Peter FitzSimons's account of growing up on the rural outskirts of Sydney in the 1960s is first and foremost a tribute to family. But it is also a salute to times and generations past. In this rollicking and often hilarious memoir, Peter describes a childhood of mischief, camaraderie, eccentric characters, drama. The childhood of a simpler time.
Peter FitzSimons is one of Australia’s most prominent and successful media and publishing identities. His busy professional life involves co-hosting the breakfast program on Sydney's Radio 2UE, writing weekly columns for the Sydney Morning Herald and Sun Herald newspapers, appearing on Foxtel's Back Page television show and, when time permits, authoring best-selling books. A correspondent for London's Daily Telegraph as well, he is also in high demand as a guest speaker and presenter
This is a remarkable book. I have now read it twice. I read it this time round to learn more about writing my memoirs. A Simpler Time made me laugh and it made me cry (loudly). I could really relate to Peter FitzSimons and his simple existence as one of seven. I am one of eight. He had not much (to use his phraseology) and we like wise. Now, as an adult perhaps you may not always agree with this public commentator. Not to worry. Put this to the side and go back in time and see life at Peats Ridge through the eyes of a child.
I bought this book, thinking it would be about growing up in the 1960's and 70's (the era of my childhood), but instead it was mainly about FitzSimons and his family. I dislike his newspaper articles and especially is huge ego - and this book is a good example of how big his ego really is. I acknowledge, however, that he has written some good books and books that need writing, eg telling the story of Nancy Wake as well as the iconic Australian battles of Kokoda and Tobruk - although they positively reeked of Aussie jingoism. To be fair, his childhood wasn't a classic example of growing up in Australia in the 60's and 70's. He grow up on a farm to a loving Mother and Father - which is a hell of a good start that a lot of kids don't see, but what particularly annoyed me (yes, I am easily annoyed!), was his attempts to make his childhood down to earth, especially the bits about going around in bare feet all the time, and going to school in bare feet. It did happen in some rural areas, but then I was brought up in rural New South Wales and didn't have bare feet at school. It's as if he is trying to make his upbringing sound a bit on the poor side, like Angela's Ashes, but when there are 6 children and they all go to an expensive city boarding school, you know it was an extremely affluent childhood. Siblings that were school captains and prefects, the author himself playing rugby for Australia, it sounds more like an English upper class family upbringing - and of course the exact opposite of FitSimon's personal philosphy. Is it the boy from the bush or the upper crust toffee nosed twat? I, for one wasn't fooled.
‘A Simpler Time’ is Peter FitzSimons' reflection on the glory days of his childhood in his idyllic, rural home in Peats Ridge, New South Wales. Whilst autobiographical in nature, FitzSimons is only interested in the stories of his parents and the period of time he spent on the farm with his siblings, before attending boarding school and beginning the next phase of his life.
The image of New South Wales in the 1960s that Fitzsimons presents is saturated with rose and nostalgia. He has a Romantic reverence for this period of innocence in which he rambled bare-footed and care-free, largely ignorant of the corrupting influences of television and urban life. While this portrayal demonstrates the same Pollyanna outlook FitzSimons would ascribe to his mother, he does concede (late in the novel) “the truth is that we only thought it was a simpler time. We were all raised, for the most part, without a worry in the world” (345).
Perhaps I would have enjoyed ‘A Simpler Time’ more if it hadn’t gotten me off-side on the first page. When FitzSimons described how he would “cherish such memories as Dad firing his enormous artillery gun at the Germans” I immediately balked at what another Goodreads reviewer has aptly named a ‘jingoistic’ tone. While idolization of warfare, settlers and bushrangers has been a common feature of the Australian psyche, I had thought that a text first published in 2010 would be more measured and aware of the problematic nature of glorifying violence and colonization. There were fleeting moments where FitzSimons took a step towards a more socially conscious perspective, but this tended to be a self-justifying baby step from someone who has rarely paused to empathise with the marginalized or less privileged.
“Later, much later, I would become aware of the problems of racism in Australia, and of how sometimes our parents’ generation didn’t get along with the newcomers – but there was never the slightest hint of that among us. Not so much Anglo, Greek, Italian, Dutch or whatever, we were just ‘Peats Ridge kids’, and that was good enough for us.” (p.100)
Spoken like a true owner of cultural capital.
