Caravan Story cover Wayne Macauley Caravan Story
Wayne Macauley

A lament but also a call to arms, Caravan Story is a thrilling piece of satire, a compulsively readable, extremely well-wrought Orwellian fable that I believe announces the arrival of Macauley as a major Australian writer, one who definitely has something to say
Martin Shaw, Readings Monthly
Macauley’s first novel showed that a real talent had arrived, and his second confirms the promise
Owen Richardson, The Age


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Book Description

So here I am, I’m going: it happens to us all. There is no rhyme nor reason. Even when you’ve sucked the fingers of the hand that feeds you it can still turn around and grab you by the throat.

One  morning, without warning, our narrator wakes into a nightmare. He and his female companion are put in a caravan and driven to a football oval in a faraway country town. There they join scores of other caravan-dwellers in a seemingly closed community. They are divided into groups, given their tasks. Then our narrator ‘escapes’, to an abandoned school in a big country town…

Wayne Macauley has a gift for storytelling. He can, and cannot but help, spin a yarn. It is this continual shifting on of our attention through the description of the particulars of a scene that gives his writing such a weird intensity.

Examining the darker side of our manufacture and manipulation of culture, Caravan Story is a deeply unsettling and at times hilarious read. With Macauley’s inexorable narrative logic we are held in its thrall until the sparkling, if muted, transfiguration of its ending.

In an era when many Australian novelists are playing it safe... Wayne Macauley is an ambitious talent worth watching.
Emmett Stinson, Wet Ink

ISBN 9781876044534
Published 2007
168 pgs
Caravan Story book sample

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Chapters one to five

Chapters one to

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Caravan Story
Radio New Zealand, ‘Nine to Noon’, 17 August 2012

For the audio of this review click here:

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Caravan Story
Tali Polichtuk
Australian Book Review, No. 298, February 2008

In his lauded début novella, Blueprints for a Barbed-Wired Canoe (2004), Wayne Macauley charted the development and demise of a badly planned and hastily constructed outer-suburban housing development. Luring city-dwellers with cheap housing and a promised highway to enable quick access to the city, the government abandoned the project, leaving the residents to fend for themselves. In Caravan Story, Macauley’s second novella, the author renews his preoccupation with urban planning and hones his gift for allegory, spotlighting the plight of artists forcibly relocated to the countryside.

Wayne, the narrator, is one of hundreds affected by this government policy. Evicted from the inner-city home he shares with his partner, Alice, they are moved to a football field cum caravan park in a Victorian country town. Here they are trained to channel their creative abilities (writing and acting, respectively) to utilitarian ends. The aim of the project is to turn them into citizens ‘[w]ho might make a worthwhile contribution to society’. This proves to be a futile exercise for Wayne and his fellow writers. Bureaucrats dispose of their work unread, their rejection letters having been drafted even before they began their menial writing tasks.

An attack on the strip-mining of the arts, Caravan Story’s strength lies in the manner of Macauley’s critique. Eschewing heavy-handed didacticism, he opts for economical prose imbued with subtle imagery. Housing serves as the key motif, a totemic symbol of the depletion of the community’s artistic freedom. The stationary caravan is a cogent metaphor for the precarious position of the handout-dependent artist, ‘[s]ucking on the dug of dubious benevolence’.

Mixing elegy and whimsy, satire and black humour, language becomes pliant under Macauley’s command. The narrative palls when the author allows his characters to sermonise at length, but this is a small blemish in an otherwise engaging read.

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Ebb and flow of everyday life made new
Emily Maguire (author)
The Canberra Times, 8 December 2007

Reading a metafictional novel can be like working at a cryptic crossword. The cheeky winks and word play are good fun but in the end it’s all just so much diversion. At their best, however, such novels work to expand our understanding. Happily, Wayne Macauley’s use of metafictional techniques in Caravan Story is more revelatory than masturbatory; the head games and narrative tricks are directed toward getting the reader to think more deeply, not just more cleverly.

The narrator of Caravan Story, also a writer named Wayne Macauley, is confused rather than shocked when he is herded into a caravan and driven to a country football ground. It seems Wayne and all the other writers, actors and painters have been involuntarily recruited to an artists’ colony in which they will be fed and watered so long as they beaver away at their set assignments.

