Funkytown by Paul Kennedy
The title of Paul Kennedy’s memoir, ‘Funkytown’, is the name that Kennedy’s sister gives to Frankston, the large suburb next to their home in Seaford in bayside Melbourne. The ABC journalist grew up in the area, and this book explores his family and upbringing in the 1990s with great skill, sensitivity and humour.
Kennedy’s early years were focused on becoming a successful footy player. He struggles in school thanks to a combination of white-line fever on the sports field and his general attitude towards education, rules and girls, though one of his primary school English teachers gives him the book I Heard the Owl Call My Name as she sees something in an essay that he hands in. Kennedy’s descriptions of playing footy in these earlier years are lyrical and almost dreamlike, contrasting the grace of the sport with the earthy and brutal outbursts of the supporters and other players.
During high school, a girl is found murdered after disappearing from a local train station. It seems like an isolated incident – shocking but with no indication of the fear to come. One Friday night, before a big game, Kennedy is shamed by the brother of the local footy superstar Robert Harvey for being drunk at a disco at 3am. As disappointment adds to underachievement, he becomes known as a pisshead and spends his weekends drinking himself to oblivion at the 21st-century dance club in Funkytown.
Despite this, Kennedy is chosen from the Southern Stingrays Under 19s team to play in the St Kilda reserves, but is smashed in his debut. He wants to give up but encouragement from the other players gradually help him feel a sense of belonging. At the same time, he finally reads the book his teacher gave him and is transformed by the wonder of the written word. He also reads the great Pat Conroy which prompts him to question what sort of man he wants to become. Then, more women are found murdered, and the sense of menace and tragedy around Frankston increases. Kennedy does not name the killer or sensationalise the horror of his acts, but its presence is an integral part of the fear felt throughout the bayside suburbs during this time.
Funkytown is a sensitive and literate book which describes a lot of suburban childhoods while also delving deep into the heart of a man trying to find his place in the world. The heartrending epilogue is a fitting end to a memorable memoir.