Australian actor and prolific author William McInnes, typifies so much of what is good about Australia, the straight-forward, community-minded Australia of his parents. His latest book, Holidays, tells of his childhood at the moment of discovering what the word “holiday” actually represented – a time when suddenly a ride on the train to somewhere different was on offer, or when the neighbours suddenly disappeared for a period of time, leaving his family to look after their pet budgie.
As he remembers his mother explaining to him, “Holidays is when you get to do lovely things you wouldn’t do otherwise.” It was to McInnes, the real point of Australians going to work in the first place.
Asked about the importance of holidays, McInnes replies with the innocent charm of a child astonished at the obvious. “What is the point of life? On holiday you are enjoying life the most, holidays are a heightened state of happiness – the most real your life gets!”
This memoir is a humour-filled reminiscence of his family holidays, with a real sense of nostalgia for the simple pleasures of his childhood. It is his celebration of being fortunate enough to be brought up by parents from a generation epitomising a less materialistic society without any sense of entitlement and with a genuine generosity of spirit. “They inevitably, because of the times in which they lived, had narrower horizons, but their values were anchored and deep”.
In Holidays, McInnes observes that children’s holidays nowadays are very different, global and epic in scale in comparison to that enjoyed by their parents. He wistfully contrasts his own school outing, “an epic trek to Nambour to stand and stare wistfully at the fibreglass udders of the Big Cow”, with that of his son, “to Nepal to help build a schoolroom in the mountains there and to trek through the country” and his daughter, “off on two educational holidays to Italy and to England.” Despite the disparity, McInnes considers “all equal on the generational ledger.”
A veteran actor in TV series such as Blue Heelers, SeaChange, The Shark Net, East West 101 and The Time of Our Lives, as well as appearing in Kath & Kim under the pseudonym of “Rock Hampton” (his old university), McInnes is modest about his achievements. Despite twice winning the award for “Most Outstanding Actor” at the Logies, McInnes is endearingly incapable of pretension. “I don’t think that I’m the greatest of actors but acting is something very temporal – you can’t take something so transient seriously.” It is this balanced view of life that resoundingly echoes in his writing, liberally laced with his infectious sense of humour.
The memories that form the basis of his books reflect an Australia past, as seen through the eyes of people he knows, his family and friends. They are also an invaluable source of social and cultural history, with a backdrop of political and sporting landmarks. “I love hearing other people’s stories,” he says. “I love remembering, looking back at all the times and sharing them.”
An admirer of strong women and supporter of women’s causes, McInnes is a much deeper thinker than his jovial exterior might suggest. He is also someone who has suffered the heartbreak and pain of losing his wife, gifted filmmaker and author Sarah Watt, to breast and bone cancer.
“It’s terribly hard some days,” he said, “but you just have to get on with it. It’s a rotten misfortune, she died way too early. It’s an awful thing but she wanted you to look at life in a positive way. She was a lot of fun and a very welcoming person.”
His proudest achievement is the book they jointly wrote before her death, Worse Things Happen at Sea.
He movingly talks about the courage and grace of people suffering and voices his belief in community-minded responsibility. “We should not take society for granted. We should just be big enough and old enough to realise that some amongst us need a hand. Australia has always been a good society, the sort that looked out for others and didn’t tell them how to live their lives or how to conduct themselves.”
McInnes is an enjoyable author to read. His latest book will appeal to all who understand his preoccupation with holidays. “Australians love holidays and fun,” he says, “We live life for a reward and the greatest reward is a holiday. You either live to work or you work to live. I have always embraced the latter. I so look forward to holidays!” He is philosophical about the rest of life.”
“You live life, get a few scratches along the way and grow as a human being. Life doesn’t always go your way. Never take yourself seriously. There is a great Phillip Larkin poem, “Aubade”, that tells us that life is short. It is shatteringly terrific to be reminded of how temporal life can be. I’m not the greatest at what I do, but I enjoy what I do and enjoy people enjoying what I do. I loved writing “Holidays.” It’s great to re-live my life through memories and realise how lucky I have been.”
YOU CAN BUY “HOLIDAYS” ONLINE AT THESE RETAILERS:
- Angus & Robertson – $20.90*
- Booktopia.com.au – $20.95*
- Bookworld.com.au – $20.45*
- TheNile.com.au – $24.82*
- QBD The Bookshop – $29.99*
*Prices accurate at time of publication and are subject to change by the retailers.