The actors and painters disappear fairly quickly; their skills are in high demand for corporate training videos, commercials and community murals. The writers, though, are less useful. ‘The question is,’ says the camp administrator at one point, ‘what good are all these writers, what possible worthwhile contribution could any of you possibly make, how could any of you ever possibly pay your way?’

After wasting the days writing pages that end up in the overflowing garbage cans behind the toilet block, the useless writers are sent - literally - back to school. Here they are bluntly told the ‘facts’: ‘You can hold on to your romantic dreams all you like... but there is only one way to make a living out of telling stories and that is having your stories told on celluloid within the paradigm of a three-act structure.’

On one level this book is a painful (to this novelist, anyway) satire on the endless round of grant, fellowship and residency applications that writers undertake in an attempt to eke out a living or improve their literary status. But it’s also an interrogation of the place of art, specifically literature, in our society. Is literature that is produced by demand or written to pre-defined parameters literature at all? Is a work of art only worth something if someone (anyone), somewhere (anywhere) is willing to pay for it? What’s the point of it all, anyway?

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Macauley on the road again
Owen Richardson
The Age, 25 August 2007

Melbourne writer Wayne Macauley’s first novel, Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe, showed that a real talent had arrived, and his second confirms the promise.

Like Kafka or Ballard, his books are set in a dreamlike parallel world that shines a light back onto ours. Allegory being hard to keep up at length, both those writers are better in their short stories than in their novels, and Macauley’s chosen form of the longish novella - about 150 pages -and his physical specificity show canniness and discipline, as well as ability.

In Caravan Story, Wayne, a writer, and his actor girlfriend are rounded up along with their colleagues and made to live in caravans parked in a country town footy ground, like so many refugees or Jonestown cultists, and put to work on various projects.

The writers fare the worst; the actors look as if they are going to spend their lives doing corporate training videos or public service ads, while the painters, well, they have all those community murals to do. The writers are sent back to school, literally - shades of Ferdydurke - in the hope they may have a future in TV and film and made to watch Chinatown over and over again and schooled in the jargon of story paradigms (set-up, confrontation, resolution), the rhetoric of the commercial arts.

It’s a book written by someone who has had to fill out one grant application too many, or had to read the dreadful pap funding bodies put on their websites, until he’s started to bleed from the ears.

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Caravan Story
Martin Shaw
Readings Monthly, July 2007
(An edited version of this review appeared in The Monthly, July 2007)

In 2004 Macauley published Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe to great acclaim, with one critic even going so far as to say that ‘if more Australian literature was of this calibre, we’d be laughing’. On the strength of this, his second, book, I must say I entirely agree! But as much as the art of this book - its surreal, dreamlike atmosphere, its memorable cast of slightly sinister characters (à la Kafka) - seduces the reader, what really excites is Macauley’s provocative cultural intervention. The central premise is a not-so-far-away-as-you-might-think radical utilitarianization of the arts in Australian culture. A young couple, one a writer named Wayne Macauley, the other an actor, are removed from their inner-urban lodgings and taken by caravan to the local football oval at a small town in the Victorian countryside. There they find themselves in a new ‘community’ of like-minded cultural workers. Somewhat confused, Wayne begins work on his writing – until it becomes apparent that the community’s material is simply ending up in the garbage bin. The select few get the opportunity to render themselves ‘possibly’ useful by generating scripts for film or TV; the others simply vanish. His girlfriend, on the other hand, finds that her profession at least is deemed to have its uses – she finds herself on the road seven days a week in a traveling troupe, providing entertainment for demoralized country towns suffering from the drought, or making TV commercials. But in the camp even more artists are arriving on buses, it’s full to overflowing (in need of a final solution, in fact). A lament but also a call to arms, Caravan Story is a thrilling piece of satire, a compulsively readable, extremely well-wrought Orwellian fable that I believe announces the arrival of  Macauley as a major Australian writer, one who definitely has something to say.

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Citation as a Book of the Year (2007)

My discovery of the year was Brunswick author Wayne Macauley. For anyone who thrills to a hypnotic prose style and incisive social satire, I would urge you to discover his work! His most recent novella is Caravan Story.
Martin Shaw, Readings Monthly, December 2007-January 2008

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The Launch Of Caravan Story By The ‘Minister Assisting’ For Arts And Economic Development

...I no longer know where irony ceases and heaven begins...
Heinrich Heine, The Harz Journey (epigraph to the novel)

On the evening of Monday the 12th of November at the North Fitzroy Star Hotel a ‘mystery special guest’ launched Wayne Macauley’s new novel, Caravan Story. The ‘special guest’ was in fact an actor and her speech was a hoax. Here’s how it went...


