A Boy's Manifesto for Brutal Disrespect of Self

From the age of seven when he and his mates form a gang and start smoking 'the green weed that all the bikies like to smoke', Brentley Frazer 'whoops up hell' through 302 pages.
Book Info
Title: 
Scoundrel Days
Author: 
Brentley Frazer
Publisher: 
UQ Press

Uncompromising in its honesty, unequivocal in its brutality, Scoundrel Days proffers the true story of a boy’s unending rampage across north Queensland. Fuelled by drugs, alcohol, thousands of cigarettes, and punctuated by sex, violence, and wanton acts of both public and private (self-) destruction, Brentley Frazer’s memoir does not scream ‘poet in the making’.
Styling himself, from age seven, as a more brutal version of Tom Sawyer, Frazer declares early his contempt for the ordinary. ‘If you want to have a fulfilling life, you need to create your own adventures.’ Possibly in Greenvale (found in the back-of-beyond between the cowboy territory - Katter country - out of Charters Towers, and the hill-billy nickel and tin mines of Mt Surprise) the ‘mad scrabble’ of seven-year-old boys who dubbed their gang The Wreckers, stealing, smashing windows, destroying school property and breaking into the canteen, goes for ‘Boys Own Adventure’.
In a terse telegraphic prose that brings the reader very close to the details laid down thick and terrible, Frazer provides few pages where fucking, cunt, poofter, shitting, wanking or the alternative of heavily hypocritical right-wing Christian moralising, do not appear. So little of the story features ordinary doings that the reader must wonder how much comprises recollections from childhood and how much adventure arising in the writer’s imagination. Notwithstanding that, the level of detail speaks to authentic recall rather than confabulation. But this writer’s mind runs on no ordinary tracks.
As a north Queensland native, I pressed on eagerly through the pages of drugs, adolescent despair and devilish destruction hoping for clues of place and being to tell me what fuelled this angst and rage. But Frazer’s world weariness weighs so heavy that small mercies such as family love, teachers who cared, the beauty and history of place, did not sway the balance.
On a personal note alarms shrilled for me reading criminal acts in the streets where my elderly parents at the same time were targets of break and enters and a family member cab driver with an inherited endocrinal obesity disorder might well have stood in for the fat bastard, rhino, taxi driver robbed by Reuben and Brentley.
Other writers describe Scoundrel Days as demonic, compelling, transcendent, sublime, radical. For me, scary.
Frazer’s females I found especially difficult. Three basic groups include sisters and family relatives (thinly rendered: ‘I said to my mother once during an argument that I’ll never forgive her for getting me circumcised, that my recalcitrant attitude results from her karma.’), teachers and deputy principals (condemned by position) and girlfriends/sex objects (sex seemingly one of the only things that mattered: girlfriends, their sisters, their mothers, their friends, twosomes, threesomes, whatever).
I give the last word to Brentley.
‘I tried to live like I have the starring role in a film about my life. I treated other people like cameras and did my best to not look at them, listened only to their voices as cues for my own lines always busy ducking dollies, aware of stage left, tempted to break the fourth wall like a crazy person in a supermarket queue, demanding we all look at them, addressing the audience.’
If you want in to that audience, you’ll find Scoundrel Days an engrossing read.

Reviewed by Pamela Greet