‘I slept with it at night’: Brendan Cowell on the skateboard he lost and the beauty of boxing gloves

·4-min read

For his new book, Brendan Cowell returned home. Plum, Cowell’s second novel, is set in Cronulla, the Sydney suburb he grew up in. It tells the story of Peter “The Plum” Lum, a 48-year-old ex-NRL player who is at a crisis point in life. Like much of Cowell’s work, it’s an examination of Australian masculinity and what it takes to be a decent human being.

Since his Cronulla days, Cowell has worked both in Australia and in London across film, TV and theatre. He penned the Belvoir St Theatre production Ruben Guthrie, later adapting it for the screen, and starred in and wrote for the acclaimed TV series Love My Way. A few years back you may have spotted him in Game of Thrones, and recently he’s been busy voicing a role in the upcoming Avatar sequel, set for release in 2022.

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The actor-slash-writer has a prized memento from his time working on that Hollywood blockbuster: a Māori patu (a type of jade club) given to him by director James Cameron. Here he explains why that gift feels so significant, as well as the story of a few other cherished personal belongings.

What I’d save from my house in a fire

I’d grab a small wooden block that I’ve had since I was seven and take everywhere with me. My nan gave me this innocuous, thin wooden block and I wrote “Brendan Cowell’s Block” on it, and for some reason it gives me power. Possibly because it makes me think of [my nan] Ettie Claire and how mad and fun she was, and how she was always saying how I wasn’t famous enough and should be in the paper more.

I’d also bring the aqua crochet blanket that I’ve had with me since I was five. God, have I grown up yet? But honestly, I’d probably grab my Māori patu first, which is a short-handled club made of jade stone that I have hanging above my work desk. James Cameron gave it to me when I started on Avatar and it’s really cool. We share the same birthday and my family had flown over to New Zealand then, so they were there when he gave it to me at dinner. Warrior strength.

My most useful object

My Cleto Reyes red 16 oz boxing gloves. The height of Mexican craftsmanship, these sleek, goatskin leather things are light but pack a punch. I bought these in London, where I spent four years training three days a week at Clay O’Shea’s boxing gym in Westbourne Park. I have incredible memories learning from him. Boxing and that club was a big reason why I did well in the UK. I had those geezers around me and it was a sort of family.

Boxing is the great equaliser. Everybody is the same in the ring, the loneliest place in the world. And it’s just got so little to do with hitting and thuggery; it’s all about balance, and style beats style. You can do well against one person and lose to the next. Then the one you beat will beat the one you lost to. It’s fascinating and it’s a beautiful thing to have at the centre of your life. And it’s useful to know how to box because if you can box then for some reason you don’t end up getting in many fights, and that is a godsend for me these days.

The item I most regret losing

When I was 14, I was psycho for skateboarding. Powell Peralta was life and after much begging and some shifts on the paper run, I’d gathered enough coin to buy myself a Mike Caballero deck with Indy trucks and Cockroach wheels. Clear grip tape. The board was sick and it was gnarly and I slept with it at night. Stroking it. Seriously, there are photos of me sleeping with this board. At a party in year 9, I was distracted by this girl Nicole I was chasing, so I left the board in the garage and went on a journey with her down this incline to the water. When I came back up some knob had swiped it. It hurt a lot.

I also took a Moleskine book backpacking with me in 2001 and over the three months, I wrote a poem in it every day. About wherever we woke up or the train ride or the crazy night we just had. I left that on the Eurostar somewhere between Barcelona and Berlin. I wish I could read those poems out in a pub now and see who was in there. Then ride home on my skateboard.

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