THE HON. PENNY MONTGOMERY: Thank you Kevin and good evening. First of all let me say what a great pleasure it is to be here tonight, in the future City of Literature, launching a new novel by one of our most exciting young writing talents. Arts activity, as we know, accounts for a significant proportion of our economic activity, both state and federally, and it is our aim to do all we can to give this economic activity the opportunity to flourish.

There is, as we know, an undeniable and long-established link between the arts and tourism - and, as all available data shows, in a time of massive movement across global boundaries tourism has become one of our key profit-makers. With our own national economy running a current trade deficit of just over $500 billion it is clear the role the arts and its companion tourist industries can play in both increasing export earnings and drawing down valuable tourist dollars. I am sure you understand, therefore, the importance we place at all levels of government on supporting young and emerging artists such as Wayne McCaulliff and small independent publishers like Black Pepper in growing this important sector and renewing it with fresh entrepreneurial vigour.

The Arts play a vital role in the life of any nation - from the writer in his or her garret to the community arts worker helping the local schoolchildren with their mosaics. Without Art and the artists who make it, we are impoverished as a people. Many, many members of our communities, both young and old, people who perhaps twenty years ago would not have had the opportunity to engage with the Arts, are now artists themselves of one kind or another. This is a very exciting time. The Arts have begun to find their way into almost every aspect of our lives; here in Melbourne, as you know, we see this artistic seachange manifesting itself in the architecture, the streetscapes, the bohemian café life, the plethora of festivals, the number of galleries, poetry readings, performances and recitals.

However, unfortunately, it is one thing to speak of the riches of a city’s cultural life and another to speak of the countryside’s impoverishment. People on the land are doing it hard: natural disasters, tough international markets, soil degradation, the impact of unemployment and a new generation of disaffected, alienated youth - and yet, again, where we see community and cultural fragmentation we again see the role the Arts can play in recovering self-esteem, regaining confidence, rebuilding community, restoring employment and reinvigorating economic activity. It is my and my Government’s belief that such a role is the role the Arts can and should play.

It is with great pride, then, and privilege, that I am here tonight to launch this wonderful new work by an emerging writer whom I have been told deals in a very challenging way with precisely some of these complex cultural issues. It is true that, in our rush to invest in arts activities of all kinds, we have also inadvertently created a surfeit of people who now call themselves artists, in numbers that the present industry simply cannot sustain over the medium to long term. A natural correction is needed. Now, as I understand it, it is precisely this problem that Wayne has tackled in such a creative way in his book. He advocates, so I am told, a plan by which a surplus of city-based artists might be relocated to the countryside in order to lessen the pressure on the limited resources available.

He imagines an artists’ camp, set up on the abandoned football oval of a small and struggling country town, and these artists engaging with and reinvigorating the economic activity of the local community. Now, far from being far-fetched, Wayne, this is a most interesting and challenging idea - as is the proposal, alluded to in the book, of reducing the unsustainable number of unproductive artists who are still burdening the system by poisoning them with pesticide and burying them in a mass grave on the outskirts of the town.

This surfeit of artists and what to do with them has certainly taxed some of the better minds in our own department. But here again is an example of what we can do when we think creatively. Wayne’s on the surface radical but in fact imminently sensible idea has much to recommend it and has, let me say, already found favour with many of my colleagues. Not all artists, as we know, can be productive in the way our society would want or expect them to be - to eliminate these people quietly and at relatively low cost to the taxpayer seems to me to be an idea that could and should find favour within all State and Federal government bureaucracies...


HECKLER ONE: Excuse me. I’m sorry. I have a question. Given that you are spending an estimated  $9.2 million on the so-called Centre for Books and Ideas - and the accompanying City of Literature bid - and that in your publicity for this Centre you say it will be, quote “providing writers with the resources they require”, how do you then justify the fact that total expenditure on direct grants to writers of adult literary fiction to create new work in a recent funding round came to a total of $27,000...?

