Frank Moorhouse was on the periphery of my life.
In 1988 I moved to Nowra, Frank’s hometown when I married his nephew, Steven Moorhouse, and joined the Moorhouse clan. Arthur Moorhouse, Frank’s brother is Steven’s father.
I was a young woman entering the Moorhouse family, not yet a mother nor a psychologist but I was busy becoming both. Birthdays and Christmas included Frank and Arthur’s parents, Purthanry and Frank senior who warmly welcomed me into the family. I did not pay much attention to the fact that Frank and the oldest brother Owen were not at family events. Indeed I did not meet Steven’s cousins, Owen’s children, until much later in my life.
Slowly Frank became this mysterious person to me. He was part of the family but rarely spoken about or seen. I knew that he was a renowned author and as an avid reader, it was not long before I was drawn to his books, starting with the Electrical Experience. My mind exploded because surely I was reading about our family! T. George McDowell, the central character in the Electrical Experience had to be based on Frank senior, who was also an electrician, business owner, pillar of the community, avid Rotarian, and living on the South Coast. Was the conflict T George McDowell experienced with his daughter reflective of his relationship with Frank?
How were these weird, wonderful, sexually explicit, utterly compelling stories born of this conservative and traditional family in this small country town? I never heard Frank’s parents speak about his books, and I do not know if they read any of his work. Oh, how I wished I’d asked them.
Arthur tells me Frank senior would describe the books as “earthy” and that Purthanry never spoke of them however she kept a stash of newspaper clippings from whenever Frank was featured.
Steven recalls his parents had a copy of the American’s Baby, bound in brown paper in his home. It seems like shame and pride lived side by side in the family’s relationship with Frank, a difficult space for all to navigate.
We moved far from Nowra and we saw very little of Frank, though we have a signed copy of Loose Living from 1995 which I vaguely recollect him giving to us when we were visiting one Christmas.
Steven gifted me The Inspector General of Misconception when I obtained my Australian Citizenship in 2002 – writing “what better way to start your Aussie life”. There was Frank again, of my life, but not in my life.
Connecting with Frank Moorhouse
Our connection to Frank strengthened when I wrote Not Forgotten: They called me Number 10 at Neerkol Orphanage. Arthur insisted that I send Frank the manuscript for review. I was reluctant to impose on this literary great and elusive uncle, and also fearful of the feedback I would receive. Arthur rang Frank in my presence and told Frank that the manuscript was on its way. I couldn’t back out. I doubt that I would have sent it without this push, and am so grateful to Arthur.
Frank’s generosity both humbled and emboldened me. He read the manuscript quickly, taking time to point out errors and discrepancies. Frank rightly questioned my futile need to create a rosy ending. He supported and encouraged me and then he referred me to his agent!
Dear Jo, as you know I am very careful about who I recommend to the Agency.
I rarely read manuscripts that are sent to me or when I am asked to read them — even by friends, especially friends.
But my niece-in-law Anne Moorhouse who is a therapist psychologist asked me to read this rather unusual non-fiction book Number 10 from Neerkol and I agreed to do so.
I have now read it and think that this could be a very important book.
It tells the story of Samilya, an orphaned and abused child, and her attempts throughout her life to find stability and peace with herself, to raise a family, and to gain compensations for her abuse. It is told partly by Anne and partly by documents, diaries, blogs, letters, and the words of Samilya herself and those around her.
I feel that it is powerful, well-constructed, affecting, but at times, gruelling, and, it is, of course, timely.
Would you be prepared to read it and consider it for publication? If so would you like the entire ms or the usual three chapters?
Very best, Frank
Frank warned me that his name would both open and close doors for me. Sadly, despite being recommended by the great Frank Moorhouse, and some initial interest I did not find a traditional publisher. I self-published, entering a literary world unknown to Frank. Frank’s recommendation kept me going and I repeatedly read his email, and others he sent when I lost hope. I told myself if Frank thought it was worth publishing, then I should do it. In 2021 I proudly sent Frank a copy of my book.
Frank’s life was remembered and celebrated by his family and friends at the State Library of New South Wales on 13/7/2022. I wonder what Frank would have thought of this coming together in his death of the many people who had loved him. In his life, he had kept family and friends separated.
As I listened to his friends speak I realised how little I knew of this complex man, and wished I had enjoyed more time with him. His friends spoke of his generosity to writers which I had experienced. They spoke of his boldness, curiosity, humour, and dedication to his craft which is evident in his work. They highlighted his advocacy for copyright laws to ensure that Australian creators receive royalties for the copying and sharing of their work.
Family and friends spoke of Frank’s love for the bush and his habit of taking himself off, often alone, for extended periods of time. I remember Arthur worrying about Frank during the sojourns to the bush. He was always relieved to know Frank had returned. Frank’s ashes will be scattered in his beloved Budawang Range.
The memorial speeches were bookended by two great men. Firstly Arthur Moorhouse, grieving and loving older brother, reflected on the lives of three boys together in Nowra and the early days of Frank’s career. Tom Keneally, Australian novelist, playwright, essayist and actor paid homage to Frank’s literary legacy and noted that Frank’s courage had changed not just the literary landscape of Australia but that he had also been a trailblazer for LBGTIQ+ understanding and acceptance in Australia.
All spoke of Frank’s love of long lunches and martinis. A few years ago we’d joined Frank for a long lunch at his beloved Automobile Club.
The Moorhouse Martini
So I’ll finish now and let you wander off to make a Moorhouse Martini. The recipe was sent to me by Frank’s niece, Karin Moorhouse. Karin also experienced Frank’s generosity to writers when she wrote No One Can Stop the Rain.
Here it is! …the recipe for Frank’s famed “Moorhouse Martini 🍸 “.
It once appeared on the bar menu at Bayswater Brasserie in Kings Cross, once a favourite lunch venue of Frank’s.
The Moorhouse Martini:
2 parts gin (London Dry Gin, or Bombay Sapphire)
0.5 parts dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)
Green olive on a toothpick
The trick is to make sure the glasses are kept in the freezer until the moment of pouring. Use ice in the cocktail shaker. As cold as possible.
Sometimes he liked a “dirty martini.” Just add one or two teaspoons of olive juice to the glass after pouring.
Vale Frank Moorhouse and thank you.
This is Meredith Curnow, Frank’s publisher at Penguin Random House. I want to purchase rights in the image you used, Frank in his office, in your vale. Could you tell me where you found it, or the photographer so that i can make enquiries?
With thanks. Meredith