When I was ten, my parents, hoping to get some culture up my brother and I, decided to take us to Europe.
We ended spending three or so months driving through France, Italy and Germany, with another six months in England.
Up until this point, I was a kid who lived almost entirely in his imagination. I devoured collections of myths and legends that my parents bought me. I spent many long hours, nigh on catatonic, in front of the TV watching shows like Ghostbusters and Mysterious Cities of Gold. I inhaled stories, wherever I could find them. I lived in my bedroom, immersing myself in the narratives that were so much easier to understand than other people.
Once I got to Europe, everything changed. I remember taking my first steps into Notre Dame and suddenly feeling more alive than ever before. There was a rush of vitality and powerful emotion – pretty intense for a pre-teen. The fact I can still recall it clear, close to 25 years later, stands as testament to how life-changing it was.
Over the next nine months, I tried to learn everything I possibly could about these ancient and mysterious places my parents kept taking me to. I learned of the events that had taken place in these buildings, sometimes changing the course of history. I became, for a ten year old, a bit of a prodigy. My parents soon learned not to take me on guided tours, as I would correct the tour leader.
History became my passion. Instead of the myths and superhero tales that were my drug before, I started to get high on the past. Some of the greatest stories ever, all of them true! I bought every book I could scam the money out of my parents for. I kept copious notes, drawing suits of armour and weapons we came across. It was a magical time.
We returned to Australia and I grew older. Throughout my teens, the passion never faded. I took history as one of my VCE units and learned the discipline of academic historiography. History was my major at university, focusing on the early modern period. While I hardly set the world on fire academically, there were points at which my lecturers and tutors commented on my passion. My brother imbued with this same passion, trained to become an archaeologist and went on several digs.
Then, real life intervened. Depression, a troubled relationship and the stress of juggling those two and holding down a full-time job did me in. The passion dimmed. I felt zombie-like for the better part of a decade. I didn’t feel the connection and that same sense of joy in the past that used to fill me up, the way some people experience religion. I was miserable, bereft.
In 2009, when my troubled relationship ended, I was at a loss. I felt adrift, cast off from the world. I tried all sorts of stuff – exercise, partying, therapy – in order to reconnect with the world and feel joy again.
One day, apropos of nothing, I decided to sit down and write some stories I knew about the history of Melbourne. I remember being blown away suddenly – there was that feeling again! I quickly started a blog called ‘Macabre Melbourne’ that featured popular history articles about Melbourne’s history, lathered with black humour. I pumped out more and more articles and started to get some buzz around the site.
Soon, I was writing for Crikey, doing a regular column called ‘Lessons In History’. Each column, I’d like a past event to a current event and talk about how the former could inform how we treat the latter. I wrote about the Spanish Flu, bushrangers, the wreck of the Batavia and other cool, gnarly stuff. This grew into other gigs – I wrote about history for the ABC site, ‘The Drum‘. I also featured on Triple R a few times, talking about local history for the Breakfasters program.
Telling stories about the past, I realized, is what keeps me connected to the world. More than that, it kept the spark in my eyes.
I’d hold onto this joy as I made some huge changes in my life. Taking a job as an English and History teacher at Stuttgart taught me so much about my profession, my attitude towards life and what I could handle. It ended up an incredible, difficult experience. I went to Germany married, now I live with my girlfriend in an exciting, ever-changing part of town. It wasn’t a smooth progression, however, and my practice of escaping by train to historical sites really did save my life in some respects.
Now, that things have settled down, I want to fully indulge my passion and create something of value. I want to take my passion and write a book that takes what I’ve learned about the history of Europe and presents in a fun, off-beat and engaging way.
I have a vision of a guidebook to Europe’s horrible history, ‘BAD EUROPE‘. I aim to highlight the ignorance, hatred and madness of Europe’s troubled past and – in a very grand guignol style – show how it led to the slightly more enlightened world we live in today.
Europe’s history is the definition of insanity – the same things happening over and over again, with different results expected. I want to play with that, to put front and centre the mad and bad patterns of history and beat people over the head with them.
I also want to give people a good (black) laugh.
I need some help to do it, however.
Settling down here in Germany has had some huge costs, many of which have been covered by my family. Still, I’m having to clean up some financial messes from the recent past and this is a drain. This means that I’m unable to travel as much as I’d like to. I’m also working with a very temperamental lemon of a laptop and it’s hard going writing at length, without losing great chunks. Basically, I feel l am wearing boxing gloves most of the time and my inability to devote time and resources to this project is frustrating.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I in any way deserve your pity or your cash. I know there are many more deserving causes and projects out there.
I take the approach that if you’ve enjoyed my writing in the past (and there’s been plenty of it out there for free), perhaps you’d be willing to pay for some. If people have enjoyed the writing I did back in Australia, perhaps they’d pay for a high-quality, well-researched product that I would throw my blood, sweat and tears into.
I’m asking for two thousand euro. This will put me on two or three research trips into Eastern Europe and a couple of weekenders across south-west Germany, Switzerland and France. It’ll also get me a cheap laptop that doesn’t die every five minutes.
If I get more, I’ll invest it straight into the project. If I can visit more places, I’ll produce a bigger, better product. If I can spend more on my laptop, I can use it product video and podcasts I’ll put up on a ‘BAD EUROPE‘ blog.
Since I’ve started this project, I’ve been bowled over by the support. It’s amazing to see that people value my work. With every donation, my desire to sit down and belt this thing out grows.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about something that I’m creating.
If you feel that you could spare a few bucks, head on over to my Indiegogo site and make a contribution. Don’t forget to look at the perks – there’s portraits, tacky souvenirs and all sorts of other cool stuff on offer.
For those of you who have contributed, thank you. Thank you, also for believing me.