'Life of Brine' by Phil Jarratt
Over the last fifteen years Phil Jarratt has assumed many voices: the industry whistleblower in Salts and Suits; stiff administrator in Surfing Australia; and somewhat improbably, a giddy 16-year-old girl in That Summer at Boomerang. Thankfully he’s put all that carry on to rest and finally employed the voice that comes most naturally. It’s his own voice of course, and the book is his autobiography, the hilariously titled, Life of Brine.
To surfers, Jarratt is most well known as the 1970s literary rogue from Tracks, a writer who followed the lead of Wolfe, Didion, and HST by breaking the rules of journalism and injecting himself into the narrative. Jarratt stepped from behind the typewriter and into his own stories, so not only did he supply the copy to Tracks during their formative years, he was a character on their pages.
And within a few years he was a character on the pages of Playboy and Penthouse. No match for the pictorials, Jarratt had to extend his range; the literary deceits gave way to solid profile pieces and in depth reporting. Then came book publishing, magazine publishing, a jetsetting five years as Quiksilver exec, and finally an overdue return to the surf. This circular chronology, charting an unyielding return to water, frames Life of Brine.
And fortunately for the readers that’s about as sentimental as the book gets. Unlike other surfing memoirs, Jarratt runs a fine line in self-deprecation. Think Clive James in Unreliable Memoirs but replace Kogarah with Corrimal, and you’re somewhere in the neighbourhood. Jarratt makes good sport of the lingering Victorian habits of post-war Australia, such as a zealous scout master kneeling amongst a circle of his charges and ordering them to “spunk up!”
In another age...well, that age is now, stories like this can appear off colour. Enough to make a room fall silent, but guided by a dry wit Jarratt milks the innocence out of it (try not to think about that too literally). But lest you think it’s all schoolboy fumblings, clumsy gangbangs, and recreational drugs, there is some surfing to be found. Early days at Corrimal are a boys own adventure of empty beaches, shacks in the dunes, and Darrell Eastlake as some kind of Kahuna.
Yes, Big Daz appears when he sets up the first surf shop in the area and guides young Philip out of short pants - though it’s nothing untoward this time around. His is one of the many cameos who appear as Jarratt’s world expands. A day on the town with Bill Murray and a night on the tiles with Hunter S. Thompson add some pop culture counterweight to Slater, Lopez, and Dora.
A few years ago, surfing historian Matt Warshaw praised the literary style of Phil Jarratt. “I wish I could wield a semicolon like Phil Jarratt,” gushed Warshaw, and indeed his style is as tight as a copy editor at the Times, yet it’s the storytelling that resonates. Protocol demands that everything in Life of Brine be true, it’s a memoir after all, yet it still sounds like someone down the pub reciting a fantastic story.
A life well lived becomes a story well told.
'Life of Brine' is published by Hardie Grant and is on sale now.