Tag Archives: family

A life redeemed


Jon Doust, Return Ticket, Fremantle Press, 2020

ISBN 9781925816396

Paperback 264 pages, from $25 online

Kindle edition $15.34

Reviewed by Ted Witham

Return Ticket is the third and final instalment of Jon Doust’s trilogy of memoir/novels following the adventures of the hot-headed Jack Muir. It follows the acclaimed Boy on a Wire, where Muir pursues justice for a boy bullied at the boarding school Jack attended. To the Highlands charts Muir as a wild young bank johnnie in Papua New Guinea, his hot-headed and heavy drinking lifestyle a snap-back against the repressive hypocrisy of his school. At the end of To the Highlands, Jack Muir is a damaged drifter.

Return Ticket is set first in South Africa, where Muir encounters laid-back marijuana smokers and the vicious racism of the apartheid regime. In two kibbutzim in Israel, a failed love affair and arduous work begin the task of redeeming the man. Jack Muir’s sense of justice, first kindled by the bullying at his boarding school, is honed by the socialist and utopian vision of the kibbutz.

Muir returns to Western Australia, where he loses the moral compass of the kibbutz and drifts dangerously again. Eventually his mother, despairing of her alcoholic son, gives Jack the money for a return ticket to Israel. There in a different kibbutz, Jack eschews alcohol and drugs and meets a woman who loves him, damaged as he is.

Jack feels he is a grown-up man and returns to Western Australia to mend relationships with his family. His reconciliation with his father on a riverboat on the Blackwood River is a touching episode.

As with the former two books, it is hard to know in The Return Ticket where memoir ends and novel begins. While Jack Muir is fiction, Doust has mined his own life and experience to bring this trilogy to life. The broad outline of Jack Muir’s life has many parallels with Jon Doust’s own life, but the real life is skilfully crafted into a narrative that reveals an arc from damage to restoration.

I have a sliver of insight into the narrow path Doust is treading between memoir and fiction. I was in Jon’s year at boarding school, and I am honoured to continue to call him friend 60 years on.

The books are each self-contained and can be read as separate novels. However, reading the three books reveals the larger themes and triples the reading satisfaction.

The key theme of Return Ticket is that one person’s genuine love for another can draw that person out of the neediness of addiction into responsive love. It is a timely and timeless message.

The writing has about it clarity and beauty. Jon made much of his living since returning to Australia as a comedian. As you would expect, a dry Australian humour permeates the narrative and lightens the serious themes.  Buy your Return Ticket to Jack Muir’s story; it is an entertaining and thought-provoking journey.

Adagio for Viola


The heat in the wind stung as it lifted Laura’s long brown hair. Like the devastated landscape she was catching her breath, kneeling in the ashes. The old willow tree, which had sheltered the tennis pavilion, was all that remained of her house.

The clouds were a reddish-brown and swirled behind her. Night would come soon, but for Laura it was already here. It appeared that her beloved Ma and Pa, her Nanna, her two sisters, were all gone in the inferno. The wind picked up a scrap of roof-iron, still red-hot, and swung it dangerously through the air. Laura didn’t duck. It didn’t seem to matter.

She looked down at herself. Her long dress was clean except where her knees pressed it to the whitened soil. Her hands were holding tightly to the neck of her viola, one hand over the top of the other, her chin nearly resting on them. She held the viola primly vertical, its chinrest on the earth in front of her knees. If there had been anyone in the blighted landscape to see her, they might think that this girl, a still brown statue in a burnt orange stage, was at prayer.

There were no tears. They might come later. For now, there was just an emptiness.

If only the 4 o’clock bus had not been delayed by the smoke. Laura had taken the 2 o’clock bus into the town for her weekly viola lesson at the Conservatorium. Her teacher had been pleased with the progress she was making on the Hummel Romanze¸ and had dismissed her 10 minutes early giving Laura lots of time to make the 4 o’clock. When she came out the carved doors of the Con, she saw the smoke off in the east in the direction of their isolated house, and had hurried down to the bus terminal, and settled in impatiently to wait.

At 4:10 the bus was still not there. Laura put the viola and bow down on the seat and began to pace back and forth. The bus pulled in with a squeal of pneumatic brakes. Laura grabbed her viola and sprang up the steps into the bus. The driver apologised, ‘Sorry. I couldn’t get through the smoke.’

The trip home was agonisingly slow. Laura ached to see her Pa in his study and to be held safe in his strong arms. She longed to have her family around her, to skip rope on the grass tennis court with her little sisters, to help Ma and Nanna bake in the large country kitchen.

The driver let Laura out at the nearest point to her house. Laura hurried along the drive peering through thick smoke, looking, looking for her house and family. It was the willow tree that finally convinced the girl that the house was burnt down, and with it, presumably, her dear parents and family.

Somehow, Laura thought as she knelt in the earth, I can feel them here. She closed her eyes. Her breath was shallow. Ashes brushed her cheek.

burned-down-house-ruins-1024x680Far off in the distance, Laura heard trucks and men, probably mopping up after the fire. They seemed to be at the gate far away down the drive. Laura continued to grip the tuning keys of the instrument, tightening the strings. Next time she played the viola would be sharp.

A hand on her shoulder, ‘Laura darling. We’ve been in the trucks.’  It was her Pa’s voice.

She burst into tears. ‘I’ve lost my bow.’