Helen Garner reads 'Monkey Grip' for radio

BY MARYANNE DOYLE

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Helen Garner’s first novel, Monkey Grip, which is set in the world of the inner-city Melbourne counter-culture of the mid 1970s. When the novel was awarded Australia’s National Book Council Award in October 1978, Garner had already begun working on the film script of Monkey Grip in collaboration with director Ken Cameron. The film didn’t go into production until 1981 and was released in mid-1982.

Meanwhile in 1980 the Melbourne community station 3RRR FM serialised the novel with the author reading her own text. Produced by Reece Lamshed and Grieg Pickhaver (of future Roy and HG fame), the reading was broadcast to the same alternative inner-city Melbourne audience whose world had been described in the novel. Listen to an extract below:

In this next extract Garner references the real life 1975 film, Pure S (AKA Pure Shit), about junkies chasing their next drugs over a weekend. Garner played the role of Jo in this film and was nominated for an AFI Award in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Reviewed in The Age newspaper on 30 July 1980, Barry Hill wrote that Garner’s reading 'is such a pleasure to listen to'. Hill says the FM sound and sureness of the narrator’s voice made him aware of the 'continuous and subtle threads of feeling in the novel'.

In 2015 the station donated the surviving recordings to the NFSA (one of the eight tapes was missing, so the recording is not complete). Once the quarter-inch audiotapes were digitised, NFSA volunteer Crispi Winsor compared them to the text of the novel, noting that the early episodes matched pretty closely. Further into the series, the text was more likely to be cut or reordered and some of the more graphic drug or sex scenes were skipped. 

Main image: Helen Garner on location for the feature film Monkey Grip, 1981. Photo: Ian Potter. NFSA title: 629864