How wonderfully important they are! Take a look below at the beginning to Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Eakin (“My great-aunt Juliet was knocked over and killed by a bus when she was 85”). Another favourite of mine is Puberty Blues by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette (“When we were thirteen, the coolest things to do were the things your parents wouldn’t let you do. Things like have sex, smoke cigarettes, nick off from school, go to the drive-in, take drugs, and go to the beach”).
And see how Andre Agassi starts his masterful autobiography, Open. (“I open my eyes and don’t know where I am or who I am”). Wow. Or this, from Magda Szubanski (“If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin”).
Then there are classics like: My Place by Sally Morgan, and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.
Here are some pretty impressive openings, mostly autobiographical and mostly Australian.
My great-aunt Juliet was knocked over and killed by a bus when she was 85. The bus was traveling very slowly in the right direction and could hardly have been missed by anyone except Aunt Juliet, who must have been traveling fairly fast in the wrong direction.
Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Eakin
(Australian autobiographical fiction)
When we were thirteen, the coolest things to do were the things your parents wouldn’t let you do. Things like have sex, smoke cigarettes, nick off from school, go to the drive-in, take drugs, and go to the beach.
Puberty Blues by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette
If you had met my father you would never, not for an instant, have thought he was an assassin.
Reckoning by Magda Szubanski
I was so glad not to have died that day that I made it my new birthday.
A few hours earlier, I was on top of a mountain outside a small town in Chile when I doubled up in pain from an intestinal obstruction. This is a pain more intense than childbirth, as I was told later by a woman who had enjoyed both.
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda
I was born in the year 1894 at Maidstone in Victoria. My father left for Western Australia just after this, taking with him my two older brothers, Joseph and Vernon. The discovery of gold in the West had been booming and thousands believed that a fortune was to be made.
A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey
In the evening we pushed our red shopping stroller along the five-minute walk from our hotel to Columbus Avenue, where crowded dining tables spilled out onto open terraces and tall mannequins in tight black dresses stared down at us through plate glass and neon. It was in New York, I decided, that we would be successful. It was there that we would work every evening until the crowds drifted away after midnight. It was there that we would have lots of glorious fun and return home with bags of money. There that we would live out the long, warm nights that would later complete the repertoire of my father’s stories, a repertoire of which I longed to be a part.
Dreamtime Alice by Mandy Sayer
(Australian memoir, winner of the 2000 National Biography Award)
The hospital again, and the echo of my reluctant feet through the long, empty corridors. I hated hospitals and hospital smells. I hated the bare boards that gleamed with newly applied polish, the dust-free window-sills, and the flashes of shiny chrome that snatched my distorted shape as we hurried past. I was a grubby five-year-old in an alien environment.
Sometimes I hated Dad for being sick and Mum for making me visit him. Mum only occasionally brought my younger sister and brother, Jill and Billy. I was always in the jockey’s seat. My presence ensured no arguments. Mum was sick of arguments, sick and tired.
My Place by Sally Morgan
29 February, 1944:
As the Liberator bomber circled over the dropping zone in France I could see lights flashing and huge bonfires burning. I hoped the field was manned by the Resistance and not by German ambushers. Huddled in the belly of the bomber, airsick and vomiting, I was hardly Hollywood’s idea of a glamorous spy. I probably looked grotesque.
The White Mouse by Nancy Wake
It had never occurred to me before that two good people could collide like an asteroid and anti-matter – when, in a parallel universe they would have been soul mates. My father, an undisciplined creative spirit with whom we went on bush camping holidays and ate bacon breakfasts, and my mother, as practical and reliable as the morning sun who cooked lines of biscuits in the oven and ensured our homework was complete.
I sometimes wondered how these differences might complement each other, and attract rather than repel. For my parents however neither of these stars became aligned.
So from a young age, my brother and I had two homes. Mum’s house, Dad’s house. Seemed normal really, to pack my bag and go from one to the other.
Life’s Draft by Jonathon Kreeloh
I always wanted more. I never had enough milk or money or socks or sex or holidays or first editions or solitude or gramophone records or free meals or real friends or guiltless pleasure or neckties or applause or unquestioning love or persimmons.
More Please by Barry Humphries
Monday. Morning: Slept. Afternoon: Slept. Evening: Ate grass, scratched. Night: Ate grass. Slept.
Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley
(Australian children’s fiction)
Nothing from the first day I saw her, and nothing that has happened to me since, has ever been as frightening and as confusing, for no person I’ve ever known has ever done more to make me feel more sure, more insecure, more important and less significant.