THE HON. PENNY MONTGOMERY: Arts is inextricably linked to tourism, as I have said. This is an established fact - there have already been many costly reports and enquiries that have decisively proven this link. The City of Literature branding - regardless of the quantity or quality of literature produced (this, can I say, is quite frankly irrelevant) - will not only create an enormous number of job opportunities for arts bureaucrats, failed writers, ex-librarians but also add valuable tourist dollars to the local economy. It will increase our international profile and with it our international trade...

HECKLER TWO: Excuse me. Yes. I have a sculptor friend who was recently found hanged in her studio. She had just finished filling out her sixth grant application in as many months. Her suicide note said: “I don’t understand the criteria.” Do you have any comment on that...?

THE HON. PENNY MONTGOMERY: Yes, well, what I can say is that we are currently undertaking a review which will look into how we might streamline the application process with the plan ultimately of establishing a committee that will then report back to the relevant authorities. Their preliminary investigations suggest, anecdotally, that, over time, we may be able to marginally reduce the paperwork involved… . All right? Everyone happy...? Good. And so, it is with great pleasure that I now officially launch Caravan Story, by Wayne - I’m sorry, Wayne Macauley - whom I will now ask to step up and say a few words...


WAYNE MACAULEY: (reading from pg. 139)  ‘...From the moment we stepped up into the caravan, from the moment the red-lipsticked Polly ticked us off her list, we have sold it all away. What is a product anyway, what is production, productivity? Who in God’s name first put the words ‘arts’ and ‘industry’ together? Who let all these bureaucrats and critics and ill-qualified pedagogues loose on the world, who gave them the right to pardon or punish? Who said we should listen? Who said we should learn, grow up?’

Caravan Story is a satire. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, an 18th century aphorist and one of my favourite writers, said: ‘The finest satire is that in which ridicule is combined with so little malice and so much conviction that it even rouses laughter in those who are hit.’ I hope, in this instance, that this is the case.

The principal object of the satire in Caravan Story is the so-called arts industry.

I personally think art has got nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with ‘industry’. The ‘arts’, in my opinion, is everything ‘industry’ is not. I never thought, and still don’t, that I am making any economic contribution to this country. That’s not what I do. If I do give something back - and even this is uncertain - then whatever it is it certainly can’t be measured in terms of dollars, profit, business, industry. It will in fact be something as completely unlike money as it is possible for anything to be...

Over the past couple of decades there has been the most appalling appropriation of the arts, of the arts being hijacked for commercial ends. How did this happen? Who is responsible? You and me, probably. People who believed the arts was important, who caught the bug early and as they got older and occupied positions of power began to evangelically spread their belief in the arts into every corner of society. But where originally we saw art as having an intrinsic, autonomous value, we now found ourselves having to justify it to people who simply could not understand such things. ‘But it will help your businessmen think laterally,’ we said. ‘It will revitalise your urban environments. Lower your youth crime rate. Sell your messages. Give you the creative edge. Promote your city. Boost tourism. Increase export earnings.’ Soon our art was everywhere. You couldn’t walk down the street without tripping over a piece of sculpture, go out your front door without running into a festival, find a café corner without a would-be writer sitting in it.

So what is it with all this art? How - this is the question I ask myself - how do we actually get outside it now, escape its clutches, stand somewhere else, a place, unsanctioned, from where we can see and speak clearly, away from all the hyperbole? How do you critique a society that already owns your critique...?

I believe it is absolutely essential that we learn to bite the hand that feeds us and that our patrons learn that this is a natural part of the exchange. To bite the hand that feeds is the artist’s social and civic responsibility. Great civilisations all knew this - all great civilisations had their satirists, their clowns. All great civilisations knew the value of this tense, dangerous, ironic exchange. One of the biggest problems with the way arts patronage is set up in this country is that no-one has - or can afford to have - a sense of irony. Art-making has become so regulated, its justifications so complicated, the competition for its resources so intense, that it is only the very serious and ‘worthy’ who will be able to jump through all the hoops and land safely on the other side.

In short, it has been an incredibly difficult period to live through for the pig-headed independent artist with a warped sense of humour. Not because there’s no ‘support for the arts’ - that’s everywhere, as Ms Montgomery was so keen to point out - but because the whole point has got lost. It’s other people, mostly bureaucrats, who now tell us what art is, what we do, why. It is very hard just to be.

So how do you just be? How do you justify what you do and continue to do it independently of that great all-consuming bureaucratic machine?

By having people around you who let you be. Who don’t demand a cost-benefit analysis.

It is these people I am here to thank.

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