A Bone of Fact

David Walsh

A Bone of Fact
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A Bone of Fact

David Walsh

David Walsh - the creator of The Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Hobart - is both a giant and an enigma in the Australian art world. A millionaire who made his wealth gambling, he has turned a wild vision into a unique and bizarre reality; he is in turns controversial, mysterious and idolised. A Bone of Fact is his utterly unconventional, incredibly absorbing and brilliantly surprising memoir.



David Walsh – Tasmanian, mathematician, gambler and museum owner – still seems like something of a fiction. Despite an extended profile published in The New Yorker, written by Richard Flanagan, and multiple sightings around Hobart, a sense of insubstantiality remains around the likelihood of his very existence. That Walsh’s lengthy memoir is titled A Bone of Fact seems almost to be a counterbalance to this outlandishness and, indeed, much of the book discusses the statistically unlikeliness of his very good fortune, while also documenting how he put that good fortune to use: conceptualising and building the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).

If MONA stands as a stark contrast of formal setting (a million dollar museum development cut into a cliff) and radical content (sex, death and the rest), then the publishers and Walsh have certainly attempted to evoke this in the design of A Bone of Fact – an illustrated, gilt-edged black book that scurries between raves and rants. Walsh is a better writer than many might expect him to be; he was brought up on a heavy diet of science fiction and openly states that he wants his memoir to read like Kurt Vonnegut.

Still, there is a sense of resistance in his writing; Walsh includes many footnotes and subtitles where he reminds readers he’s doing this for the cash or because the publisher told him to – though this unwillingness gives the book a restless energy. This is not a neat, orderly catalogue, but it is far from being a dispassionate one. He tears down some while lovingly profiling friends and family, and affectingly recounting the tragic death of his brother. Walsh fronts up his wild opinions on the wasteland of Las Vegas; life lessons from pokies, dog races and working at the ATO; and an unlikely treaty on the survivalist nature of penguins. It all gives the reader the Walsh we seem to want – a defiant iconoclast – and he delivers this invention of himself to us direct.

Sam Twyford-Moore is Director of the Emerging Writers Festival.

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