Tim Winton’s life is studded with violent accidents and, especially as a child and teenager, he finds himself drawn to dangerous objects and circumstances. From the unloaded gun he aims at strangers passing by his house to his habit of testing his lung capacity in cramped underwater caves, he toys with the concept of his life and others’, not quite realizing what’s at stake. But when shocking events put at risk the things and people Winton takes for granted, as when his father is almost killed in a motorbike accident, or when Winton himself wakes up in hospital after being injured in a car accident, Winton learns that danger and violence are untamable forces: any control he thought he had over them was just a façade. But he also realizes that even though a person can’t control when danger and violence will strike, they can control how they think about and respond to danger and violence. For instance, the kindness a stranger shows Winton’s father in the aftermath of his accident, and the complete vulnerability Winton feels when he’s in severe pain in the hospital following his own accident, prove to him that responding to adversity with love, care, and thoughtfulness can help a person exercise some control over danger. Tim still swims with sharks and whales and treks across the wilderness—he never attempts to completely avoid danger. Instead, Tim’s brushes with danger and death help him to appreciate the fragile bonds that connect him to loved ones and the beauty of the natural world he treasures so deeply.
Danger, Violence, and Death ThemeTracker
Danger, Violence, and Death Quotes in The Boy Behind the Curtain
Without words I was dangerously powerless. The gun served as a default dialect, a jerry-built lingo that may have been less sophisticated than a laundry list, but it came with ready-made scripts that had been swilling about in the back of my mind since infancy. These were storylines as familiar as the object itself. But the lexicon of the gun is narrow and inhuman. Despite its allure it was insufficient to my needs.
Sometime during that long convalescence I came upon the helmet Dad had been wearing when he was hit. Made of laminated cork, it was cumbersome, and it felt unstable in my hands. The crazed pattern of cracks dulling its whiteness gave it an unnerving broken-eggshell texture. For a long time—for years, I think—I continued to seek it out, to turn it over in my hands, to sniff the Brylcreem interior, and try to imagine the sudden moment, the awful impact, and the faceless stranger behind all this damage.
The whole thing was a garish sideshow, absurd and sinister. In that ugly flashback I heard myself laughing like a deranged clown. I was a university student but I couldn’t even tell the ambos who the prime minister was. And in the ambulance I could not move a limb. Some bloke with hairy arms was holding me down. It wasn’t a rescue—it was a kidnapping.
Churchgoing was my introduction to conscious living. Nowhere else was I exposed to the kind of self-examination and reflective discipline that the faith of my childhood required. I’d be surprised if anyone at my boyhood church had read even a page of Tolstoy, but it seems to me now that the question that ate at him so late in his life was the central issue for us, too. What then must we do?
It wasn’t just a health facility. At times it was more like a furnace or a power plant. In summer the air around it was thick with screams and sirens and the drone of cooling towers, and in winter its beige mass blocked out the sun. It was a constant, implacable presence.
Afterwards I often looked up at that dreary building as the sun lit its windows and thought of strangers staring out in hope and regret as the rest of us went about our day oblivious. It was sobering to think of all the yearning that spilt down amidst the treetops and roof ridges, a shadow I’d never properly considered before.
I’m conscious that everything I see from here is named and storied, not just the wells and wishing trees and cryptic dirt mounds, but every hedge, it seems, every wood and boreen. All of it heavy with a past that’s palpable and rich, moving in its way, even if it doesn’t quite mean anything to me personally.
In the wake of that cold, sweaty minute in the Astor it wasn’t as if I was consciously and constantly afraid of sharks but they were a liminal presence thereafter, something lurking in the water beyond the pleasure of the moment. It hardly ruined my life but it did divide the mind in a way that was new. For along with the creaturely joy of snorkelling in the open water behind the reef there was now a twitch of anxiety. The eye searched for something even when I wasn’t looking.
When anglers like the legendary Alf Dean “fought” tiger sharks and great whites they did it for pleasure, for some sense of mastery, then they dragged them ashore and hung them from gantries. I remember enormous, distended carcasses suspended from meat hooks and steel cables on jetties on the south coast. The dead sharks often had their lengths and weights painted on their flanks as if they were machines.
There were many things I didn’t understand, stuff that made me uneasy, stripes and splashes and globs on pedestals that had me scratching my head. There seemed to be no limit to what people could think of, and that was a giddy feeling. On and on the galleries went. And on and on I trekked, until finally I yielded in dismay, backtracked like a sunburnt Hansel and found my clan hunkered by the entrance, spent and waiting.