Actor and author William McInnes’ affection for the place where some of his most treasured memories were made remains strong and has inspired some of his best work in print and on screen.
Sitting on a park bench at Margate overlooking Moreton Bay last month, ahead of a book signing for his latest work, Yeah Nah!, William recalled moments and people who have helped shape his life.
The larrikin, scallywag and former racer of mobility scooters roars with laughter as he recounts pranks played in his youth including souveniring the weathervane from the former Kentucky Fried Chicken shop at Margate and sending a ransom note to the Redcliffe Herald, and also sending his death notice to the same newspaper and having it published.
The former Humpybong State School and Clontarf Beach State High School student hasn’t lived on the Peninsula since he was 18 but still has family and friends here whom he visits often.
“I’ve been asked a few times to do that Who do You think You Are show … I know where I come from. I come from Redcliffe. I’m not interested,” William says.
“Some of the people I really admire … I think what a good person they were … they come from here. This is my bedrock.”
As with several of his earlier books, Redcliffe features in the new one which celebrates the Australian vernacular.
“It’s not a dictionary of expressions, it’s a collection of words that I grew up with and have come across through my life that I think are particularly Australian. It’s stories about those words and the people who have used those words,” he explains.
Examples include his mother’s use of ‘foot Falconing’ to describe walking, his father’s use of ‘Toyota trot’ to describe moving a little faster and the ‘Redcliffe tuxedo’ to justify being bare chested.
“It’s stuff like that. It’s also noting that we have a start point and an end point, but while we’re here we might as well enjoy each other and what we do. One of the ways we do that, I think, is the words we create … the Australian language,” William says.
“It’s sort of a bit sentimental at times.”
Experiences with school teachers and the Cosy Corner Caravan Park have inspired on-screen performances including his portrayal of Lindsay Cunningham in ABC’s The Newsreader, and a scene in Blue Heelers.
His visit ‘home’ is his first since June when he was here for the Redcliffe Show, to enter jam in the cookery competition, and to watch the Dolphins’ NRL team take on the Broncos at The Gabba.
It’s no accident his actual home on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria is similar to his childhood one.
“You come back here and you just sort of relax. There’s something about getting across that bridge,” he says.
“It’s just petrol in your tank (coming back). If you’re lucky enough to catch up with some old pals, it’s great.
“The last time I was here, an old bloke came up to be and he said something really nice about my parents.
“It’s changed a lot, Redcliffe … you know you can’t stop change nor should you. It just adds a new level of lifestyle. It’s still Redcliffe.”
William says a place remains special for anyone who has had a happy childhood there.
“I had a ball. I just found it was all you sort of needed, in a way. That was the universe, Redcliffe was enough. There was that strange place over there called Brisbane that you visited occasionally.
“My kids love it, my wife liked it … she loved it. She used to go on about that view (out to Moreton Island). It hasn’t changed for tens of thousands of years. It’s amazing.”
In his book, The Laughing Clowns, he created a peninsula north of Brisbane.
“I called it Pickersgill Peninsula and everyone knew it was Redcliffe,” he says.
“There are nice people and the show. It’s sweet, lovely and fun. It might not be everyone’s bag, but it’s remarkable … the showgrounds are unique. I don’t know any other expanse of land so close to an international city with that common sense of purpose.”
Interestingly William didn’t discover acting on the Peninsula and instead stumbled into it when he was studying law at the University of Sydney. A girl he was dating suggested he audition for a play at the Seymour Centre.
The then 22-year-old was asked to take on a role because someone dropped out and he decided to ‘give it a year’, deferring his degree. He never returned.
“It was fun. It’s such a weird thing to do, acting. There were a lot more people who are more talented than me who didn’t get a look-in. It’s not really a fair thing because it’s all pretty arbitrary – how you look, how tall you are, the colour of your eyes,” he says.
“I worked it out after a while, it was like a team sport. A group of people come together and they produce something. So, I just stayed and I got lucky I guess.”
Since then, he’s earnt his living as an actor – never having to take on a second job – starring on the small and big screen, most recently in The Newsreader and NCIS: Sydney.
While he never performed at Redcliffe’s Mousetrap Theatre, he has fond childhood memories of seeing plays there and being in awe of those on stage.
“My mum used to paint the backdrops up there. We were mates with the Kendalls … a lovely family … they were really into it and we’d go up and see the productions,” William says.
He recalls seeing Smugglers’ Cove there as a young boy and loving it, and later bumping into one of the stars buying beer at The Belvedere Hotel bottle shop.
William also remembers seeing Camelot, Maid of the Mountains, the infamous Desert Song during which a wall fell over on an actor, Dad’s Army, and The Mousetrap.
“I love going to amateur theatre because they just do it because they love it. I always feel vaguely inspired by it,” he says.
It seems William was destined to channel the Redcliffe boy at his core, and the memories made here, to become the natural storyteller he remains today.
His latest book, Yeah Nah!, is available at books stores across Australia and online.
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