Justin Heazlewood – best known as the ARIA award-nominated comedian The Bedroom Philosopher – had his very first bad memory aged six. His mother told his nan and pop they’d never see their grandchild again. With the little boy bawling, she dragged him to the car, slammed the door and drove off.
It could have just been a family argument. Yet there are many more, and far worse, memories and fights to come. Get Up Mum is Heazlewood’s account of a childhood marked by his mother’s crippling mental illness.
Written through the eyes of his 12-year-old self, in 1992, in Burnie, Tasmania, Get Up Mum follows The Bedroom Philosopher Diaries and Funemployed, which tracked the pitfalls and joys of working as an artist. Desperate for his mother’s love, Heazlewood navigates the pitfalls of adolescence, from girls he likes to his first day at a new school to making sure his mother takes her pills.
When well, his mother is caring, fun and committed, even as she struggles to support the two of them on just a pension. Yet too often she is sick; we later learn she has schizophrenia. She laughs hysterically, swears uncontrollably (“Bitch! Sssssss... TROLLOP!”), and hears voices in her head. Worse, for the young Heazlewood at least, are the days when she refuses to get out of bed: “She’s lying on her side with her eyes open. What Mum is doing is worse than sleeping in. It’s worse than being lazy. It’s nothing!”
In Get Up Mum, Heazlewood conjures up the frustrations of a child who understands both too much and too little, and for whom humour becomes a coping mechanism. Peppered with handwritten letters, diary entries, diagrams, doodles and drawings, the book is presented intentionally like the scrawlings of a schoolboy.
The poetry interspersed throughout, however, brings a sense of retrospective, even if it can feel a little heavy-handed. Heazlewood’s liberal use of exclamation marks, while conveying his boyish enthusiasm, can also be offputting.
Yet he does evoke what it is like to live in a loving, if flawed, family. In particular, his nan and pop – the latter the closest he has to a father – jump off the page as beacons of stability. Ultimately, if Get Up Mum is about youth, it is also about growing up too fast. Told to be a man while still a boy, Heazlewood feels responsible for his mother. Maybe, then, this is his way of finally letting go. EA
Affirm Press, 320pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 26, 2018 as "Justin Heazlewood, Get Up Mum".
For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.
All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.
There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.
Select your digital subscription