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David Ireland: Glass Canoe

Ireland sets his novel in the Southern Cross, a Sydney pub, frequented by alcoholics and working men (and a few women). Most of the novel is simply stories of the antics of the pub regulars, as recounted by one Meat Man, himself a regular and borderline alcoholic. They fight, the argue, they have sex, they commit petty crimes, they play football, they try and avoid the police. What Ireland tries to show is that the denizens of this pub are a community with a lot in common, even if that is the beer glass – the glass canoe. One of the regulars is Sibley, who is writing his Ph. D. thesis on them and their habits and comes to some rather obvious conclusions, namely that drinkers tend to be aggressive, deceitful, educationally retarded and so on. He concludes that they cannot be “raised to our level of civilisation in a single generation” and “are a relic of the oldest type of man.” This is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek view of the typical (white) Australian view of the Australian aborigines. But Sibley concludes, as does Meat, that the drinkers of the Southern Cross are a community and even if it is only their drinking that keeps them together, that is better than nothing.

Publishing history

First published 1976 by Macmillan