Context and Background: #
Cloudstreet was written during the 1980s over a period of about 18 months (1987-88) consisting of six months in Paris, six months in Ireland and six months on the Greek Island of Hydra under a travel scholarship, the Martin Bequest. Writing from overseas provides for a more detached yet nostalgic approach.
Working titles included, The Dead Room and House of Cards. The novel is a sympathetic, nostalgic but realistic portrayal of an earlier Australia finding its identity and a personal etching of a man’s “warts and all” family origins; Tim Winton’s ancestors.
Winton lovingly depicts a simpler, less affected yet a richer mosaic of eccentric Australians of our past who suffer from a “whispering in their hearts” over their unearned possession of indigenous lands (house). Though spanning the years from 1943 – 1964, the novel’s background takes in times as early as the 1890s, Lester’s early childhood. Emerging Australian identities are forged through floods, fires, war and hard times. The resilience of the aussie battler is revealed through the travails of the main characters, especially Sam Pickles’ family.
The novel uses actual historical events to place it in context, such as World Wars, the Nedland Monster (a real serial rapist and murderer who terrorised Perth in the early 60’s) and the assassination of President Kennedy.
While the stories of the two contrasting families sharing a house may be allegorical of the greater Australian psyche, it is also more literally an account of Winton’s heritage. The book is dedicated to Sam and Sadie Mifflin and Olive and Les Winton. In an interview (1991) with Janet Hawley in Good Weekend, Tim Winton writes:
The fiction in Cloudstreet grew from sparks of memories of his paternal grand parents. “My grandmother was a powerful matriarch who ran the family, a shop and most of the suburb, and lived in a tent in the backyard of the house where my grandfather lived. We never questioned it — we thought it was perfectly normal. She’d recite poetry and Bible stories to me as we dug the vegetable patch.
“Grandfather was a bit of a magician and had a collection of ventriloquists’ dolls in the toolshed. I can remember crapping myself at the sight. He was often sick and would lie in bed with a long string tied on his toe leading to a big cymbal on the back path. When he needed Grandmother, he’d tug the string.
“They were both great characters, and very respected people in the community,
In another interview he claimed it was based on a collection of incidents, a few images, a vague idea….things I overheard as a kid. A lot of it was lies, big fibs; what better basis for a story than big lies?
In an apparent jibe against academics and intellectuals Winton:
“claims that it is a story; not a text.
Winton went to “tech because they had a creative writing course there and he wanted to learn to make literature, not theorise about it”
It is plausible that Tim is Wax Harry, the first issue of Rose and Quick. Tim Winton’s father was a policeman.