Jetty Rats by runout


									Jetty Rats
by Philip Gwynn
Jetty Rats is a rite of passage novel. Hunter, the hero of the story, is an individual attempting to
surmount an event in his life: he is in denial about his father’s death and this is having major
ramifications in every aspect of his life. In particular, his relationships with other people is difficult,
and sometimes strained to an unbearable level. However, throughout the course of the novel, he
moves on, and in the process of doing so, he moves to a new level of understanding about
himself, and others.

Although Jetty Rats is essentially about Hunter, and his journey of self-discovery, it is
also a novel which asks the reader to think about their own situation and more importantly,
explore what they hold to be true, valuable and enduring. More challenging still, Gwynne
presents scope for the reader to ask what it would cost to let go of emotions, feelings long
harboured and coveted hopes.

Hunter is a brine-washed kid who struggles with himself but he also wrestles with notions of
family, friendship, the first tremors of sexual attraction to girls and above all, how to face up
to and cope with loss.

In addition to the rites of passage experience, Gwynne provides a deft analysis of
contemporary society. Although this is not heavily addressed, there is potential for readers to
evaluate just what is meant when Hunter says: ‘The public are pigs. They’re rude,
demanding and ignorant.’ (p.12)

Besides the credible characters and believable physical setting, Gwynne establishes a
certain tone of voice which has street credibility and resonates with the way many teenagers
speak. It is a book which asks the readers to listen to the story unfolding. And what a story it

Hunter Vettori is thirteen. He lives with his mother who manages the Dogleg Bay Caravan
Park. She used to do this with Hunter’s father but he has disappeared owing to a suspected
fishing accident. Hunter will not accept that his father is likely to be dead.

The consequences of his father’s disappearance, and as the novel develops we realise he is
indeed dead, affect the community of Dogleg Bay. Hunter’s father was a legendary
fisherman. We read that he, ‘...loved hooking salmon more than any other fish. Every year
he’d walk into the pub, hoisting the first sambo of the season, a crazy smile on his salty face.’

Hunter’s father was a ‘rock-hopping’ fisherman, (p19) and on the fateful day of his
disappearance, he had broken the ‘golden rule of rock-hopping. Dad went by himself.’ (p19)

The impact of this decision is twofold. He disappears into the Murk and we assume that he
has been washed off the rocks by a wave. Hunter loses a father and his mother, a husband.
But others are also deeply changed by Hunter’s father’s disappearance. Hunter reminds us
that ‘Drilla is Dad’s best mate.’ (p.19) The fact that Drilla did not accompany Hunter’s father
on the morning he disappeared, has weighed heavily on him since. Drilla blames himself for
what Hunter describes as his father’s ‘alien abduction.’ (p.19)

Hunter, in wanting to emulate his father’s great fishing prowess, goes after Mulloway or
‘Jewies’. These fish are notoriously hard to catch. Although Hunter’s father’s enviable
reputation as a fisherman has carried to Mullaranka, the nearest town to Dogleg Bay, Hunter
      is yet to establish his own sense of self at Dogleg Bay.

      He does so through the catching of a mammoth mulloway but more than this, establishes his
      own place in the folklore of Dogleg Bay by releasing the fish. Even so, his ambition early on
      for catching the mulloway was clear: ‘... When Dad was around, before I decided that I would
      devote my life to catching mulloway, to becoming richer and more famous than Rex Hunt.’

      Into this mix of loss and a search for Hunter’s identity, Gwynne enables us to see the power
      of friendship. The Jetty Rats is a name given to the kids who hang out on the jetty of Dogleg
      Bay. Hunter’s closest friends are The Photocopies, twin girls, and Miracle, a mate. It is
      Hunter’s friendships that sustain him as he tries to come to terms with simply growing up.
      Then there is the Skullster, ‘this rich Geeky kid’ who is on the periphery of Hunter’s friendship
      group until he is required to help Hunter.

      Gwynne brings his readers to the realisation that for Hunter to not only maintain contact with
      his father, but equip himself as a man, he too must distinguish himself in some way. This is
      through catching a mulloway, not matter what it takes. To do so, he takes risks. Initially, this
      seems impossible. As Hunter reflects on his nemesis Rex Hunt,: ‘’s a piscatorial lottery
      out there’ (p.5), the Jewies have long left Dogleg Bay. The fact that he does catch one – with
      more than a little help from his unlikely alliance with the Skullster – is a triumphant moment in
      the story.

      The ending of the novel, where the mulloway is released, is not fully explained and the reader is
      left with a number of questions: was Hunter right to release the mulloway? What is Hunter feeling
      when he releases the fish?

