Some time in 1985, I was told by my friend and colleague Professor Brian Matthews about something called The Adelaide Review. It had been set up, he said, by a clever, eccentric, flamboyant bloke called Christopher Pearson, and I should check it out.
I had left Adelaide five years earlier to work at the University of Melbourne, but I was still homesick and I came home whenever I could. Brian said that Christopher was publishing short stories and I should send him one of mine.
So I got hold of a copy of the paper. I had never seen anything like this serious, in-depth examination of all matters Adelaide. And it had its light-hearted moments, too, like its personals column – the civilised and often very funny pre-internet version of a dating app – and a parody astrological column that included advice for a star sign designated ‘Ocelot (formerly Gemini)’.
I sent off one of my short stories. A couple of days later, the phone rang, and what ensued was a 90-minute conversation with Christopher (whom I had still not met) about punctuation. I had never met anyone else who was even more impassioned than I about the correct use and meaning of the semi-colon.
We were good friends over the second half of the 1980s, when he was still a ferociously independent thinker, probably about halfway through his marathon journey from the far left to the far right. He published some memorable writing during this period, notably some distinguished and often very funny writing about cricket by Brian Matthews, and a brilliant essay on ‘Weird Adelaide’ that he had commissioned from the legendary Barbara Hanrahan.
Our friendship began to fall away in the 1990s, but over lunch one day, when I was expressing disquiet about the direction of the universities and the way that my own unhappiness as an employee was exacerbated by persistent homesickness for Adelaide, he made me a startling offer. If I did decide to abandon academe and come home to take my chances as a freelance writer, he said, he would pay me for a monthly column in which I could write whatever I liked.