Later lines that sought to acknowledge Indigenous Australians only led me to cringe again: “Sometimes Mum will say: ‘I feel like an Aborigine.’ I suppose she feels the way she imagines an Aboriginal person would feel when it comes to having a very powerful connection to the land.” (p.224)
Around the two-thirds mark, FitzSimons did win me to an extent, but it was as if I was being stubborn and not wanting to laugh. Despite my initial resistance, the anecdote of his forgery intended to hoodwink the principal raised audible laughter and I was warmed by the depiction of the community rallying around his mother Helen in her time of need.
FitzSimons’ portrayal of his family is similarly picture-perfect as the only negative trait of any member has the appearance of a delightful foible, or is really an admirable concern for social justice issues that are misunderstood by an equally forgivable naïve child as being irksome. The somber tone that characterizes FitzSimons’ epilogue marks a change in tempo, but, once more, the sad struggles of life such as loss and battles with depression are used to extend the image of faultless strength and resilience shown by his parents who remain unwaveringly good.
‘A Simpler Time’ is a nostalgic feel-good likely to be enjoyed by those who share similar memories, but is likely to be less well-received by younger, contemporary readers.
I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected! Peter FitzSimons grew up in the decade before I did but there were a lot of things that felt so familiar in his recount of his life - some directly, some through stories I've been told by my parents. I relate to his writing so easily that these could almost have been my memories and this was a lovely trip down that lane.
I tried really hard to like this book, but I just couldn't. Yeah, okay so I get it, the writer had a nice childhood. However it felt less like he was discussing his childhood and more saying his childhood was better than mine.
Its just a romanticism of days gone by. You didn't have a TV? Congratulations. I think the idea of a simpler time is pretty much bull. It wasn't that the time he grew up in was necessarily simpler, it was that he was a child and being a child seems more simple.
It also didn't feel like a nice retelling of the 1960s but it was Peter listing every unimportant detail. There is like 2 pages or something dedicated to climbing a tree...
I was hoping more for a recount of life in the 1960s in general, but I guess with FitzSimons being a biographer I guess this is to be expected.
FitzSimons has written some excellent books, that is why I read this one. But it was a struggle. To be fair it does avoid the bias manner of so many memoirs and autobiography's, so much so his considerably better than average adult life is mostly avoided. The reader quickly discovers there are no regrets or skeletons, just a loving family that sees the best in everything and loves life in a simple existence. Many readers will be envious or doubtful of the life of FitzSimons, but it is the story of any ordinary country kid of that era.
It was good, lots of wonderful stories and certainly the attitudes towards parenting are of great value. Peter FitzSimons, no matter how much you insist this isn't really a memoir, it is. Only one criticism, and that would be, how can one family be so... 'nice' and wonderfully together and, despite life's upheavals, always do exactly the right thing? A bit too sugar coated at times but still delightful enough to enjoy.
My dear mother took a shine to one of Peter FitzSimon’s books, his take on the wreck of the Batavia. She offered to lend it, but I demurred due to the pile of ‘must reads’ I already had waiting for me on my shelves. One of those was, in fact, his memoir ‘A Simple Time’. I’d pick it up cheap a few years ago, somewhere or other. Since that day it had slipped further and further down the order as other I considered more worthy tomes superseded it. ‘Flesh Wounds’ is a more recent purchase, but it too had suffered a similar fate, although I knew it’s arrival back in 2015 was to great acclaim. It was about time I found out what all the fuss was about. So I decided to read both in succession.
My Mum was even more impressed with my news that FitzSimons’ wife was television stalwart Lisa Wilkinson. I also figured his latest, a retelling of the mutiny on the not so good ship Bounty might be an ideal Chrissy pressie for this amazing lady. Who knows, I might even get around to reading it myself. He’d never really been on my radar, Peter FS. Being from Rugbyland didn’t help. I knew he wrote columns for the Sydney Morning Herald and often commentated on the tele. To his credit, he is also a leader keeping the flame burning for us becoming a republic. And that, till ‘A Simpler Time’, was about all.
In truth this memoir doesn’t set the world on fire. It’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time, but his childhood is largely unremarkable – and probably all the better for that. It speaks of a time when kids and freedom was a synonym, not the opposite, for better or worse. He and his siblings roamed around, largely unfettered, from daylight to dusk, over his parent’s struggling acres.
