Grant Cunningham was born in New York City in 1950 and immigrated to Australia in 1971. He has collected live animals in the wild, been a zoo keeper, research assistant in forestry, natural physician, sculptor, surfer and diamond hunter. He has also written a number of popular books including THE CROOK BACK BOOK, INNOCENT BYSTANDER, THE MARKS WE MAKE and THE LITTLE BOOK OF MEDITATION but hopes this will not be held against him.
Isn’t it funny . . . here I am a writer and I do not like writing about myself. Yet I am told you are curious about me and there it is. I must I must I must . . .
I was born in New York City General Hospital on the East River in 1950 to a large Irish Catholic family. Had a chaotic family life built around love and alcoholism, with wee bits of madness and some jail time too. The family moved to Westport, Connecticut around 1955 and ended up at Edgewater Hillside on The Old Mill Pond with the swans and the clams. Industrial grade Catholic guilt and the pursuit of the American Dream. Indeed we were McCall’s Magazine family of the year in 1956 just before the whole act fell apart. Divorce, madness, jail. The whole deal.
I was raised by my brothers and sister Lee and I owe them my absolute love and affection. They have it.
My father dried out with AA when I was 11 and I owe him and them my mind. I lived with him and my bother Noel in New York City for a few years. John was a Harvard boy and he gave me to the Jesuits while reading William Burrough’s THE NAKED LUNCH aloud to me when I came home. It was a fine and terrible thing to do to a child for which I am profoundly grateful. Ta Jack.
My bother Sean and I were speaking not long ago and he mentioned that the thing about having alcoholic parents is that they promise to do this or do that or take you here or pay for that, and they don’t. Oh, they mean to when they say it but . . . So what it does is to train the children of drunks to realize that if they want something or to do something they better do it themselves because nobody else is going to do it for them. Not bad training really. Keeps all the equations about life simple.
I attended either 12 or 17 different schools ( l lost count ) before I graduated from Berkeley High School in 1968 as a hippie and a rebel. Was living with my brothers Kevin, who was in the Marine Corps and stationed at Treasure Island, and Noel. Went to all the venues, saw all the bands with a lovely PhD student named Janice who took me to every Janis Joplin concert in the Bay Area. Country Joe and the Fish were the local band in Berkeley, Credence Clearwater Revival were up the road in El Cerrito, the Pointer Sisters were in Oakland and Santana were third billing at the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon ballroom.
Traveled to Africa to collect live specimens of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects for the Steinhardt Aquarium and the California Academy of Sciences. Bill Gaynor and Ted Pappenfuss. Reality in Africa drains one of illusion. There is illness, there is death, there is war, there is this thing we call life and it is not as we would wish but rather as it is. I was 18.
Got back to the States, worked in Mike Malkin’s singles bar on 77th Street, got itchy feet and immigrated to Australia.
Good move. I was 20 years old and Australia is where I have lived my adult life. Worked for the Forestry Commission, Taronga Zoo, started a leather craft business with Errol, lived naked on an island on the Great Barrier Reef with Sue, went back to school to study osteopathy and found an isolated house by the sea where I have remained since 1977. Fancy that.
Time to write and sculpt and, lucky me, have a family. The good woman Donna, three lads (Bracken, Liam and Brean) and the ocean. Got to help a few people, write a few books, make a few images.
A small life.
Works for me anyway.