People and Places
29/09/2021
Paul Kennedy takes us to Funkytown
by Mornington Peninsula Magazine

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Paul Kennedy

Acclaimed ABC journalist and author Paul Kennedy is one of the lucky ones. The confronting truth about growing up male in Australia is that not everyone makes it through the so-called ‘rites of passage’ – binge drinking and pub fights – that commonly define the path to manhood. Not only did Paul survive, he found his voice and forged his own path.

In his recently released memoir Funkytown, Paul tells his coming-of-age story with heart and honesty. Funkytown takes us back to 1993, when Paul was in his final year at Patterson River Secondary College. Apart from Aussie rules football, Paul only had eyes for girls – but he felt awkward around them; the footy field was his natural habitat and where the 17-year-old dreamed of making a name for himself. Life had other plans though, and it’s as a journalist and author that the lifetime Seaford resident makes his mark.

ABC viewers who know Paul as a polished, professional journalist might be surprised by the mischief and mayhem he gets up to with his mates in their final school year. Most revealing is the alcohol-fuelled path of self-destruction Paul staggers down, despite the protective factors in his life: good mates, a loving family, and a worship-like devotion to his fitness. By the end of the year, Paul finds himself expelled, arrested, and undrafted.

Paul’s generous and vulnerable storytelling draws you in and keeps you urging the characters to find their way. “The story I’m telling is of a 17-year-old who is struggling to communicate how he feels. I didn’t write this book because I thought it was an extraordinary story; I actually think it’s a really common story. The early feedback from readers is ‘Wow, this could be me or my brother or my son’. People seem to be seeing a lot of things in their own lives in the story and I think that’s helpful.”

The story is set in Seaford, where Paul grew up and now lives with his wife and three sons, and in Frankston – aka Funkytown. The added layer to this story is there was a serial killer on the loose in Frankston that year, and Paul writes of the impact this has on his community: the fear and grief, and the 24-hour presence of the state’s police force and national media taking up residence until the killer was found. A trip to the milk bar took on a whole new meaning.

Funkytown took Paul five years on and off to write. “When I was covering the Rio Olympics for the ABC I remember thinking ‘What story do I want to tell next?’ This story had been in the back of my mind for years. Writing a memoir is so different to anything I’ve done before so I wanted to take my time with it.”

The writing process was aided by a journal Paul kept of his final year at school and the fact his mum had archived his childhood and adolescence right down to payslips from his part-time job. The details weren’t left to chance or rusty memories. “I think it’s one of those years in your life that you remember. I tended to move towards things I had clear memories of; everything in there is something that’s stayed with me.”

Writing about his parents and his teachers was emotional. So too was confronting his feelings from that time. “It was a long time ago but being able to express my fears and insecurities and feelings of longing for something a bit more creative in my world was a pretty powerful experience. It showed me it’s something I’ve carried that whole time. That was hard, but in the end it was probably one of the best parts.”

The quiet heroine of the book is Paul’s literature teacher, Mrs Mac. “Mrs Mac shows me the way out. Writing about the influence my teachers had on my life, I had a lot of tears remembering how much they did for me.”

So has much changed for young men growing up in Australia today? “I hope it gets easier as each generation passes. Hopefully boys don’t have to suffer or dodge the same pitfalls as their fathers. I think in the last 10 years there’s been good discussion around people being able to express themselves a bit more. Young people are being empowered to do that, so that’s some headway we’ve made, particularly with boys. I would hate for my boys to feel constrained in the same ways as previous generations, but I’m not so naïve that I think we’ve changed all that much. For boys to read that it’s better to be able to express yourself and don’t keep everything inside because that’s not healthy, then I think that’s a worthy thing.”

Paul will be in conversation with his Grade 2 teacher who changed his life as part of the Frankston City Libraries FrankTALK series. Join him via Zoom on Wednesday, October 13, at 5.30pm. This event is free but bookings are essential. For more information or to book, visit https://library.frankston.vic.gov.au/Events or phone 9784 1020.

Paul Kennedy

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