Status of women in 'the people’s economy’
The story of a young woman wronged

Temlett Conibeer calls it a day (maybe)

David Wall
The late David Wall makes a cameo appearance in ACT Marke's latest Temlett Conibeer book

PHILIP FITZPATRICK

Marooned on Pitcairn by A C T Marke. Frogmouth Press, Low Head, Tasmania. 419 pages. ISBN 9780645029611. $25 plus $5 postage from the author at frogmouth07@live.com.au

TUMBY BAY - This is the sixth book in Andrew Marke’s series featuring his repressed hero, Temlett Conibeer, negotiating the world with his strange Victorian era sensibilities.

I suspect that it might be the last in the series because it traces the history of the hapless Temlett from his childhood in Somerset, England, right through to his final days in a retirement village in Tasmania.

Along the way all the characters in the previous books are revisited in one way or another with added twists and turns and a new supporting cast.

The Temlett Conibeer books are definitely an acquired taste and a difficult form to pin down. Some readers dismiss them out of hand but others don’t mind them at all.

This sixth book, although wider in scope, follows the same pattern as the others.

The tale is woven with many barely relatable asides in much the same way as an elderly, absent-minded uncle might wander about on a subject while reciting his reminiscences.

Fitz Marooned on Pitcairn CoverThat elderly uncle, in this case represented by the author, very obviously mixes much of his own experience into the narrative. Telling what might have really happened and what has been invented makes for interesting guesswork.

The experiences of Temlett in Papua New Guinea is a recurring theme.

The author worked for many years as a malaria control officer in the Department of Health in pre-independent Papua New Guinea.

One of his real-life offsiders was the late David Wall, who contributed to PNG Attitude in its early days and appears in the book under his own name.

The title of the book is somewhat misleading because Temlett’s brief stranding on Pitcairn Island is only a small part of the overall narrative.

Its connection to what happens afterwards doesn’t quite come off as a defining episode in his later progress.

Consistent with the other books in the series, Temlett’s cack-handed and bizarre attempts to find love is also an amusing recurring theme.

For me the main attraction of this book and all the others is the Papua New Guinea connection and the light that is cast on pre-independence days.

A C T Mark presents many interesting riffs, for instance, on the booze and conversation hubs found in the country clubs that proliferated in most districts in those days.

Like Marke's other books, this one is nicely produced and printed with few typos but perhaps a lack of editorial oversight.

If you’ve read the other books, however, this one is a must read.

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Philip Fitzpatrick

Here's another review:

Review by Ian Kennedy Williams

In this new novel about the adventures of Temlett Conibeer, author A.C.T Marke has stood aside to allow his protagonist to tell his own story from his early days in rural Somerset to his reclining years living in retirement on the Tamar estuary in Northern Tasmania. And what a story it is: teenage frolics, a brief unplanned sojourn on a remote pacific island, trawler fishing off New Zealand, eradicating mosquitoes in Papua New Guinea, librarian duties in Canberra and various schemes and business enterprises involving recycled junk, dodgy American entrepreneurs, and the exploitation of Rare Earth minerals. And then there are the women: alluring Polynesian Jenny, Rose the former nun, the delectable ‘Fawn’ who will become Temlett’s wife, though the marriage proves, as with most of Temlett’s relationships, something of a mismatch. Characters from previous novels make guest appearances, such as Erik Mueller, Temlett’s friend from PNG, the former SS officer whose life story is about to become a literary bestseller.

The title Marooned on Pitcairn is something of a red herring: more plot point than narrative focus. What should have been a brief overnight stop on the island becomes a three month stay after Temlett fails to return to the ship before it leaves. It is from Pitcairn that Temlett visits nearby Henderson Island, which will become the hub of one of his future business enterprises.

Rescued finally from Pitcairn (and Jenny’s clutches), Temlett lobs up in Port Moresby where he lands a colonial administration job involving various duties, including that of undertaker. The Papua New Guinea scenario will be familiar to readers of Marke’s previous novels, and the story here does tread some common ground. As before, Marke’s knowledge of the region brings the scenes and episodes vividly to life. Moving on from clerical (and undertaking) duties, Temlett secures a field position with Malaria Control. A meeting with businessman Boris Estrada introduces him to the trade in Rare Earth metals, crucial elements in the development of new technologies. Boris, an English-speaking German of Romanian birth, epitomises the melting pot of colonial activity in Papua New Guinea before its independence. Boris offers Temlett a ‘holiday’ transporting a small sample of Rare Earth metals from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney. Suffice to say, Temlett naively accepts the proposal before being warned that the so-called Rare Earth metals might in fact be narcotics. Taking up an offer from an acquaintance to have the sample analysed en route, Temlett delivers the apparently legit minerals to Boris before returning briefly to England. While home, he receives a letter from Boris accusing him of stealing the most valuable component of the sample he had been transporting. It is the start of a long prickly relationship with the businessman that is never satisfactorily resolved.

After independence, Temlett moves to Canberra where, following a stint as a librarian, he establishes a successful scrap metal recycling business while pursuing his interests in the Rare Earth metals trade. A marriage to Emma, aka The Fawn, after a long chaste courtship proves a disappointment. There are, as ever, other women in Temlett’s life, many joyful shower-sharing shenanigans, but a lasting relationship remains elusive. Hired by the company contracted by the British Government to remove sea junk from Henderson Island — a project of Sisyphean futility, given the ever-expanding amount of ocean pollution — he returns to his old Pacific haunt. Sadly, there is no reunion with the alluring Jenny, though the presence of company executive Stella on the voyage will prove a distraction.

It would not be a Temlett Conibeer story without the inclusion of various ratbag and idiosyncratic minor characters. Gerald, a machine operator engaged for the Henderson Island project, whom Temlett observes to be seemingly ‘harmless, if vaguely fatuous’, moonlights as a stand-up comic. His take on the inanity of stand-up comedy I suspect reflects the author’s. Then there is Greg, an employee in Temlett’s recycling business, who aspires to be a composer. The creation of his Dog Song, a musical composition involving barking dogs, threads drolly through the narrative in incremental scenes (or should that be notes?) of absurdity.

Judging from the author’s note at the conclusion of the novel, Temlett Conibeer’s life somewhat mirrors his creator’s, even if the reflection is akin to one observed in a fairground hall of mirrors, with its distorted and exaggerated images. Temlett Conibeer’s adventures and misadventures have often lurched form high farce to low comedy and his exploits in Marooned on Pitcairn continue the happy trend. Another highly entertaining read.

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