Forward December 2017 Forward_2017Dec WEB - Page 13

SENIOR SCHOOL Book Club review: The Last Great Australian Adventurer Ben Carlin and Half-Safe are a part of Guildford Grammar School’s history that most of us have encountered indirectly. Perhaps we have heard of the Carlin Challenge or seen the bright yellow vehicle in its purpose built shelter. We may have a general idea that Ben Carlin did something adventurous with this amphibious vehicle but few are aware of the full story of this Old Guildfordian and his remarkable achievement. The Senior Book Club have had the opportunity to be among the first readers of the newly published account of Ben Carlin’s circumnavigation of the world in Half-Safe written by Gordon Bass, whose father George F. Bass met Ben when he (George) was just 14 years old. This American writer brings back to Guildford Grammar School students the story of one of their own from so many years ago and injects new meaning into the mysterious vehicle that has found its final resting place here. Read on for reviews from the Senior Book Club students and the staff members that joined them in reviewing this intriguing new book. One could be forgiven for wondering whether there was anything new to say on the subject of the circumnavigation of the globe by Ben Carlin and others in the amphibious jeep ‘Half-Safe’, given that there have been at least four previous books written on the subject, three of which were written by those who journeyed in Half- Safe themselves. However, The Last Great Australian Adventurer makes a genuine contribution to telling the story of Ben Carlin and Half-Safe. Weaving together strands from Carlin’s own records with the recollections and records 14 of those who knew him and worked with him, Bass creates a genuinely interesting narrative which provides insight into the lives and characters of those involved and the influences that drove them. While others have written of Carlin predominantly as a volatile character, Bass writes Carlin as a somewhat tragic figure, almost as a Shakespearean tragic hero, fundamentally flawed and ultimately undone by his own hubris. Bass writes sympathetically of Carlin, recognizing his genius and his foolishness, leavening his skills with his flaws, his drive and ambition with his endless desire to run away, his charm with his rage, painting a complex portrait of an enigmatic and ultimately troubled man. If Carlin had written as honestly and engagingly as Bass, his story might have turned out quite differently. Arguably the most interesting work to date about a feat which has been generally forgotten, despite its entry into the record books, The Last Great Australian Adventurer is the book that should have been written about Half-Safe, and which will hopefully restore it to the realms of public consciousness. Merriwyn Spicer-Wensley (staff) Deirdre Carlin, daughter of Ben Carlin, along with some of the Guildford Grammar School Book Club, meet at Half-Safe to celebrate and review The Last Great Australian Adventurer, authored by Gordon Bass. The Last Great Australian Adventurer by Gordon Bass is dedicated to the life of Ben Carlin and his adventures with his lump of metal with multiple personality disorder: Half-Safe. I initially thought that this was going to be a tedious journey through about 360 pages, but what I ended up with was pages packed with personality. Whether the scenario be on land or at sea, whether Carlin was a mess or more of a mess, Bass knew the facts. Bass’ familiarity with Carlin is unmatchable, whether that be through his family’s history with Carlin or through the knowledge of people who know people who knew Carlin. Bass doesn’t do the usual biography thing of being a more elaborate version of Wikipedia, as his book tries to figure out the inner workings of this mad, ludicrous man. His engineering feats, such as being able to diagnose a problem with the engine just by listening to it, or fixin