      Complete the following concept map…
Pretending that…                                   Troubled                          Hoping that…

Planning to…

                                                                                     Changing his mind
                                               Hunter is…                            about…

Confused about…

                                                   Concerned about…
Themes that are developed within the novel
A theme is a concept that runs throughout a story. In most examples of the Western story-telling
tradition, themes introduce problems and ideas that need to be resolved by the story's
conclusion. For example, a theme that runs throughout the text has to do with family structures.
There are a number of different family structures depicted in the novel which reflects the dynamic
nature of contemporary Australian culture. These representations in turn require the reader to
consider the nature of families in modern Australia. A number of problems are developed in the
story relating to families - for example, the relationship the Skullster has with his mother is very
different from the one Hunter has with his. A number of problems that spiral from these
relationships are resolved by the end of the novel.

The following themes tend to dominate the storyline of Jetty Rats. Each needs to be considered
independently, as well as in context to each other.


‘Of course my poor old mum deserves a hug every now and then. It hasn’t been easy for her.
Her hubby gone missing, like that. The Whole Dogleg Bay Caravan Park to look after. A Kid
like me to bring up. But sometimes she’s like this giant squid, like Architeuthis dux, wrapping
her tentacles around and around, squeezing me, suffocating me.’ (p.8)

1. The novel presents several forms of family structure. What are they? Look at how
families are organised in the novel and note what differences you can see.

  Family #1                                       Family #2

  Family #3                                       Family #4

2. Is there any kind of family which is preferred in the story? What are some of the
pressures the Skullster feels in his family as opposed to Hunter and the Photocopies who
through different circumstances, are in single parent households? What does Hunter mean
when he says: ‘When Dad was around, the division of labour was much fairer – he scrubbed
the dunnies and Hunter went a-fishin,’ (p.10)

3. Consider the place of affection in families. How does Hunter express his feelings to his
mother and how does he remember his father? What does he hold onto?

4. Hunter is loyal in remembering his father. The place of memory is important in the
novel. Hunter has no other means of keeping in touch with his father. Do you identify in some
way with Hunter’s commitment to his absent father and if so, how?

5. Mother figures are strong in the novel. What are the similarities and differences
between the mother characters? How do they express their care for their children? What are
the basic qualities of motherhood consistent in each?
     ‘Poor Mrs Crevada. I mean, Mrs C. All she wants is to have kids eating her food and kids
     calling her Mrs C. But nobody visits her geeky son, because his friends are all cyber-friends.
     Cyber-friends don’t scoff cream puffs and they don’t gulp down home made ginger beer.’

     1. There are several types of friendship in the story between children and adults. Identify
     the different types of friendship and what are the features of it?

1.                                                                 2.


                Now complete your own table, choosing your own characters…


                       Answer the following questions in your workbook…

     2. What makes a good friend? Does the relationship between the Jetty Rats provide a
     good example of this, and how is this different from the friendship between Saphonia and
     Hunter’s mum? (p.13) Is Zappo a good friend to Hunter? If so, how?

     3. The Jetty Rats are not a gang (p.45) Why do people congregate in gangs and what are
     the advantages of doing so? Why are the Jetty Rats not classed as a gang?

     4. What are the costs of friendship? Was Hunter right to use the Skullster with his ‘cyber
     proposition’ (p.126) to crack the Barrages or what should/could he have done?

     5. Do you think that all friendships are essentially opportunistic? Or do they mostly just begin that
     way? The term ‘fair-weather-friend’ is often applied to a person who is only around when things
     are going well, or when things are interesting. Is there an example of such a parasitic relationship
     in the novel?
Absent fathers/parents
 ‘He’ll be back, I think. Dad always comes back. I wait for him sitting under the ‘VACANCY’
sign, until it’s dark and Mum tells me to come inside. The next day and the next day and the
next day, I wait or him.’ (p.40)

Answer the following questions in your workbook in as much detail as possible.
Remember to use correct grammar and spelling.

1. What impact does not having a father have on Hunter? Is Hunter revealing in this quote
above, commitment or loyalty or simply not facing the reality that his father will not return?

2. Hunter is not the only character who is fatherless. The Photocopies also have no father
with them. Why? Hunter says: ‘I miss my dad too, I feel like telling Storm. More than you’ll
ever know. At least you know where your dad is. At least you know he’s alive. Mine could be
anywhere.’ (p.89) What are the differences between the Photocopies and Hunter not having

3. How do the mothers compensate for the lack of a paternal figure in the family? Are there other
father figure characters represented in the novel? Does Drilla or Warwick fulfil this role?

4. What makes a good father anyway? Write down a list of all of the qualities you think make a
good father.

Teenage love

‘My heart is beating harder, bouncing around my chest, a pinball gone beserk. Boing! Boing!
Boing! It goes. Boing! Boing! Boing!’ (p.171)
 1. How does the love interest between Hunter and the Photocopies affect the way Hunter
Feels and acts in the novel? Does he fall in love, or is he merely experimenting with his own
feelings? What do you think falling in love means and how is this different to ‘friendship’?

2. Is Hunter ready for a relationship? He says: ‘I’m just a thirteen-year-old kid who wants
to catch himself a big mulloway.’ (p.169)

3. Can mates love one another? What kind of love is it?

4. Do you imagine Hunter’s relationship with the Photocopies and in particular, Jasmine,
would be long term? Why or why not?

