Since his stage debut as The Artful Dodger, aged 15 in 1971, Peter Goers has carved a place for himself as something of a South Australian icon. It was also that same year when the teenage Goers – working a job in the crockery department of John Martin’s – first collided (literally) with Barry Humphries, the man who would become his most significant creative influence and, later, valued friend.
“No one has ever had more effect on my life,” Goers writes. “He is eternally my theatrical and cultural touchtone.” These are fitting origins that encapsulate the spirit and personality Goers continues to project.
In this, his first book, Goers brings together these and many other such tales and details, presenting material that ranges across anecdotes, jokes, cultural observations, social commentary and personal memoir. It is assembled from a combination of his various Fringe shows and newly written reflections organised thematically, along with appended chapters containing daybook jottings, an amusingly sardonic poem about Les Murray and a few republished selections from among his voluminous Sunday Mail columns.
There is much to like, laugh about and be moved by, both in the stories Goers tells and regarding the man himself. Much of it reads engagingly as a record and homage to his home city’s social, cultural, political and, most of all, artistic life.
Goers writes with familiarity and satirical affection about the numerous town hall and community centre stages, Probus Club lunches and op shops he has performed on, spoken at and patronised over the years. He does this so genuinely that one cannot help but embrace the same loving, nostalgic bemusement towards both suburban Adelaide and the country towns surrounding it that the author himself so obviously revels in.
Indeed, it is this sense of fond openness that defines how Goers writes of his travels and experiences in many other places, too, particularly the years he spent living and working in Turkey – although in typically blunt fashion, he does also say that he was “disappointed in Rome, disliked Florence” because there was too much terra cotta and “loathed Paris” for that city’s “rudeness and arrogance”.
Most of all, it is the people who have inspired and supported Goers over the years for whom he has the greatest and most obvious affection. The friendships of women have been particularly important, like that of Anne Wills, who once paid Goers to appear on radio from out of her own fee, or Samela Harris, who apparently cooked him a meal every night for the 26 years they were neighbours in Norwood.
Some might accuse Goers of being a name-dropping gossip, except that the most prominent instance of dropped names in this book are the almost four full pages dedicated to a list of the “marvellous people” Goers has worked with in South Australian theatre over many decades. He clearly values generosity and appears dependably generous in return. There is far more of that here than anything too maddening or self-indulgent.
Maddening Self-Indulgent Crap, by Peter Goers, is published by Wakefield Press. All photos in this review are from the memoir and republished with permission of Wakefield Press.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.