by Natasha Egan
Poet Tony Peacock is preparing for his 22nd consecutive winter season. From late May, he’ll spend every Sunday for two months reading his poems and stories to an audience while they feast on a long lunch in a restaurant near his home.
Invitations to his shows are piled on his living room floor, addressed to people listed in an A5-sized address book. “I just gather names. At my shows I say if you’d like to be on my mailing list, leave your postal address,” Mr Peacock says. He’s already mailed out 250 and has started hand delivering the remaining, of which there are around 400.
Tony Peacock, 61, has greying blonde hair which is long, wiry and sparse on top. He has large bright blue eyes. He’s lived in Coogee, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs almost all of his life and considers he was born there. “Well, I was born in Randwick but my mother’s waters broke in Coogee so I’d say I was born in Coogee, wouldn’t you?”
Mr Peacock describes himself as a bohemian who is not very interested in many things that happen in the real world. “I’m more into the flow of life. But I’m passive. So I allow the world to happen and I fit in accordingly.”
He didn’t become a storyteller, he was always one, he says. “In my heart I always knew I was a poet, a writer, a storyteller and entertainer. It was just having the courage to be it.”He says the courage came gradually.
He was in his late 30s when he did his first public show. Prior to that, he’d worked in various jobs after completing a psychology degree at University of New South Wales. “I’ve worked as a clinical psych but that wasn’t me. I’m not comfortable with the veneer that professionalism seems to require.” He says he’s had 83 different occupations and about 150 jobs. “Writers need experiences in order to be able to write.”
A couple of years before that first performance he decided to give writing a serious go. To do that, Mr Peacock says he needed a job he didn’t take home and worry about, but that would still support him. “Creativity correlates with minimal real world responsibility. The greater the responsibilities in one’s life, the less creative is one’s life.”
So in 1986 he got a job as a bookmaker’s clerk, a job he’s been doing ever since. He says he likes it because the required speed, accuracy and mathematics are stimulating. And it’s nurtured and matured his writing and performing, he says.
It’s also the subject of a book he’s writing, which he describes as a treatise on bookmaking, punting and the racing game. “It’s been really good to me, the track, because it’s provided a living without an ego involvement,” he says. “I mean, I’m not a gambler. I’m not even interested in racing.” It will be his third book. He’s also self-published a book of poems called Coogee’s Child and another of short stories called The Most Relaxed Man in the World.
Mr Peacock does all his writing by hand, his left hand. He’s computer illiterate, but he says that’s by choice. He writes at his desk in the living room every morning from dawn for three or four hours and spends a few hours reading every day. With the current book project, he spends a further three hours editing in the afternoon.
In addition to several reference books and dictionaries, on the desk is a candle in a wine bottle covered in different coloured wax that has dripped down the sides. In the evening, he says he uses candle light rather than fluorescent lighting.
He lives in a one-bedroom on the third floor. There’s a television on a blue milk crate, two armchairs and clothes drying on hangers hung on door knobs. From the large window you can see the water at Coogee beach where he swims daily all year round, but you can’t see the sand where he sits and reads. There is a small north facing balcony with double glass panelled doors. He speaks over the sound of a passing aeroplane’s engine which is coming through the open balcony doors. He says the aircraft noise is louder when a westerly wind is blowing.
He indicates an empty red wine bottle near the door and says he likes a glass or two in the evening. On the walls are many poems and thank you letters written by children from local schools where he often gives special poetry and creative writing classes.
The room is full of books, about 1000, he says. There’s a large bookcase opposite the entrance. Then another shelf with bricks for legs piled a metre or so high and stacked two deep. On a table in the corner there are a hundred or so books piled in levered stacks, which Mr Peacock says is his reading list. “That’s a couple of years reading there.”
Mr Peacock has been renting the flat for 15 years and says he is thankful to his landlady that the cost is the same as the day he moved in. “She said I was the best tenant she had and she’d never put my rent up and I said that’s marvellous.”
Coogee is often the subject of his poems and stories. He says he finishes his winter season performances with a 16-minute ballad about Coogee and his place there. “I do it every year because it’s like my signature ballad and it’s very emotional. A lot of people are crying during it.” He says he practices his material in his head while he’s walking. He’s heading out now on a two-hour walk around neighbouring Clovelly to deliver some more invitations.