BRUCE MORGAN reviews Apples

published in The Examiner newspaper, Launceston, June 11, 1994

John Martin is an enigma to many of his workmates on the basis that as a sub-editor, he is one of The Examiner’s finest writers. The enigma is that sub-editors don’t write, they correct the work of others.

So it is pleasing to note that APPLES confirms that Tasmania’s latest novelist is indeed a writer, a wordsmith as opposed to many of those around him who simply report on events.

Apples is a wonderfully humorous story about eccentrics. Knowing John Martin’s own brand of disarmingly-black humour, his characters could be nothing else.

The plot is centred on Windy Mountain, a fictional Northern Tasmanian town which is home to a wide cross-section of folk who represent (in spoofish proportions) Tasmania today. You will know some of them, if not by name, then certainly by character.

Windy Mountain is indeed windy, but where the mountain is seems less certain. Its population is a mixture of lifestyles, from commune-living greenies to redneck conservatives, with a pub which sells only apple cider and apple juice.

One of the principal characters is Les Happles - or "Apples" to his friends - who one night finds himself arrested for the curious Tasmanian offence or dressing as a woman "between the hours of sunset and sunrise."

The incident sets the pace for the introduction of a series of loosely-connected characters. There is the town drunk, a Catholic priest who is reconsidering his life with God, and the Mayor, a greedy megalomaniac whose orchard is home to a rare species of parrot which has the local greenies up in placards. He also wants to declare martial law over a "gang" of muttonbirds.

Meanwhile, there is Bruce Routley, the champion footballer and Tasmanian Tiger hunter whose mate is Foetus, a bikie who was waylaid in Windies Mountain years before and is still waiting for his gang to return.

While the greenies are embroiled in their own power-plays, one of Windy Mountain’s most popular pastimes is dancing at Tiger Kowalski’s Dancing School. It seems strange that so many unlikely candidates take to dancing, if that indeed is the school’s true vocation.

Windy Mountain also has its own newspaper, naturally, with an editor, Mr D.O.B. Leggs, whose own eccentricity extends to ordering reporters to find out where the wind comes from.

There are many more weird but endearing personalities who gradually thread together to - among other things - solve the great hospital sperm robbery, try to win Windy Mountain its first-ever footy premiership, save the apple orchard parrots from eco-unfriendly multi-nationals and find a thylacine (and save it too).

What stands out amid all these characters is that they have just that - character. You are able to picture them and their world, which is always the sign of a good storyteller.

There are some superfluous words in Apples - perhaps events and actions are at time over-explained - but this is well disguised by the abundant mixture of "funny ha-ha" and "funny peculiar".

Apples, apart from its eccentric characters, is also a comment on many issues, from Aborigines to conservation, and the author seems to have great fun in playing "devil’s advocate" with himself through their dialogue.

In the "industry" they say that inside every journalist there is a frustrated author trying to break out.

John Martin has just escaped.

© John Martin