Swaggers, Tinkers, Hawkers: Deep South Tales,
by Jeannie Barnes (Sycamore Print, RRP $18.99):
The launch of Jeannie Barnes’ long-awaited book on the swagmen of the south brought together a host of Southlanders – from those who contributed stories to the book to families of some who were the subjects.
Ms Barnes has researched widely and well, drawing on many contacts built up over a lifetime here and has received great co-operation and help in putting together the first such piece of Southland history.
No easy task this, compiling stories about characters who walked the roads and did what they could to earn a meal, many truly down and out in stinking over-used gumboots earning them that southern epithet, gumboot.
Others are quite different.
We can see in the tales the beginning of southern businesses which started that way, guys selling door-to-door; guys in post-war years, some unready to settle, others unable to.
There are lovely glimpses of authority: the grace and good humour of Judge Anderson and police prosecutor Neil Cruickshank, both kind and caring about Sam Cusack, a colourful “cross- dresser” whose regular appearances in court were captured in a piece by Dunedin tie Ian Dougherty, whose clear green-glass headstone was a gift from southern glass artist Phil Newbury.
Ms Barnes’ own early life was not easy but that has given her an awareness of the paucity and problems of other lives.
The self-published soft-covered book is a good read, a series of anecdotes and memories, skits and scams covering half a century of life here in the south.
It is out in time to be a good Christmas gift.
It reminds us that we weren’t always the sober serious Southlanders often depicted.