PFS was one of six young ones in a time before television and certainly well before this era of tiny screen fascination. His mother had married down to a man she obviously loved to bits – her yearly stipend from her rich folks helping to keep the struggling orange orchard on Peats Ridge solvent. It also assisted in giving their children a jolly good education. In the book there are tales of bullying, first love, yearning for sporting success (which eventuates), country values as well as the city versus the bush. Later comes a journey to check out the family’s origins and a realisation that his dad, like so many at the time, had an unspoken of battle with depression. And Peter comes to appreciate, as in my case, how wonderful it was/is to have a remarkable mother to aide him through all his own troubles and tribulations. One tale that really hit the spot was how, in her later years, he came to have his photograph taken with her by a Walkley Award winning camerasnapper amongst the orange trees. The image is on view in this biography along with many others from the family album.
What a joy it is to read that, on her deathbed, when Helen was asked by one of Peter’s sisters what the best thing about her life had been, she replies, ‘Having sex with your father. Any more questions?’ Delightful.
Now, whereas the above was delightful in patches, ‘Flesh Wounds’ is a treat from cover to cover. Fitzy’s upbringing was quite normal for the time, but poor Glover’s was all over the shop.
Wil Anderson has likened this contribution to the list of classic memoirs to the work of America’s great raconteur Seinfeld. I loved it so much I rushed out and purchased Glover’s latest publication ‘The Land Before Avocado’ and if time permits, I will delve into his back catalogue too. As with FitzSimons, this author hadn’t meant much to me as he is also Sydney-centric, but his name does now. The columnist/broadcaster can boast, without possible contradiction that, in any parlour game of ‘Who Has the Weirdest Parents’, he would win hands down. He’d clean up if any bets were laid. Nobody else at any table could claim they were the result of a virgin birth. Then there is the story of how his mother had such a close connection to English aristocracy – until, that is, it all came tumbling down. There’s his father’s alcoholism and his step-father’s nudism – a step-father who was once his English teacher! What horror there was when his mum did a flit with him. If these stories do not have you in fits of laughter they’ll, without doubt, have you cringing. Eventually Richard sets out to discover the reason for his parents dysfunctionalism. They were a bizarre lot.
I am so thankful my upbringing far more resembled that portrayed in the first offering, but as a read Glover’s exceptional effort is sublime. I’ve always figured nothing could surpass Clive James’ ‘Unreliable Memoirs’ as a tale of an Australian childhood. Glover comes close. Just brilliant. And don’t get me started on the teddy-bears.
I have read many of the author's researched factions but nothing better than this autobiography, not so much of his life but of his early years. Growing up on the family farm at Peats Ridge, Windhill, he tells the story in the first person, present, so the stories are told by a young boy trying to make sense of his world. So many of the characteristics of his life are strongly reminiscent of my own, for although he was raised to hard yakka and homespun philosophies in a rural setting, the experiences are remarkably similar to my own. The sayings, the philosophies, the school experiences ... even the tragedies. Reading a little boy's interpretations, rather than the usual practice of a re-interpretation as an adult, gives this book a charm I had not expected. However, the final chapter - what FitzSimons calls "the Epilogue" - deals with everything post primary school and quickly, yet very effectively covers the death of his parents and the effect it had on his five syblings. It is this final part of the book, told in 1st person past tense, where the author becomes the man he is and his descriptions of the warmth and love that has welded his family unit - as disperate as it is - into a tight knit and self-supporting unit. It is by far the most interesting and most engaging part of the book. Throughout, his parents Peter and Helen, are the ever-present shapers of each of their children, giving them as much freedom to be who they need to become,. as they do love. It is this love, shown in all manner of ways and reciprocated with great affection and warmth, that is the driving force for the narrative. Easily the best FitzSimons book I have read.
Peter FitzSimons writes of a time that I remember well despite being several years his senior. Things that his parents said to him, I recall as words of my parents. It seems that there was a kind of collective wisdom common to parents after WWII and in the fifties for most of us and into the sixties for those who lived away from the "big smoke". Life was certainly a simpler thing for us as children, perhaps less so, as Trish suggests, for our parents who struggled with limited means to feed and clothe their growing families. There were chickens, eggs, home-grown fruit and veg, hand-me-down clothes and simple childhood pursuits. We had so much more freedom than the children of today and became more self-sufficient because of it. Like Peter, we retained our innocence much longer so that looking back, our childhood seems a pleasant and simple time. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Peter.
