THE deep and perceptive humanity and compassion of Peter Cundall is evident in whatever he does, and he does a lot, and this was well and truly shown when he launched Richard Flanagan’s book, Wanting, in Launceston last Thursday.

The book-launch venue was packed to overflowing with people, but stillness and silence enveloped the place as Peter talked about the young girl Matthinna.  He told us all how he felt when he looked at the painting of Matthinna, the young girl in the red dress, her bare feet cut off by the picture’s frame to hide them away.

Peter spoke to us about how he wept at the sight of Matthinna’s eyes, the sadness there, the wanting to please, the awful knowledge of her own dehumanisation, of her position as a pet, as a human doll, to be dressed up at a whim by the governor’s wife, and then discarded.

He said much more, all without notes.  He spoke of talking to prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, and of stories which replicated Matthinna’s in those places, where young girls would be “adopted” by female guards, torn from their families, dressed in miniature Nazi uniforms, then discarded and killed, and replaced by new human pets. He spoke of Steinbeck, of re-reading The Grapes of Wrath.  He compared Steinbeck’s prose style and interest in ordinary people and their lives with Richard Flanagan’s.

When he had finished, the warmth of the embrace between Peter Cundall and Richard Flanagan was in itself a picture not to be forgotten.  A picture of strength.

Peter Henning
He said much more, all without notes.  He spoke of talking to prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, and of stories which replicated Matthinna’s in those places, where young girls would be “adopted” by female guards, torn from their families, dressed in miniature Nazi uniforms, then discarded and killed, and replaced by new human pets. He spoke of Steinbeck, of re-reading The Grapes of Wrath.  He compared Steinbeck’s prose style and interest in ordinary people and their lives with Richard Flanagan’s.