5. What makes some relationships last? Is it more than love?

Rite of passage
 ‘I can feel tears running down my face. Ancient tears. Uncried tears. I open my mouth and
scream. The water enters into me. And I too become the sea.’ (p.240)

1. What are the kinds of experiences which are a rite of passage? Do you think you may
have experienced this in some form?

2. Did Hunter know that in battling with the mulloway, he had crossed something

3. Is a rite of passage only for the young?
 Although in Jetty Rats there are several characters who make cameo appearances, the story
functions around Hunter, his mother, the Photocopies and Miracle. Important secondary
characters are Saphonia, Drilla, Warwick and Zappo. Depending on how the novel is read
and interpreted, other characters may complete for significant secondary status.

All the characters in Jetty Rats are easily visualised and imagined. The narrative is told in the
first person and in Hunter’s voice. Besides what he tells us about himself and those important
to him, other characters also reveal much about Hunter. The concentration on Hunter is both
necessary and clear. Jetty Rats is his story. Apart from what might appear at first to be
superficial treatment by Gwynne of secondary characters, in terms of their development, all
the characters are actually well explored.

Hunter’s mother wants a tattoo. This in itself is interesting as it suggests that there is some
motivation for doing so. Similarly with the gradual establishment of the Photocopies as individuals
in their own right. We see clearly that Storm and Jasmine are searching for understanding of their
feelings towards boys as Hunter is for girls.

The following questions need to be answered in as much detail as possible.

1. Choose three characters from the novel. (One of them must be Hunter). For each character,
answer the following: What kind of character is he/she? Are they immediately involving or does it
take a while to warm up to them? How are they first described and what changes do you note
throughout the course of the novel?

2. How do each of the characters speak? Consider the language they use. Are there particular
expressions they employ in their speech?

3. Which character would you like to meet most and why? Which character would you like
to meet least and why?

4. In terms of their attitudes and actions, list distinctive examples of behaviour and say
why characters acted in particular ways at certain times. How much choice do they have and
how do they exercise this?

5. On a character map, try to show what you know about all of the characters in the novel.

6. Does any character remind you of yourself? Why?

7. Would you like to be a particular character? Why?

8. If you were introducing the character to a group of people, how would you summarise
his/her qualities?

9. How do you relate to the character? If you could ask the character five questions, what
would they be?

10. Do you become emotionally engaged with any characters in the story? How?
A Note on the Wider Significance of the Story of Jetty Rats

Symbolically, Hunter’s catching the mulloway fulfils a hunger for him to get closer to his
father. This is particularly so in relation to the struggle Hunter has in regard to holding the
mulloway on the line all night. The fish is a symbol of Hunter’s fear of letting his father go and
admitting to himself that he is dead. During this fight with the fish, Gwynne offers insights into
Hunter’s thinking and an awareness that he must not lose the fish but have the choice of keeping
it or releasing it. The associations are many. Not least in the description Gwynne gives of the fish
as it struggles: ‘He will start circling soon and then I must work on him. I wonder what started him
so suddenly?’

Hunter develops a relationship with the fish he is trying to land. It is the key to knowing more
about him and in a way, finding a certain wisdom about letting go of long-cherished dreams and
desires. For Hunter, there was no option, he must liberate the fish. Why? Moreover, it is Hunter
who brings the fish back to life. What does this represent?

‘I wrap my arms around the mulloway and I kiss the mulloway. I kiss it hard, my lips pressed
hard against the cool, salty scales.’ (p.239)

1. Why does Hunter do this? How does he feel when the fish responds? How do you feel?

Soon after this, Hunter is a changed person. He has undertaken his rite of passage journey.
In the departing fish swimming out to sea, there is a coalescing of what he has let go and
how far he has grown. He has let go of his father and in so doing, Hunter has begun to be a
man himself. This is symbolically developed in the wedding ceremony, where Hunter must take
the place of his father and be Drilla’s best man.

Symbolic Treatment

The mulloway at the story’s end brings the townsfolk of Dogleg Bay to the Jetty to watch the
epic battle. It is the only time we see all the characters together. It is like a curtain call and
allows the reader to experience each individual’s reaction to the moment when the great fish is
brought into the shallows.

1. How does each character react and why? What does the mulloway symbolise for each
character? What does it symbolise for you?

2. The catch and release of the mulloway seems to have influenced many of the
characters. Hunter’s mother finally gets her tattoo; the Skullster, too, becomes a Jetty Rat.
Can you find other examples of this influence?

3. Is the fish a symbol for good? In what way?

Hunter has fulfilled his dream and in the process has grown up. At the novel’s end, there is a
sense that he has discovered much about himself but also the power of human relationships.
He says that if the Photocopies leave town, then he’d miss them. (p.255) The novel has a
sense of fulfillment and offers us hope. Where can you find examples of this? List several
examples of these, along with the page numbers.

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