What a shame that Peter, who bleats about the grasp he has on the Australian way of life has such bigoted views on what people think. He calls for punishment on anyone whose view is not his. He takes the first step onto the slippery slope that Nazi Germany took when they didn't agree with Jews. Does he really think that punishing Margaret Court and the like is "Australian " just because they don't have the same point of view that he has?.
A thoroughly enjoyable memoir from Peter FitzSimon, I devoured this book and finished it at 1am! The wonderful love he received from his mother and father made a strong contrast with Alan Davies memoir which I read recently. The seventh of seven children, he grew up in a secure family environment in Peats Ridge outside of Sydney, although there was certainly tragedy and also school bullying. Highly recommended.
Loved this book. While I am older than the author, I could still relate to many of the experiences he describes. I also loved the great affection and respect he had for his family. Conversational style, humorous in parts, others poignant, but an insight into a family where love and support for each other is paramount, difficulties faced without self pity and just a good read.
Reminiscent of Angela's Ashes without the poverty and it takes place in Australia. I thought the fact that the author had a wonderful childhood was a breath of fresh air. There isn't much complaining in this book. The author's voice as an 8-year-old boy was realistic. The only criticism I have about this book is that there aren't really any exciting moments, just more a reminiscence of the times.
A great representation of young Australian lives, a lot of us grew up in different circumstances but there has to be at least one thing in this book that you can relate to. A good homely story, happy, sad, everything in between.
This is not the first book I have read of Peter Fitzsimons. I have heard Peter speak at corporate events previously and always enjoyed hearing his 'yarns'. The prospect of reading a book about his life was one I looked forward to. I was not disappointed, although I was expecting to read a little more about the initiation and progression of his relationship, leading up to his marriage with his wife, Lisa Wilkinson. Peter and I are, like many other reviewers, of similar age. I also come from a country background, from a small village in western NSW. My early life, like Peter's, was a simple one. Strong family ties, making your own fun, enjoying the freedom of the bush and all the mysteries and excitement it contained. Whilst never reaching the heady heights of representative rugby glory that Peter enjoyed, my love and passion for the game perhaps are on equal footing. Peter's relationship with his Dad was one that I can easily understand, along with the deep suffering Peter endured when he lost him. I enjoyed this book very much. For those who grew up 'in the bush', whether as a young man or woman, I am sure you will enjoying reading it too. Thank you for sharing your story Peter.
Great nostalgic book, compellingly written.I liked some of the life lessons woven through the story.It does all seem impossibly wonderful though, the author could have given us a glimpse of certain challenges that they faced as a family, surely it wasn't just about the homestead being run on a shoestring budget.There was the bit about his father's depression which was quite sad but that came to light much later in their lives,if those 6 'Fitty' kids sailed through their earlier lives completely unscathed that would be pretty amazing.The book got hurriedly wound up towards the end..the author might be working on a follow up book? Anyway great intro into his books, will look out for his other books
Great book, especially if you were born in Australia around the early 60s. There were so many times I laughed in recognition. I really liked the way Peter introduced aspects of his family life as he would have recognize them growing up. His parents sound like brave and wonderful people. It is refreshing and heart warming to read a memoir where the writers parents are not only valued but loved.
Loved it! Know the family and Peats Ridge home featured in Peter's memoirs- but more than that it brought back all those similar childhood memories from my own semi-rural upbringing in Bossley Park albeit a decade and a half before Peter's time. The honesty and charm of his writing is irresistable.
What a delightful beautifully written joy. Peter Fitzsimmons shares his life growing up in a way which makes you envious of the family, the thrift, the hard work but most of all the love and innocence of a well, simpler time. Peter writes with humour and credibility. beautifully constructed. A pleasure to read
Peter FitzSimons is a true character from a truly beautiful family full of strong personalities like himself. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it had me laughing out loud, smiling to myself and in tears. He feels for his family what we all hope our children will feel for our own, once they are grown men. X
I don't think I was expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. I've never read a Peter FitzSimons' book before and, to be honest, a lot of his journalism has annoyed me in the past. However, this was a very touching read - most of it read in a house in the Barrington Tops, making it seem even more real. I loved it.