In Apollo and Thelma, broadcaster and lawyer Jon Faine shares a yarn that has enthralled him for forty years, taking him from Melbourne’s depression-era slums to the isolation of the outback.
Apollo and Thelma have been a constant in Jon Faine’s life for decades. As a young lawyer, he was captivated by his favourite client, the Mighty Apollo, a legendary strongman and circus star, famous for pulling trams with his teeth and having an elephant stand on him. Apollo’s sister, Thelma, on the other hand, ruthless and rugged, had survived decades running solo one of the most remote pubs in the outback until unexpectedly dying, leaving behind a complicated estate.
Befriending Apollo and immersing himself in Thelma’s estate, Jon is forced to untangle a long line of astonishing stories and episodes in our distant and recent history that keep intersecting with his own. Via the circuitous route of these two larger-than-life characters – alongside a supporting cast of characters from the world of politics, law, literature and media – Jon reflects on their stories and is inevitably forced to rethink his own.
Read some great reviews from two book clubs here:
What an interesting book and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. As a fan of Jon Faine and his radio career, I often found myself listening to him read me the story. This sounds bizarre but his language and his choice of words mimic his radio appeal. The story is a story within itself. You learn about the Mighty Apollo and Thelma alongside learning about the journey Jon Faine has had with his career. If you are a fan of the ABC talkback host, you will be a fan of this book. Leanne, VIC, 5 Stars
I didn’t really know what to expect when I was handed a copy of Apollo and Thelma. However, after reading the first chapter I was hooked. Jon writes with a beautiful flair for words, quickly gathering up the reader and taking them with him to witness, enjoy and marvel at the rollercoaster of his life. His research is thorough and he treats his clients and their families with compassion and understanding resulting in a truly uplifting story. Very cleverly entwined with the fascinating saga of Apollo, the legendary and allegedly strongest man in the world and his sister Thelma who single-handedly owned and ran an outback pub in the middle of NT is the shocking and eye-opening history of the inhumane treatment of Aboriginal people. I do hope this book will encourage others to read, accept and possibly research further into a period of history that we should all be ashamed of. It is up to all of us to right the wrongs of the past. Jon Faine has certainly inspired me to do my part to help repair the damage that not only white settlers have caused but sadly, the racist behaviour that still continues today. Amanda, VIC, 4.5 Stars
Part memoir, part meander through the changing times – and attitudes – of the last 100 years of Australian history, this was an enjoyable read filled with a cast of memorable characters. Jon Faine shapes his narrative around the elusive life stories of ‘The Mighty Apollo’ and his sister Thelma, whose story he first encounters as a fresh, young lawyer just starting out in his career. Moving seamlessly from corporate Melbourne of the 1980s to the remote 1940s NT outback, we journey with Jon as he pursues the ‘true’ story of reclusive outback publican Thelma and fame-seeking strongman Apollo. Along the way, Jon himself grows and matures and his life story intersects over and over again with that of Thelma and Apollo as he details their place in our contemporary past. Jon addresses the shame of the colonial white history he was taught in school, and overcoming his own discomfort, confronts the realities of racism and ongoing injustices in the treatment of First Nations people. In part, his book is a plea to all Australians to confront and to learn about our shared history. Kate, ACT, 4 Stars
Jon Faine’s latest release is an engaging experience for readers interested in the quirky nature of our great land: Australia. An Aussie story of a couple from a bygone era captures hearts, and is described with a sense of humility and humour. The Aussie Larrikin spirit is captured on the pages as Faine describes his early days as a lawyer and pieces together the lives of two members of Aussie society in different landscapes. The candid and scenic glimpse into a lifestyle experienced in the Top End captures the reader’s imagination, and is worthy of critique. The development of the plot is interesting for southern audiences as the vastness of the landscape and remoteness of relationships is harnessed in the compelling tale. The characters that Faine meets along the way add to the charm and mystique of the prose. The incidental characters that shape the narrative add to the story with authenticity and a sense of nationalism. The addition of primary sources from the research adds a historical element to the piece of Australian folklore. A valuable contribution to Australian contemporary literature is found in this tall story. Joanna, VIC, 4 Stars
Jon Faine’s Apollo and Thelma recalls a will case he worked on as a baby lawyer soon after graduating. Apollo was a famous strongman and gym owner in Melbourne and Thelma was his sister who died suddenly at her outback home of Top Springs where she ran the only business – a pub and general supplier. I enjoyed entering the lives of these typical yet extraordinary Australians and the various side plots as Faine travelled and dug to unearth their secrets, motivations, relationships and tribulations. I’ve never met a strongman or an outback publican, and I’ve met very few lawyers, and now I’ve made the acquaintance of all three. Beata, VIC, 4 Stars
The book delves into the lives of the famous “Mighty Apollo” and his elusive sister Thelma Hawkes. Jon Faine is representing Apollo’s sons after their aunt suddenly passed away, leaving behind a complicated estate. Herein lies an intricate tale about the remote outback pub that Thelma ran in Top Springs NT and retells of Apollo’s extraordinary feats of strength, earning him the honourable title of “Australia’s Indestructible Man of Steel”. The memoir also reflects upon the story of Jon’s life, recounting his last 40 years working as a lawyer and presenter for ABC radio and television. He meets a posse of characters from the world of politics, law, media and literature as he uncovers the tales of Apollo and Thelma. Jon dedicates a chapter to the story of the Wave Hill walk-off and the plight of the Gurindji people, revealing the atrocities committed against our First Nations peoples. Rarely a genre I would choose to read, yet Jon is a talented author and I was drawn into the tapestry of events and issues he artfully wove into his own life story. Recommended to those interested in law, politics and discovering the truth behind the enigmatic life of the Mighty Apollo. Anita, ACT, 3.5 Stars
