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Interview

Return to the Lifeline Bookfest, Brisbane.

Norman Wallis, book addict, heads for the Quality Books section at the recent Lifeline Bookfest…

I was eager to get to the Quality Books section on my second visit to the Lifeline Bookfest, but I thought I’d go for a perfunctory walk around the tables at the Unpriced section first.

As I anticipated, some of the tables were starting to look a bit threadbare by this late stage of the game, but the fiction tables were still chockers.

Besides, most people just walked past the good stuff.

I picked up a couple of nice ones.

I’d always wanted to learn a bit more about the rules of grammar, but had never been able to find a modern book that was good enough.

I found a Manual of English Grammar and Composition, by J.C. Nesfield, 1939 edition, for 20 cents.

I needed a good poetry overview,too, and I found 50 Great Poets, edited by Milton Crane – an anthology of the major poets.

It was a solidly made Bantam Classic paperback from 1961. 20 cents.

But after a while I headed to the other end of the hall to the Quality Books section.

Once there I focused on the three long wooden tables devoted to hardbacks from about the late 1800s to say the 1960s.

I must have tastes that are totally out of tune with most people, because I was just walking along, loading books into my bag.

There were some fascinating old books I’d never heard of, too cheap to refuse.

My best find was Cameos of Crime, an orange hardback published in 1947, written by Queensland Assistant Police Commissioner M. O’Sullivan, published in Brisbane by Jackson and O’Sullivan.

This was a rough and ready account of the author’s experiences as a police officer posted in various Queensland country towns and in Brisbane, from the late 1800s to the 1940s.

It really brought to life the history of Queensland.

He experienced the shearers’ strikes of 1891, when he had to escort some “scabs” or “free laborers” to a shearing shed in western Queensland.

And he and some “black trackers” pursue a rapist through the bush, after which the fugitive was hanged in Boggo Road jail in Brisbane.

Also he pursues horse thieves around western Queensland, who were subsequently sent to St Helena Island prison, which closed in the 1930s.

And he talks about a visit to Brisbane by a British Navy ship in the 1910s, a murder by two sailors, and their subsequent escape from justice when strings were pulled by the British Navy.

There were some pretty ugly times represented in the book, and the author was very much of his time, too – an honest and revealing insight into Queensland history.

Another good find was a navy blue hardback 1957 edition of Dylan Thomas’s Collected Poems 1934-1952.

The book had a tattered dust jacket, but otherwise this edition was in mint condition – except for a few lead pencil notations made by some student years ago.

Price? $5. Into the bag.

There were other sickeningly cheap, high quality books, such as the hardback The Art of Color, 1938 edition. $5. Into the bag.

New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis by Sigmund Freud, 1949 edition, no price marked. In the bag.

The Big Top, My 40 Years with the Greatest Show on Earth, by Fred Bradna – the memoir of a ringmaster, 1953. In the bag.

Another book caught my eye – a little navy blue hardback with gold lettering on a marone patch on the upper spine: Tales from the Outposts, In Lighter Vein. I wondered…Could it be?…Yes!

It was an anthology from Blackwood’s Magazine.

And it was a collection of their humor stories.

It was in mint condition, too – it probably had had only one owner since it was published in 1935.

It had one of those tiny stamps at the bottom right corner of the inside cover, saying the book had been sold by A.H.Spencer Pty Ltd, New Secondhand, and Rare Booksellers, Bourke Street, Melbourne. (The ‘Hill of Content’) Australia. Tel. Cent. 8856.

Only $6. It went straight into the bag.

Four hours later, and there were only ten minutes to go before the Bookfest ended.

I’d gone a bit over my $50 budget, so I had to make some heart-breaking decisions.

I took the books out of my bag, and placed them on the concrete floor in two piles: definites and maybes.

Sadly, I had to put a few books back on the table; then I put the others back in the bag and headed for the cash registers.

As I placed the books on the check-out table, one volunteer started looking through the Cameos of Crime book.

He pointed out the purple ink stamp on the inside cover, for Lawson’s Library, 116 Hassall Street, Corinda, S.W.4.

He said the book had been in a lending library – that people used to run lending libraries as businesses, kind of like book exchanges, where people hired books for a fee.

Another stamp in the book said the lending charge was 6d; there were 10 days allowed for reading; and books were strictly not interchangeable between members of the library.

That’s one of the things I like about Bookfests. Every book has a story.

The volunteer passed them along the table to another volunteer who tallied up the prices of the books.
It came to some ridiculously small amount – and then he halved the total.

I could afford more books.

So I paid for those books, and with one minute to go before the doors closed I asked one of the volunteers if I could go back in and grab something I’d left.

“You’d better be quick,” he said. I ran back in and picked up a couple of books I’d weeded out of my initial selection, and headed back to the counter.

I was pretty happy with myself. But when I got home I noticed I’d neglected to pick up one book when I’d run back inside: an old copy of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

I checked all my books again and couldn’t find it.

I must have left it just to the side of the little stack of books I’d put back on the table.

That really ate at me for a while.

Oh, well. I’d done very well for myself out of this Bookfest.

I couldn’t complain. You don’t always make the best decisions in desperate moments like that.

I had to put it behind me. I had thousands of other books to read.

So what if I didn’t get The Adventures of Baron Munchausen?

I drove in to the city the next day, and ordered it at a book store.

It cost 30-something dollars. Not to mention the parking fee in the city.

I could have bought a bag full of second hand books for that at a Bookfest.

It was a costly error, indeed.

I could only try not to make mistakes like that at the next Bookfest, which Winston Bargins said was in January, 2007.

– Story by Norman Wallis

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