God, the Devil and Me
Publisher: Magabala Books
Alf Taylor’s God, the Devil and Me is a searing memoir of the years he spent as a child and adolescent in the Boys House at the New Norcia Catholic Mission – both as a record of that period of Taylor’s life and a scathing critique of the brutal treatment of the Aboriginal boys in that setting. More broadly, Taylor gives insights into Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations in Western Australia from the 1950s to the mid-1960s and documents the effects on children of continued mental and physical abuse. As Dennis Haskell notes in his comprehensive foreword, while Taylor is well-known as a poet and short story writer, it has taken him several decades to be able to shape his traumatic memories of that early life in the New Norcia Mission into a narrative.
Taylor writes that learning to read as a child gave him an outlet away from his traumatic experiences at the New Norcia Mission. He relates how his discovery of Shakespeare provided him with both inspiration and aspiration, with poetry subsequently becoming very important to his writing life. God, the Devil and Me opens with one of Taylor’s poems, and Taylor uses poetry occasionally during the narrative to emphasise and perhaps draw attention to the particular aspects of his story.
While the experiences Taylor relates throughout the book are both shocking and extremely moving, Taylor writes forthrightly and with sharp, insightful wit. Dark childhood memories are interspersed with many humorous or sarcastic stories and lyrical passages about longing for freedom and family.