he too wants to join this artistic world.
‘On the brown house on the corner, a mile from the middle of the city, we ate bacon for breakfast every morning of our lives.’
Little did I know when I first read this opening line, the personal creative journey Helen Garner and Monkey Grip would take me on.
Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip screens on 30 September on ABCTV.