Apollo and Thelma is not a book that l would normally pick up to read. However, the idea of “a true tall tale” intrigued me, and it did not disappoint. The ease and flow that Jon Faine created due to his extensive research is evident in the extraordinary written tale. I particularly loved reading the astonishing feats of Apollo, his rise and fall of being the Mighty Apollo and the heartbreak he and his sons indulged, the harsh reality for Thelma and her life as a publican in Top Springs and the uncomfortable reflection on Australian and indigenous rights and culture the book provokes. Kristy, ACT, 3.5 Stars
In Apollo and Thelma, Jon Faine shares a fascinating tale of Australian characters with larger than life personalities and interconnecting stories. The portrayal of “The Mighty Apollo”, his strength, drive, determination and achievements were fascinating to explore. His sister Thelma, possessed a strength of a different kind, her passing and settlement of estate proved to be a complex and interesting tale. Having heard Jon on the radio it was interesting to better understand the origins of his working life as a solicitor on this case. The portrayal of characters, outback Australia and struggles of the time, including political and social change were interwoven to provide a broader context to this interesting story. Amy, VIC, 3.5 Stars
Apollo and Thelma is uniquely Australian. The story moves between three distinct lives which have connections at various points. The struggle and simple joys of 1940s working class, the harsh reality of outback life, and the often-cruel history of Australia are all explored. At times it is difficult to maintain the thread of the narrative, however the book offers interest to a wide audience interested in glimpsed perspectives of recent Australian life and history. Karen, ACT, 3.5 Stars
Apollo and Thelma combines biography, autobiography and true story into one book. Jon Faine shares his journey from law student through to media personality, combining with it a legal case involving Apollo (a strongman) and sister Thelma (a NT outback publican). Weaving into this story are Jon’s reflections on Indigenous rights and history. Themes contained within the book include fame versus fortune, truthfulness and human rights. I didn’t know much about Jon Faine or Apollo and Thelma prior to the book so I found these local stories an interesting read. There are a range of colour and black and white images that accompany the text. Based on the images contained within the text I thought that there may have been more chapters about Indigenous rights and history. Overall, this is a surprising read as looking at the cover the assumption is this is a book about Thelma and Apollo, but it is much more than a story of two siblings. This would be a good read for anyone who is interested in Australian biographies and autobiographies. I rate it 3.5 stars, because it is not normally a book I would gravitate towards, but I appreciated the story told within the pages. Megan, VIC, 3.5 Stars
This true tale was quite eye opening and at times very enjoyable to read. I loved hearing about the different characters that made this book very interesting. The legal case for the Will was at times stale but the stories that accompanied it were great to read. Well done Jon Faine!! Narelle, ACT, 3 Stars
I loved the fact that this book was written by an Australian author. The story of Apollo and Thelma told through his eyes, interactions, stories and research from the depression era in Melbourne and then to the far outback was interesting. I had not heard of Apollo and his strongman feats or of his sister Thelma. I can only imagine what it would have been like living through that time. I recommend this book to those people who lived through the 1950’s and 60’s in Melbourne who can visualise more clearly the suburbs during that era and outback Australia. This would bring the story more to life. Leanne, ACT, 3 Stars
Jon has been a lawyer, an ABC presenter, a radio host and an author. ‘Apollo and Thelma’ documents Jon’s many jobs and stages of his life, while also shedding light on one of his first ever legal cases, that of strongman Apollo and his sister Thelma, the female publican of a remote pub in Top Springs, Darwin. The story of the siblings follows Jon over his forty years. He progressively collects facts and character references that highlight the fame Apollo held and his unique contribution to Australian showbiz, as well as Thelma’s controlling actions on the people of the remote outback. Jon shares stories recounting his involvement in legal events that changed history, the effect of political leaders on society and Australia’s neglect, racist attitudes and behaviour towards our Indigenous people. An insightful look into Australia’s unknown history that would probably suit an older audience. Priscilla, ACT, 3 Stars
Apollo and Thelma is a well-written novel that was easy to engage with. Faine speaks about his early adult life and quickly delves into the story of Thelma and her far-from-normal life working as a publican in Top Springs, Northern Territory and how he came upon her story, via that of her brother Paul; otherwise known as Apollo. The story of Apollo and Thelma, however, was seemingly more a story about Jon Faine with the recurring theme of Apollo and Thelma’s life. The author does acknowledge early in the story that he must recount his own life to aptly speak to that of Apollo and Thelma’s, however, the most interesting character in the story, Thelma, was the least spoken about character in the novel. A lot of interesting themes were written about and perhaps could have been investigated further. Not being aware that I was engaging with an in-depth look at Law and Media within Australia, it is perhaps not what I would normally read and was dry in some parts but overall was still an interesting read. Kate, ACT, 2 Stars