Brisbane teacher Ben Hobson always knew that he had a book inside him. Quite a few, as it turned out. And in a case of fifth time lucky for this local author, his novel To Become A Whale was picked up by publishers and came out in June of this year. Exploring the relationship between a father and son against the backdrop of the Tangalooma whaling station in the sixties, To Become A Whale has received high praise from critics and readers alike for its sparse writing style and relatable content. Ben’s family and friends are also appreciative, as he recently told Blank’s cultural editor.
“My aunt said it helped her understand her son in a different way which I think is really cool,” says Ben.
The book takes an in-depth look at father / son relationships, and traditional, often harmful, views of masculinity.
“The father in the book is really encouraging and actually loves his son but he’s caught up in this toxic masculinity so it comes out wrong,” Ben describes.
“Wanting to fit into a stereotypical male mould, and striving to do so, can be very harmful to young men who should, simply, just be themselves.”
I wonder if the relationship was forged from Ben’s own experience.
“The book is exaggerated for drama,” says Ben.
“My dad has always been kind and supportive but I do think he’s come from a place and time in Australia where men weren’t really given a vocabulary to admit love or weakness, we’re much more encouraged these days.”
With two young sons, the message of the book is an important one to Ben.
“I’m trying to raise young gentlemen,” he says.
“I want them to value respect and pride and work ethics. I don’t know how many people talk about these subjects in any meaningful way with their kids. If the book can help people ask the questions of their children or start conversations, I’d be so happy.”
Many Queenslanders aren’t aware that a whaling station operated at Tangalooma. Between 1952 and 1962 the station processed 6277 humpback whales, decimating the eastern Australian humpback population. Ben explains his choice of setting.
“I was looking for a job the father could have and I stumbled across the Tangalooma station. It was so gory and horrible and there were all these men just working their jobs. The guys weren’t evil men it was just their trade and they took pride in it.
“I thought it would be such an interesting look at what it means to be a “man” and be raised in that typically masculine world.”
The success of To Become a Whale was certainly not an overnight story.
“The process with this one was long and convoluted,” Ben recalls.
“Many edits and lots of self-doubt. An agent found it and thought there was something in there… it was really strange it went from my work that no one cared about to a whirlwind.”
And with another book in progress, it looks like the whirlwind might be spinning for a little longer.
IMAGE (c) Jo Hammond