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What inspires a group of men from Brisbane to Hobart and all places in between to converge upon a remote lake in the Victorian Highlands? A book club: Tough Guy Book Club.

It was fifteen minutes into the Grand Final long weekend and the sound of the first axe to stick in the target drew many to the scene of the feat. Forty-five men were engaged in various pursuits in this moment; some had formed a fireman’s chain to build a campfire, others were catching up with mates from the previous year’s camp, and a small group had taken to axe-throwing.

Held annually, the camp is a chance for the self-described ‘goons’ to catch up with interstate members and the opportunity to discuss the camp book: Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan.

Envisaged as a ‘Fight Club for your Mind’ by founder Shay Leighton, the first rule of book club is that it’s okay to talk about book club. The second rule of book club is you do not talk about work. “We want the goons to open up to discussion, and bridge some of the social divides like age and politics without falling into the traps of talking about work,” says Mr Leighton. “It’s a chance to be yourself instead of your job.”

After spotting a flyer inside a second-hand book shop, Steve Bruce has been attending the Footscray chapter of Tough Guy Book Club since 2016, finding that the ‘tough guys’ were unlike those he had envisaged. “What surprised me was their willingness to share thoughts and opinions with such honesty, it definitely wasn’t the tough guys I had in mind.”

“We embrace our literary tough guys, we read Ernest Hemingway every July to commemorate his life,” says Mr Bruce. “What made me return after that first month was the chance to discuss To Kill A Mockingbird; Harper Lee encapsulates all that is good within Atticus Finch and the writes with intrigue and tenderness the characters of Boo and Scout, it was a popular choice amongst the goons.” There is a strong sense of community shared amongst the ‘goons’. All Tough Guy Book Club chapters meet at their local pub, there are no joining fees the only costs associated are the price of the book and whatever you drink on the night. There is little encouragement needed for members to visit other chapters. The community includes a Facebook ‘pool hall’ where the interstate and international members (Yes there is a chapter in the USA) share quotes and thoughts of each month’s book.

When asked what Tough Guy Book Club means to him Mr Bruce pauses and smiles, “I feel like I’m a part of something bigger, I’ve met guys here that I’m proud to call mates.”

Tough Guy Book Club – first Wednesday of the month at: Bar Josephine, Footscray and Customs House, Williamstown

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