By Gerald MurnaneNon-fictionText Publishing

Something for the Pain

As a boy, Gerald Murnane became obsessed with horse racing. He had never ridden a horse, nor seen a race. Yet he was fascinated by photos of horse races in the Sporting Globe, and by the incantation of horses’ names in radio broadcasts of races. Murnane discovered in these races more than he could find in religion or philosophy: they were the gateway to a world of imagination. 

Gerald Murnane is like no other writer, and Something for the Pain is like no other Murnane book. In this unique and spellbinding memoir, he tells the story of his life through the lens of horse racing. It is candid, droll and moving – a treat for lovers of literature and of the turf.

Portrait of Gerald Murnane

Gerald Murnane

Gerald Murnane was born in Melbourne in 1939. He has been a primary teacher, an editor and a university lecturer. His debut novel, Tamarisk Row (1974), was followed by nine other works of fiction, including The Plains now available as a Text Classic, and most recently A Million Windows. In 1999 Murnane won the Patrick White Award and in 2009 he won the Melbourne Prize for Literature. He lives in western Victoria.

Judges’ report

Something for the Pain is classic Gerald Murnane: eccentric, intriguing, and moving in a deeply tectonic way. Consisting of chapters that each reflect differently on the author’s love of – nay, obsession with – horseracing, and jumping back and forth in time, this kind-of-autobiography is a corner piece in the jigsaw of Murnane’s oeuvre.

In his distinctive droll and candid style, Murnane introduces us to many colourful identities, including family members, racetrack personalities and, as never so richly before in his non-fiction, himself. We hear from Murnane the son, the husband, the teacher, the punter, and the creator of fantasy lands in which imagined horses race around imaginary tracks. We find out how, why and when horseracing for him replaced religion; we see through his eyes the first time he beheld a jockey’s colours; we are there by his side when his wife and fellow racegoer is leaving his life for the next.

Through the lens of one person’s obsession, readers are shown the world in all its simplicity and all its complexity. The judges applaud the work for its uniqueness, its honesty, and the integrity with which the author deals with his subject: himself – a person who is none of us, and yet is all of us too.


The human voice is a marvellous instrument, and the ear that interprets it is hardly less so. I seem to have learned during my first days as a listener to race broadcasts that a caller is sometimes able to signal to his listeners, even when the field is a hundred metres or more from the winning post, that one or another horse will almost certainly win. In some such races the likely winner may have broken clear from the rest; in many a race it may be some distance behind the leaders but gaining noticeably. Whatever the situation, the caller is able to utter the relevant name with such emphasis that his listeners are spared any further suspense. In the dusty backyard, I was often unable to make out a single name but still able to detect the emphatic utterance that signalled in advance the result of a race and to hope that the name thus emphasised was one that I would have deemed worthy.

Driving alone nowadays and hearing reports of the progress of horses unknown to me, I often choose from a number of names the one that most appeals to me. I then suppose myself to be one of the owners of the horse so named or to have backed it to win a large sum. Then I listen intently, hoping to heard my chosen name uttered with the certain emphasis that I learned, nearly seventy years ago, to recognise. On one such occasion recently, the invisible horse that I aligned myself with had a name that appealed to me greatly but the horse itself was always toiling at the rear, to use one of the many stock expressions of race callers and racing journalists.

Even as a dreaming child, I had no wish to be a caller of races. I must have understood that I could never be cool enough or impartial enough during the running of a race to be able to report its developments accurately. And yet, I’ve been for most of my life moved often to hear in mind or to whisper under my breath or even, sometimes when alone, to deliver aloud a few phrases or a single word from a broadcast of some or another race never yet run on earth. I was thus moved on the occasion mentioned above, after the horse with the appealing name had finished among the tailenders. I was driving at the time on a back road with bitumen wide enough for only one vehicle. I would have felt at liberty to express myself not just once but several times, except that I saw from the rear-vision mirror that a huge truck was close behind me. Apparently I had slowed down while I was preoccupied with racing matters, and the driver of the truck was now anxious for me to get back to the speed limit or to pull over into the gravel and let him pass.

I saw just then a signpost ahead on the left and I flicked on my left-side blinker. The road that I turned into was of gravel and overhung with trees. I guessed that it led towards the Little Desert but the paddocks on either side were well grassed and dotted with sheep. I found a place wide enough for a safe U-turn and stopped. I wound down the driver’s-side window. I listened at first to the profound silence. Then I drew a deep breath and cried out once only what I had been urged for some time past to cry out. Then I watched perhaps a dozen sheep on the far side of the fence lift their heads and stare in my direction. I waited until every sheep had resumed its grazing and then I cried out again—not to the sheep but to the ideal listeners in the ideal world that I first postulated nearly seventy years ago when I first heard a disembodied voice cry out with significant emphasis some such name as Something for the Pain.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist