Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 7, 2009

Opening Lines: Trap by Peter Mathers (1966)

TrapTrap, by Peter Mathers won the Miles Franklin in 1966.  It’s out-of-print, but you can get a copy, print on demand from Sydney University Press.*

The blurb on the dustjacket tells me that it’s the story of Jack Trap, of English, Irish,  Aboriginal and Tierra del Fuegan descent.  Admired, hated, needed by everyone, and a symbol of different aspects of an oppressive society. Peter Mathers deals gently with the underdog, reserving his most vitriolic satire for the affluent conformists.  His original style and humour make TRAP a biting, very funny novel.

It was regarded as a subversive choice when it won the MF.  Have I read it yet? No, but it sounds most intriguing and there are only four in the MF winners TBR ahead of it.  (Unless I give in to temptation and buy the titles missing from my collection, that is).

The novel actually begins with a page making the claim that it’s David David’s last diary, followed by a page asserting that it’s a work of fiction, followed by a long list of major characters. After that, these are the opening lines:

1 May

So Trap is definitely to travel north.  A lot of good the trip will do him – and Naraki Mission.  His so-called pilgrimage will become a holiday or a catastrophe.  He is quite unable to co-operate with people.  He is still the lone man.

Naraki, five thousand square miles, is to be developed by the Steelcyl – Astrominerals – Mayor Investment – Gospel Enterprises – Holy Spirit Trust – Megopolis consortium.  They have undertaken to build a deep-sea port, two hundred miles of railway, a dam and a town to house a population of a thousand plus.  The ore is almost on the surface and Japanese mills will take every ton.  Naraki has slept for sixty years.  The glorious awakening is at hand.  Useful habits and trades will be acquired by its inhabitants – provided Trap and his current mockery, fair shares! – be kept out.

The inhabitants are alleged to feel betrayed, that the Church and government have sold them out.  Of course this is nonsense.  The consortium will make a great deal of money but this can only be for the common good. (p3)

(‘Don’t you worry about that’, I thought straight away when I read these lines, but no, Joh Bjelke Peterson wasn’t in government till 1968).

One of the pleasure of having a first edition complete with dustcover, is reading the blurb.  It tells me that:

Peter Mathers was born in 1931 of poor, but honest immigrant parents.  Reared in Sydney, he spent several years in Melbourne and travelled all over Australia.  Gainful employment eluded him.  He has lived in a cork forest in France and attics and basements in London.  He hopes to return soon to Australia with his wife and daughter.

Someone at Cassells had a sense of humour.  How droll, compared to the blurb from the SUP website :

Trap (1966) won the Miles Franklin Literary Award when it was published. Its comic and satiric elements and use of several narrative voices provide revealing interpretations of cross-cultural relations, bureaucracy and politics in Australia.

Peter Mathers was born in England in 1931 and came to Australia with his family as a child. From 1964 and 1967 he worked in Britain and Europe as a researcher. His first writing appeared in the early 1960s, with his novels being published in the 1960s and 1970s.

*Please note: I have been the recipient of six free copies of publications for review from SUP in 2009.  However, I am providing this link not because I have anything to gain by it, but because I suspect that many may not be aware that out-of-print titles are available in this way, and I’d like to see more of Australia’s literary heritage being read.  Trap made it onto the Australian Society of Authors favourites list but not the Top 20 .  Well, how could it ever be a favourite if it was out-of-print and nobody knew where to get a copy?

Author: Peter Mathers

Title: Trap

Publisher: Cassell, hardback, first edition, 1966

Source: Personal library


  1. Mind reader. I was thinking about the out-of-printness of Australian literature this morning, after coming across a 2006 blog post in which the blogger said that MUP was planning to release new editions of some Christina Stead novels “next year.” It doesn’t look as if that happened.

    Speaking of Stead and first lines, For Love Alone has a nice beginning:

    “In the part of the world Teresa came from, winter is in July, spring brides marry in September, and Christmas is consummated with roast beef, suckling pig, and brandy-laced plum pudding at 100 degrees in the shade, near the tall pine-tree loaded with gifts and tinsel as in the old country, and the old carols have rung out all through the night.”


    • How about starting an opening lines series for Christina Stead’s books on Pykk? That would be a lovely resource for enthusiasts and would add to her profile in the blogosphere…


  2. That’s not a bad idea. I could begin with Seven Poor Men of Sydney and work my way forwards.


    • I look forward to seeing it!


  3. Done. I’ve posted something on Seven Poor Men.


    • I know! I have an RSS on your blog and I see every new post you do:) Lisa


  4. Do you know if there’s any way I can see who’s RSS-ing me? I haven’t been on the *giving* end of one of those feeds before.


    • I’m not sure. I blog with WordPress and they have various statistics available ‘behind the scenes’ but I don’t know about BlogSpot. Although with WP you can’t tell exactly who’s using RSS, you *can* tell if they link to your blog, and if they comment regularly you can be pretty sure they’ve got RSS. Lisa


  5. Thanks. I’ll mess around in the Blogger backstage area and see if there’s anything in there that looks like a statistic.


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: