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Writing and rampaging with Christopher Pearson

  • 19 July 2013

It started, both times, with a phone call.

I met Christopher Pearson when I supervised his Flinders University honours thesis, a typically erudite, dense study of the 'chthonic elements in Patrick White'. It was a very good thesis but I annoyed him when I flippantly suggested that if he published it he could call it Breakfast at Chthonies. And so the years passed, until ...

Early in 1985, out of the blue, Christopher Pearson phoned me. Did I have any short stories, 'pieces', essays etc.? He had bought the moribund Adelaide Review and was planning to transform it but, for the moment, there was a shortage of material and a pressing deadline.

Well, I had a few ideas but very little written. His enthusiasm and optimism, however, provided the spark that overcame my excuses — pressure of work, need for quiet, young children — the usual array of caveats that ensure that all those 'great books' will rot safely in the mind. So, like the others he had rallied to the cause — Peter Goldsworthy, Howard Twelvetree, who wrote about food as John McGrath, Murray Bramwell on drama, John Neylon on art and design, among a growing number — I had a shot.

In those formative years of the Adelaide Review Pearson was a fine editor, unobtrusive but firm; open to ideas and risk; creative and daring. And he was a tireless, persuasive entrepreneur who charmed a whole army of sponsors and advertisers.

Publication days were legendary — at first in the unadorned, carpetless spaces of the Review's various early editorial headquarters, later at more exotic venues like the Henley Beach jetty where a twilight oyster extravaganza and a couple of hundred supporters crowded out the local fishermen to their bemused annoyance. Or the elegant gardens of Carclew House in North Adelaide during Writers Week — this time it was the visiting writers who wondered what they'd wandered into but, more adaptable than the fishermen, participated with great gusto.

It was always in those days a razor thin operation financially. One morning I arrived at the Hindley Street office — a former brothel — to deliver an article, and found Pearson studying what looked like a business card.

'Have a look at this,' he said.

On the back of the card was scrawled: 'Dear Mr Pearson, if you do not pay the rent by 4pm this afternoon, you will be evicted immediately.' I looked at him. 'How much