Justin Heazlewood’s Get Up Mum is an intimate portrait of what it’s like to be a kid and a carer. The memoir is partly built around cassette recordings Justin made of his family when he was 12, including recordings of his mum who lives with schizophrenia – so it’s only fitting that Justin’s story can now be heard by listeners Australia-wide. The fabulous team at ABC Radio National’s Life Matters worked with Justin to adapt Get Up Mum for a special podcast series, with plenty of original recordings woven in. Here, Justin shares how his childhood hobby started.
Some kids collected stamps. Some kept butterflies in a jar. I collected my family. Well, their voices at least. I captured their vibrations on a special magnetic ribbon. This wound round a wheel to form a reel. These paired neatly inside a clear plastic case which revolved steadily inside the carriage of a machine. A time machine! Okay, maybe it was my ghetto blaster and while it couldn’t go ‘back to the future’, it did have a knack for playing the past. I could put my family on pause or rewind them for an instant replay or tape over the bits I didn’t like. These rattly little rectangles were my favourite toy, my secret hobby and my number one album all in one.
My cassette obsession began when I was eight. One afternoon at Nan and Pop’s in Wynyard, Tasmania, I decided to press ‘record’ and ‘play’ on my red stereo perched on the kitchen bench. I wanted to see what would happen if I just left it running. I sat quietly as kitchen life carried on as normal. I liked the idea that everything was happening in double. Once in real life and once on tape. I was trapping the conversation to listen back to later. There might be something I’d missed or want to hear again. As an only child, I liked the idea of a game that could also keep me company.
By grade seven I’d built up a proud tape carousal including my best friend and I playing computer, Christmas conversations and caravanning with Uncle Ken and Nigel. One rainy Saturday I decided to make my own mixtape. I gathered the best sections from each tape and dubbed them together to make ‘Heazlewood Highlights’. I modelled it on the ‘Best of Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ specials where I was the narrator introducing each segment. From Uncle Nigel breaking a beer bottle to our New Year’s Eve gathering to the family watching photo slides. Now, whenever I missed everyone I could pop in my highlights reel and head straight for the good stuff.
A tape is a time capsule crossed with a time machine. Your mind starts as a blank square but is soon filled with the technicolour of the past. The slide show beams across your chest, warming an atmosphere of love and wonder. Comfort fills the space where loneliness lives. It’s all there. The budgie twerping, the telly in the background, Pop clearing his throat. The light from stars long since expired. Each break in transmission is punctuated with a clunky supernova of bass. As the side nears the end the sound flutters and wobbles. The wormhole becomes unstable. The link lost. The wheels of time slam to a halt.
Listen to the Life Matters Get Up Mum series here, check out Justin’s feature article including plenty of family photos for Life Matters here, and catch him presenting Get Up Mum at Frankston Library, Saturday 27 July.