Summer of ‘42 by Herman Raucher
My brother Jack does not come into the story straight away. Nobody ever does, of course, because a person doesn’t begin to exist without parents and an environment and legendary tales told about ancestors and dark dusty vines growing over outhouses where remarkable insects might always drop out of hidden crevices.
My Brother Jack by George Johnston
(Australian autobiographical novel)
This is what happened.
Before my life started properly, I was doing the usual mewling and sucking, which in my case occurred on a pair of huge, soft black breasts. In the African tradition I continued to suckle for my first two and a half years after which my Zulu wet nurse became my nanny.
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
(Australian autobiographical fiction)
A cart drove between the two stringybarks and stopped. These were the dominant trees in that part of the bush, rising above the involved scrub with the simplicity of true grandeur. So the cart stopped, grazing the hairy side of a tree, and the horse, shaggy and stolid as the tree, sighed and took root.
The man who sat in the cart got down. He rubbed his hands together, because already it was cold, a curdle of cold cloud in a pale sky, and copper in the west. On the air you could smell the frost.
The Tree of Man by Patrick White
The Alexander, with its cargo of convicts, had bucked over the face of the ocean for the better part of a year. Now it had fetched up at the end of the earth. There was no lock on the door of the hut where William Thornhill, transported for the term of his natural life in the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and six, was passing his first night in His Majesty’s penal colony of New South Wales. There was hardly a door, barely a wall: only a flap of bark, a screen of sticks and mud. There was no need of lock, of door, of wall: this was a prison whose bars were ten thousand miles of water.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
There is no way, unless you have unusual self-control, of disguising the expression on your face when you first meet a dwarf. It brings out the curious child in us to encounter one of these little people. Since Billy Kwan added to his oddity by being half Chinese, it was just as well that we met in the darkness of the Wayang Bar. My attention was drawn to Kwan’s arrival by Wally O’Sullivan, a correspondent for a Sydney daily.
The Year of Living Dangerously by Christopher Koch
The first thing I did this morning was visit the chickens. Archie had already given them the kitchen scraps, so I leaned over the fence and scattered handfuls of layer pellets. As always, they fussed and squabbled as if they’d never been fed before and never would be again. Then I opened the gate and went to the laying boxes, where they crowded into one corner, although there was plenty of room. There were three clean eggs: two brown, one white. Not so long ago I could tell which chicken had laid which egg. Now sometimes I couldn’t even remember their names.
The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide
A child, wide-eyed, ran up to the gate of a cottage in the Australian bush. Soldiers in khaki were marching along the dirt road between the gum trees.
‘Where’s your mum, Snow?’ asked the stranger, limping to the gate.
‘Inside,’ the little boy answered, eyes fixed on the first gun he had ever seen.
A Life of Extremes by Jeff McMullen
He was big, greasy and drunk. I couldn’t tell, as he shambled towards me with an almost empty flagon of cheap port in his large fist, whether his intentions were friendly or hostile.
I was new to the bike scene, but had learned already that you could never predict what reaction you’d get when you first made contact with a group of outlaw bikers. I stood there under the street lamps only too conscious of my leathers, still shiny from the shop, and my own club colours emblazoned on my back. God’s Squad, Melbourne they read in mock gothic script.
On the Side of the Angels by Rev. John Smith
(Australian memoir from the founder of God’s Squad)
I open my eyes and don’t know where I am or who I am. Not all that unusual – I’ve spent half my life not knowing. Still, this feels different. This confusion is more frightening. More total.
I look up. I’m lying on the floor beside the bed. I remember now. I moved from the bed to the floor in the middle of the night. I do that most nights. Better for my back. Too many hours on a soft mattress causes agony. I count to three, then start the long, difficult process of standing . . . I’m a young man, relatively speaking. Thirty-six. But I wake as if ninety-six.
Open by Andre Agassi
In the early nineties (it might have been 1992, but it’s hard to remember when you’re having a good time) I joined a rock-and-roll band composed mostly of writers.
On Writing by Stephen King
5.30 a.m. I woke before Joan and sat up in the bed. From across Marrakech I heard the wavering cry of the muezzins calling people to prayer over the loudspeakers. I still hadn’t written to Holly and Sam, so I tore a page out of my notebook and wrote them a letter in case I didn’t return.
Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson
The silence, that’s what strikes you when you play on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. You bounce the ball soundlessly up and down on the soft turf; you toss it up to serve; you hit it and you hear the echo of your own shot. And every shot after that.
Rafa – My Story by Rafael Nadal with John Carlin