Tales from the Backlist: T.A.G. Hungerford

The presentation of the 10th T.A.G. Hungerford Award prompted memories of Tom Hungerford’s involvement with the Press since its establishment in the mid 1970s.

Six volumes of his work have been published, most notably the first in his autobiographical trilogy, Stories from Suburban Road. Set in his childhood in South Perth, the book struck a chord with readers around Australia and was studied in high schools for many years. Earlier in his career he published several well-received novels and his The Ridge and the River, a prize-winner in 1949, is still available and regarded as a classic of Australian wartime fiction.

Tom’s writing talents were matched by his skills as a raconteur — his regular visits to the Press offices were always entertaining and he needed no encouragement to sit down and spin another yarn. I was once talking with interstate visitors in the grounds of the Fremantle Arts Centre when Tom arrived and introduced himself. It wasn’t long before he was reciting one of his short stories, which prompted my visitors to rush in to the Centre’s shop to buy a handful of his books and have them autographed.

Like all good storytellers, I guess, Tom loved an audience, the larger the better. I remember the world premiere of the play The Day It All Ended, which was adapted from the final piece in Stories from Suburban Road. It drew enthusiastic applause at the final curtain. Tom was in the audience and after several curtain calls for the cast, was persuaded to stand up to receive his own tribute. I have an abiding memory of him bowing and waving, almost regally, to the audience.

In 2002 Tom was awarded the Patrick White Award for Literature, which some would argue was his finest award in a writing career peppered with them. I received an invitation to attend and met him in the street outside the reception venue.

‘Would have been handy to win this back in the fifties,’ said Tom.

‘At this stage of my life it’ll only allow me to make things a bit easier for a couple of old friends who are doing it tough.’

And off he launched into a story about some event in the 1950s … that’s Tom!

(Note: Stories from Suburban Road now available in the volume Straightshooter).

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