ALLISON HADFIELD - AUTHOR of THE MAD SCIENTIST OF AUSTRALIAN HOT RODDING: ROD HADFIELD
I grew up in Castlemaine. My family moved here when I was three weeks old. In the early-mid 80s when I was a kid, a lot more of the town was still bush land and I used to head off on my own exploring, I’d be off for hours at a time!
I’ve always thought that Castlemaine is great when you're a kid and frustrating for teenagers. You have to get out in your 20s but by your 30s you’re ready to move back. I pretty much followed that pattern! I feel like there is a lot more going on here these days. When I was young, you could only see live music at a pub, The Theatre Royal had a seedy nightclub called The Pit and I wasn’t cool enough to hang out at the Austral cafe! There is a lot more diversity here now.
I went to uni in Bendigo. It was the mid-nineties, the recession, we were told if we didn't go to uni we'd never get a job - "Don’t defer, you’ll never go back." Blah blah. I wish I had taken some time to travel, work crappy jobs and figure out what I actually wanted to do before I went to uni. I didn’t really do anything with my degree until ten years later when I went back to do post graduate studies, once I’d figured out what I actually wanted to do.
I am a qualified Librarian. I’ve worked in Public, Academic and Medial Libraries for the last twelve years. Before that I worked in retail for years, including bookshops.
Growing up, the hot rod community was a massive part of our lives, in fact It was our whole life, not just the social part! My parents' business, The Castlemaine Rod Shop, was on the same property as our house, so I felt like I never had any privacy, there was usually someone working on one car or another under the carport of the house. My parents worked long hours and my part time job as a teenager was working at the Rod Shop wrapping parcels, processing invoices and cleaning cars.
We only ever had one holiday that had nothing to do with cars; we went to Fiji when I was twelve and my dad managed to find the only wreckers on the island.
When you grow up with something you don’t always appreciate it I suppose. Writing this book has given me more of an insight into how much my dad has achieved.
For many years I thought that Dad's work would make a great book, he’s done a lot of interesting things and overcome a lot of obstacles. I’ve done bits and pieces of writing in the past; articles, zines and bits of personal writing but nothing on this scale. I hadn’t put it together that I should be the one to actually write this book until late 2016. I was feeling a little lost and needed a project to sink my teeth into. And so it began.
Challenges include juggling work, family, hobbies, social life and then trying to find the head space to write. The book took about 18 months in total which included two months of leave without pay in order to complete it. I started off with the chapter ‘Bones’, inter-dispersing Dad's life story with the cars he has created. Then as a family we sat around the table over a few meals to build on my knowledge of his life – and I must give a shout out to my brother here – he is a psychologist which kind of helped! I also had a lot of historical material to work with, photos, magazine articles, even Rod's old school books which were full of drawings of Hot Rods he hoped to build. I interviewed a lot of people, and of course there was Carol – lucky she had kept everything! I think we all have learned stuff from doing this. Even Rod!
There are of course advantages to being close to your subject, as well as some pretty big disadvantages. Obviously I had easy access to the information, but there is the risk of sentimentality, or wanting to gloss over the hard parts. I was really clear when I started that this might get hard. We would need to talk about stuff that would be difficult and then it would be out there for the world to read, but I feel it is some of the most important and interesting parts of the story.
I guess the other major worry I had in being close to the subject was not being taken seriously. I don’t mention that he is my father until the author biography at the end. It was kind of weird referring to myself in the third person within the story. I even contemplated using a pseudonym! Maybe that’s a female thing in such a male-dominated industry.
I had two audiences in mind when I wrote this book; people who don’t necessarily read books, who have maybe only ever read Hot Rod magazines. I’ve tried to keep the language simple and it is laid out in a similar way to a magazine with pictures throughout. The second audience is people with no interest in Hot Rods, but who enjoy biographies. For them I have tried to kept the technical data to a minimum and cover more of the stories behind the cars. I have a chapter titled This place called Castlemaine and a quick lesson in modified cars which explains 'the car thing' and how Castlemaine became known as the Street Rod Centre of Australia. In this chapter I have tried to provide this second audience with a little background information.
I hope it will be placed in the biography section of bookshops and libraries instead of tucked away in the automotive section.
At first my dad was a bit perplexed as to why I would want to write about him! I read through it with him over about three sessions to fact check and make sure he was okay with everything. Kudos to my parents, they were so open and honest, the only parts that Rod asked me to change were things about other people. He couldn’t believe the scale of the project, he kept saying, ‘Wow you’ve taken on a huge job here’. He’s enormously proud and is surprised by the amount of people who are interested in reading it.
I drive a boring family car! I had a groovy little Ford Escort for years, built by George Windus who worked at the Rod Shop when my parents owned the business. I sold it when I was pregnant with my second child as it wasn’t exactly practical. I miss that car!
Favourite things to do in the area: Is Bendigo considered ‘the area’? Because I am the part of Dragon City Roller Derby, Bendigo’s Roller Derby club. I’ve been skating with them for over six years.
Tips for people thinking of moving out here: Do it, but not on a whim. It always helps to have some sort of connection or hobby that can help you meet people, be it Hot Rods, Roller Derby or whatever. My partner and I both grew up in Castlemaine and had wanted to move back for quite a while. In the end, it just had to be a bit of a leap of faith!
The Mad Scientist of Australian Hot Rodding: Rod Hadfield is published by Renniks Publications.