When author Ross Macleay moved from Sydney to Bellingen at age 28, the first thing that struck him was the Shire’s vegetation. Which stands to reason, given his competence as a botanist and nature writer. But he’s also been described to us as a philosopher, author and social critic cartoonist (not to mention extremely genial). So we decided to dig a little deeper…
Ross, do you really wear all these hats and where do they fit in the Ross Macleay story?
“Well I don’t know how to describe my background to be honest! I liked the vegetation around Bellingen when I arrived so I got involved in conservation and volunteer work – environmental work generally. Greening Australia gave me my first paid job here so I was off and running. Currently there’s a Landcare group that does restoration work on the threatened ecological community of the Bellingen Island. This is a passion of mine.”
“As far as writing goes, from as early as I can remember I wrote about nature. It developed over time to incorporate some political motive, but I knew I had lots of stuff I wanted to write about. I wrote Nature Culture on the Bellingen Valley which at the time, I believed, was waiting to be written.
I don’t know if it was waiting to be read but I had to write it regardless. It comprises various essays on different aspects of the Bellingen Shire. And amazingly enough it’s been a ‘world best seller’… in Bellingen!”
“The Narrative was another book I wrote. By contrast I don’t think any book could sell as few copies! It’s quite a long involved book on the media, but really it’s on the philosophy of history. I thought I could disguise its philosophical entity by writing about the politics of the very recent past as told by the media (our historians of the recent past). I found one person who said they like it – a nice guy by the name of Rob Oakshot – who insisted I publish it. Seemed like a good idea at the time…”
“I’ve also enjoyed taking people on Literature Walks around Bellingen. One walk was on nature writing in Australia as part of the Readers & Writers Festival. So we walked through the bush to learn about the local flora and fauna. I’ve also done a walk & talk on the Cafes of Bellingen. We discussed the history of the businesses and their buildings in relation to the demographic history of the area. Did you know ‘Number 5’ was Bellingen’s oldest café originally called Martha and Marios, which appeared in the mid 1980s?” (well no, actually. ed)
Why do you cartoon? Is it an extension of your writing?
“When I’m drawing I’m producing something that’s a pleasure to do. It lifts the spirits. When I’m down in the dumps I can ‘cartoon’. If I want to gripe, I can do it in a cartoon. I like to think it’s a humorous way of expressing a view and doesn’t offend people… I hope not anyway as that’s never my intention.”
“I’ve always liked cartoons and have had certain favourites. James Thurber was a cartoonist and author of the 1920s and ’30s who was regularly published in The New Yorker magazine. His style of drawing liberated my cartooning style, which is very similar.
Hence the cartoon portrayal of yourself?
“Well if I could buy my way out of a photographic session by providing you with a couple of cartoons that would make me happy!”
You also call yourself a philosopher?…
“Let’s say other people have used the term ‘philosopher’ on me. I wrote The Philosophy of Fiction so I was asking for it I guess. Plus my idea of a good time is to sit down with a book on western philosophy… or to philosophise with a group of friends.
So what is your favourite topic to write about? Is it philosophy?
“Actually no. I think it’s probably writing itself. I’m interested in the craft of writing and language. I’m always interested to see what people have to say and how they figure out how to say it. The art of writing absolutely fascinates me.”
On that note – with your author hat on – advice to a new writer?
“1) Read good writers. 2) Keep writing. But I don’t know if that’s wise advice! Look, it’s work. Freud said humans need two things: Love and Work. He didn’t always say wise things, but I think this was one.”
And finally, just as ‘Ross – Bello dweller’, where’s your favourite local place or space?
“I love the Pub carpark and the Big Fig in it. I like the architecture. I don’t like the cars but you’ve got to keep them I suppose. I love Bellingen Island. I love the Gelato Bar and the river on a Friday afternoon in Summer. Who doesn’t?”
Ross Macleay’s books can (should) be found at the Bellingen Library. Let us know if you can’t find the one you’re looking for and we’ll get on it. You can also download some of his work here.