BIO

PHILIP SALOM

Poet and Novelist

 

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Full Biography

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The First Shift

Because of the distance from schools I boarded in Bunbury from the age of 12, at a CWA hostel, and went to Bunbury Senior High School. I never again lived at home except for holidays. Hostel life was a combination of rules and escapes (I excelled at the latter; I leapt at the opportunities) and this helped define me as something of an outsider. There was a great restlessness in me. I wanted to do something personal and urgent and of significance.

 

I  didn't expect to stay on the small family farm, and nor, at the time, did I want to go to any university. I enrolled at Muresk Agricultural College near the wheatbelt town of Northam, presuming a future as a farm manager. After graduation, I worked for two years on a cattle research station in the Wheatbelt. I helped run the daily activities of station: cattle farming mixed with experiments in beef production. This involved hands-on cattle work and much crazy driving around in a loud, short-wheel-based LandRover.

 

I often worked six days a week. In my very limited spare time I began painting in oils, cutting down old window blinds as canvasses. One of the Muresk students during my time there had adopted a painterly pose, intense and a little crazy ... and the brother of another student was painting alone, privately, in a poor but very serious imitation of Van Gogh. So then, here was I a year or two later, similarly recalling the outsider art of painters like Van Gogh and Gaughin. The rougher the approach the better, the window blinds my deliberate alternative to proper process. And my un-tutored painting was probably appalling, too, but it was mine! 

 

So I learnt research and farming skills, a love of cattle, and demon driving on gravel roads, but eventually the restlessness returned. From talking to my boss, who was a geneticist, and various other scientists, it occurred to me that I might need a more rigorous, formal education. A science friend lent me a book which became the most significant reading I would do for quite some time. When people are asked which book most influenced them they often contrive an answer. Mine was real; the book was Patrick White's rawly observed life of an artist - The Vivisector. By the time I had finished the book, I knew. I saved my money and moved to Perth and began studying Agricultural Science at the University of Western Australia and in my spare time kept hard at the painting.

 

Then another shift - I was spending more time on my oil painting and experiments than I was on studying. The revolutions of the sixties had passed me by while I was in the cow-sheds and then the wheat lands; and science, though interesting, just maybe wasn't the answer. Art was. I wanted to be an artist. Art had become my revolution.

 

After painting for several years and exhibiting in several award exhibitions, two of them at national level, I decided I wanted to write. Amazing. In my spare time I had been reading everything literary I could find, as a hobby really, but it struck me - I could write and think and explore emotional narratives within word-forms in a way painting never permitted. Still, I needed an education. I enrolled at Curtin University and studied literature and creative writing - plus theatre, film and psychology - and after graduation I began my first collection of poems. Not a novelist at all, as I had hoped, because poetry had quite unexpectedly grabbed me. Its art-form is briefer, more intense, works by presence and absence, and it is written in, and presents as, an isolated world surrounded by the white page. That page ...  and the endless echoes of the reading mind.

 

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