Jim's tales of hotels and heroin

WHAT is hospitality? Is it just food and drink and shelter, or philosophically, is it much more than that?

A man who has thought deeply about hospitality is Jim Hearn, Lismore author of High Season, launching today (Thursday, July 5) at Southern Cross University.

Jim's well placed to consider the many faces of hospitality, having worked for many years as a chef - the book is a memoir of his years as a Sydney cook, and later working at the upmarket Rae's on Wategos in Byron Bay.

But Jim has also inhabited the inhospitable world of heroin addiction. His book is subtitled "a memoir of heroin and hospitality".

He's been clean for years now, and since his years as Rae's head chef has studied for a BA and gained first-class honours in his Master's degree as a creative writer at SCU. He's now writing a PhD through the University of Technology, Sydney, working on a thesis called Technologies of Transformation: Trangression, Addiction and Hospitality.

High Season is a romp of a read, starting with the day Paris Hilton and her entourage turn up unannounced for lunch at Rae's. As the story unfolds, we get an up-close and personal look at Jim and his teams of cooks and kitchen-hands in this and previous kitchens where he has worked, including the years trying to hold down jobs in Sydney while struggling with a compelling heroin addiction.

As he tells the stories of his times, there is an underlying theme throughout the book of serious reflections on hospitality, what we mean by it, why we need it, and how we give, or take, it.

"Essentially, hospitality is a relationship between a host and a guest," he tells me as we sip coffee at a Lismore cafe.

"We in the west struggle with the value of hospitality in the social domain, tending to think of it just as an industry.

"It's one of the paradoxes of wealth.

"The poorest people I've met on my travels have been the most freely hospitable, whether it's Indigenous people here or people in third-world countries.

"Rich people want to buy hospitality and be the boss of their experience.

"If you're poor, you truly understand the bottom line is food, drink and a place to sleep - the most important things, especially if you don't have access to them.

"Beyond that, it's an ethic: how do we deal with the univited guest? It's about talking with people, hanging out in social spaces and sharing stories - the intrinsic values of hospitality.

"Even if I can't speak your language, I know your body has the same needs as mine, and your family's needs are the same as my family's needs."

Jim's family's needs - he's married with two boys, aged 9 and 11 - have shaped his recent years to the degree that he has continued to work now and then as a chef on the Northern Rivers to support them, while studying and writing High Season, his first book.

He's also written five original screenplays, and worked on scripts for Chopper and an adaptation of Andrew McGahan's novel, Last Drinks.

High Season is published by Allen and Unwin.

It's being launched this evening at the Co-Op Bookshop, SCU, at 5.30pm.

There'll be drinks and nibbles; the book will be on sale and Jim will sign copies of it.

All are welcome.

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