TT: C is for Crumpy

JANE: So, Alan, over the last few weeks we’ve discussed Mansfield, Mahy, Marsh, and Mann. Last week you shocked me by hinting that there may actually be New Zealand writers who do not have “M” as a first initial in their surname. Would you care to enlighten me?

Bess and Crump (by Alan Robson)

Bess and Crump (by Alan Robson)

ALAN: Yes, indeed. Have you ever read anything by Barry Crump?

JANE (wincing at needing to express ignorance, once again): I don’t think so…

ALAN: I’m not really surprised. As far as I am aware, he was only ever published in New Zealand, with perhaps a little exposure in Australia. And I think that’s a pity, because in my opinion he was one of the finest New Zealand writers.

JANE: What made Barry Crump’s works so special?

ALAN: I have literally cried with laughter while reading his books, and yet at the same time he could also be quite serious. Being able to combine those two things is a great gift.

His first novel, published in 1960, was A Good Keen Man. It was a semi-autobiographical account of life as a deer culler deep in the New Zealand bush. It was very funny, but it also showed clearly that “Crumpy” (as he was affectionately known) had a genuine love for the bush. That feeling of deep attachment permeated all of his writing. Some of his stories were set in the city rather than in the country and, while I enjoyed them, I always felt they were less successful. The bush was where he properly belonged, and the stories that he set there were gems.

JANE: I think you mentioned Crump in passing in an earlier Tangent – or maybe in one of our e-mail exchanges.  Please tell me more.

ALAN: One reason for Crumpy’s popularity was that he defined New Zealanders in the way that New Zealanders thought of themselves. The clichéd picture has always been of a rugged, self-reliant person who could fix anything with a length of number eight fencing wire. Crumpy took that caricature and made it work and that, together with his humour, was a guaranteed recipe for success.

JANE: Ah…  Like that television character…  MacGyver?  But a New Zealand version.  Cool!  I suppose today his characters would use duct tape, rather than fencing wire.

ALAN: Very probably. Amusingly, the phrase “duct tape” is quite hard to say distinctly. It often comes out sounding rather like “duck tape”. Some marketing genius has taken advantage of this and there’s a brand of duct tape on sale here in New Zealand under the name “Duck Tape”. I always enjoy asking for Duck Tape duct tape, just to watch the expression on the shop assistant’s face…

JANE: We have “Duck Tape” here, too.  It’s very trendy.  You can get it printed with all sorts of patterns, including tie-dye and various cartoon characters.  There are books about making various craft items – including wallets – out of it.  There’s even a contest for the best prom outfits made out of Duck Tape (although I think duct tape is also acceptable).

ALAN: Can you make a duck out of Duck Tape? That would be a meta-duck. As in: “I took my dog for a walk in the park and we meta-duck.”

JANE: Ouch!  Don’t tell Jake.  He’ll be afraid to go to the part for fear of the meta-duck.

 But, returning to the works of Barry Crump…

Did he have any continuing characters or were his novels always stand-alones?

ALAN: He had a character called Sam Cash who appeared in three rather loosely-linked novels, Hang on a Minute Mate (1961), One of Us (1962) and There and Back (1963). Sam was a drifter, a jack-of-all-trades, a con man. I actually found him quite an unsympathetic character, though he has his fans. There was always a seedy feeling to Sam and he was quite untrustworthy.

JANE: Interesting.  I know from reading your “wot I red on my hols” column that you can enjoy a crime novel and even some very dark subjects, so Sam Cash must be very unsympathetic.

Does Crump have any other continuing characters?

ALAN: Sort of. In 1992 he published his autobiography (The Life and Times of a Good Keen Man) which he said was the first volume of a trilogy. To complete the trilogy, he published two collections of short stories (Forty Yarns and a Song and Crumpy’s Campfire Companion). In addition, many of his earlier stories also had their autobiographical aspects. The first person narrator of all of these is a constant voice. Crumpy seen through his own eyes, as it were. I like to think of that voice as a continuing character.

JANE: Well…  That could be said to be a “given.”  But, in a sense it isn’t.  I think more readers need to be aware that an autobiographical narrator is as much a character as any other…

Do you have any favorite Crump novels?

ALAN: Yes, I do. In my opinion, Barry Crump’s very best novel was Wild Pork and Watercress (1986). The story tells of Ricky, a Maori boy who has run away from his foster home and is trying to keep one step ahead of the authorities who want to put him back into care. His pakeha friend Uncle Hec is a grizzled old anti-social bushman who takes Ricky under his wing. Together they escape into the bush. It’s a funny and ultimately very moving book as the relationship between the two deepens and grows. Crumpy’s love of the bush has never been more strongly expressed, and there’s a beautiful twist at the end.

JANE: I think I’d like that one…  I’ve always been a sucker for books where a kid finds an atypical mentor.

Is Crump “Uncle Hec”?

ALAN: I think probably a large part of him is.

JANE: Any others you’d like to recommend?

ALAN: Yes, I’m also rather fond of Gulf (1964) which, just like A Good Keen Man, is about things that Crump himself actually did, though of course he isn’t afraid to twist the circumstances around for dramatic and comic effect. The hero travels to Australia to hunt crocodiles. The book is full of delightful sketches of eccentric Aussies (that includes the crocodiles) and, as always, his love of the bush and the feeling of being close to nature is intimately woven into the story.

JANE: Barry Crump’s books sound like fun.  I’ll keep an eye open for them.  These days, courtesy of the internet, it’s amazing what one can find.

Next time, I want to bring up something you mentioned in an e-mail a while back…  However, for now, I shall remain mysterious!


7 Responses to “TT: C is for Crumpy”

  1. mittsusaru Says:

    A quick way to get a sense of what Crump was like is to watch the very popular series of Toyota truck ads he did.

  2. Sally Says:

    By the by, the name ‘duck tape’ came before ‘duct tape’. The tape was originally developed for use in WWII. Just why the soldiers nicknamed it duck tape isn’t clear — because it shed water? because the fabric portion was a thin cotton duck? — but in any case it wasn’t used for sealing ducts until after the war.

  3. Paul Dellinger Says:

    Barry, in those commercials, reminds me of Robert Mitchum.
    Just saw a Youtube bit where someone crashed a small plane, pieced it together with duct tape, and off he flew.

  4. CBI Says:

    Duct tape also comes in camouflage: my staff used when duck hunting is wrapped in camouflaged duct tape. I don’t remember if it was Duct Tape duct tape for duck hunts . . . .

    I had heard that the original tape was an adhesive backed by a light-weight duck cloth, hence the original name.

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