GROWING up, Georgia Tree’s father always insisted she’d be the one to write down his life story, but never let on what a roller coaster ride it would be.
Grant Tree came of age just as Perth emerged from its mission brown nostalgia; the infant internet had opened a window to the world where the falling Berlin Wall was reshaping Europe, AIDS was proving just how porous borders really are and a new breed of brash entrepreneurs were emulating the Wall Street ethos famously summed up by Gordon Gecko as “greed is good”.
It also brought heroin to Perth’s streets, a sweet seductress whose rush of pleasure had too much pull for the surfie to resist.
His addiction earned him a stint in Fremantle Prison, while also bringing him into the orbit of ‘Charlie’, a charismatic but naive drug dealer whose fateful trip to Malaysia with a mate burned their names into the Australian consciousness; Barlow and Chambers.
Barlow and Chambers
Georgia says she didn’t know much about her dad’s early life, but after completing a masters in international relations at Curtin University and deciding it was time to fulfil his long-held wish, she got a different type of education.
“I wasn’t alive when he was incarcerated, so I didn’t find out about it until I was a little bit older,” she says.
“I was shocked, I suppose, when I first found out, and then as you read in the book, deeply saddened by the circumstances which led to him being in jail.
“You know, reflecting on it for him was difficult for him because I think he’d spent years not really delving down into it.
“There are moments in the book where he reflects on his childhood and his parents’ divorce and how that affected him later in life.
“Childhood trauma is something that most people deal with in different ways, on a spectrum of how heavy situations are for different people.”
Georgia says her father’s recovery from addiction and ultimate redemption gave her a profound respect for his resilience.
“You could forgive him for being a sad person or being a negative person and yet he’s not.
“He’s such a beautiful person and spends his life trying to help others and cares so much about collectivism and social justice and things like that.
“He is a very empathetic person and I think that speaks volumes considering the kind of life he’s lived.”
Georgia says Old Man was a working title for the book, but when nothing better emerged it stuck.
“Old Man by Neil Young is a favourite song of my dad.
“I suppose that it’s a bit of a tribute to that song and the Australian vernacular when talking about a father figure.
“If a lesson is to be told in the book, it is to be kind and empathetic towards others, because it’s easy to judge, but you never know how people have gotten into situations that they have and it’s always good to be open-minded about meeting new people, no matter what their history is.”
Much of the book is centred around Fremantle, the western suburbs and the coastline. Her father’s time was served in Fremantle Prison.
“It’s an iconic place that now is a museum essentially, and an artifact of a past time,” Georgia says.
“But you don’t think about the fact that people genuinely were imprisoned there.
“It only closed down in 1988, which is the year, my brother was born.”
Old Boy was shortlisted for last year’s Fogarty Literary Award.
Published by Fremantle Press
by ARIANA ROSENBERG