In Paul Kennedy’s early memoir, the veteran journalist, sports presenter and footballer takes us back to the Australian suburbs of the early 1990s, recounting his final year of high school in the Melbourne outskirts of Frankston, whose nickname gives its title to the work. Funkytown begins in January 1993, with “a trail of summer sun” creeping into Kennedy’s teenage bedroom and a clear goal in mind. “More than anything,” he writes, “I wanted to play football under the lights of Melbourne Cricket Ground.
What follows is an honest and detailed account of how this dream proved to be both a driving force and a source of disappointment, with mixed emotions and experiences of adolescent masculinity delivering ups, downs, and downs. self-destructive habits and the discovery of adjacent passions – the writing itself and the power to tell (as author Margaret Craven, a formative influence) “wise stories”.
It also helps make sense of Kennedy’s laudably mixed career story. Along with sports journalism and writing on various aspects of Australian sporting history, he has also investigated the issue of child abuse and subsequent cover-ups by the Catholic Church. Her work co-written with Chrissie Foster, Hell on the way to paradise, ultimately helped spur a royal commission on this most egregious example of institutional authority exercised to protect power at the expense of society’s most vulnerable.
Kennedy appears to have a genuine and enduring passion not only for the community power of sport, but for the importance of the local community as a whole. His memories are filled with heartfelt and generous highlights from those friends, coaches, and teachers whose influence, sometimes hard-to-hear advice, or mere presence he attributes to shaped the best parts of who he has become.
While the narrative is necessarily personal, there are reflections on broader cultural issues and questions throughout, memories held and examined in light not only of individual growth, but also of social change and empowerment. awareness of inequalities too long taken for granted. Of the Frankston murders, for example, which cast a shadow of fear over the suburbs that winter, Kennedy writes that the person responsible “was killing girls and women, not boys and men.” My relative security, being a man, gave me a sense of relief, guilt and helplessness ”.
More than anything, Kennedy vividly captures a sense of time and place with straightforward, diaristic prose that frequently references nostalgically familiar pop culture staples. To ask his mother for a maverick style Top Gun haircut, listening to “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn or bands like Spin Doctors and The Proclaimers on his Walkman, being moved by the story of struggling English teacher and footballer Tom Wingo in Prince of tides, each reference he deploys has both a living provenance and an immediately recognizable relevance to the larger story he seeks to tell. The story of a young man imbued with sensitivity in a structure that only sometimes allowed it. From a local boy well done, despite the twists and turns, because of the people around him. Ultimately, it’s a welcome story about the continued importance of community.
Funkytown, by Paul Kennedy, is published by Affirm Press and published this week.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.