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What really delights Tim Winton about being made an officer of the Order of Australia is how thrilled his parents will be. His father John turns 93 in a few weeks.
“There won’t be any prouder people in the country than Bev and John,” he says. “Put it this way, they’re walking through shopping malls interrupting browsing shoppers just to let them know that that fat middle-aged guy with long hair bothering the megafauna was their son. They don’t take any prompting.”
Tim Winton says you don’t have to be in khaki or carry a gun to be a patriot.Credit: Violeta J. Brosig
Winton reckons King Charles III has never heard of him. Yes, he is being awarded his AO as part of the King’s Birthday Honours, but he is happy that “these things are handed out by the nation”.
The West Australian writer is being honoured for “distinguished service to literature as an author and novelist, to conservation, and to environmental advocacy”.
So while the King may not have read Cloudstreet or Breath or any of Winton’s many books, he might be aware of his ongoing involvement in the campaign to preserve Ningaloo Reef as seen most recently in the three-part ABC series, Ningaloo Nyinggulu.
Tim Winton in 1985, the year after he first won the Miles Franklin.Credit:
“I’m pleased to accept the honour because it comes from my culture, my people,” Winton said. “I’m also very conscious of how hard it is for a writer in particular to have an impact on a culture when the culture is still so fervently geared to venerate sports folks and mining magnates and tycoons. You’re sort of mindful of all the artists who labour in obscurity to make Australian life more beautiful, more conscious, more fair, more sustainable.”
Winton has received plenty of awards for his writing – notably the Miles Franklin on four occasions – but likes the AO because “it’s not whether your book has been adjudged to be the best of a bad lot that year. It’s obviously for a lifetime’s work in more than one field.”
Winton loves this country and is proud to call himself a patriot. “You don’t have to be in khaki or carry a gun to be a patriot. I see patriots every day in board shorts or in business suits or in tracky dacks and double pluggers, they’ve got dreadlocks, and they’re pushing prams and walking frames, holding guitars and in classrooms, hospital wards and workshops, storerooms. Nobody is above their country.” The role of the patriot, as he sees it, is to defend the prospects of those who come after us.
Winton wrote and filmed the ABC series while also trying to write his next novel. That, he says, was unwise: “I wouldn’t recommend it as a sensible course of action for any person.”
But ask him the highlight of the series, and he doesn’t enthuse over his encounters with orcas or dugongs. Instead, he talks about the traditional owners of the land and “being there for the return to country and being able to show people’s return to positions of respect and legal and moral authority over their own lands and waters. That was very moving.”
Winton’s first book was published in 1982; his next novel should appear next year. He says it takes a long time to have an enduring impact on the culture and likens his career to the long-term effect of water on rock. “At least three generations of people have read the work – willingly or unwillingly.”
Ningaloo Nyinggulu, written, narrated and executive produced by Tim Winton, is currently streaming on iView.
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