Book review: Tales of the Honey Badger

Tales of the Honey Badger by Nick Cummins
Review by Kylie Thompson

Genres: Memoir, comedy, sport

If you’ve never seen the Honey Badger in action, Nick Cummins lives up to the animalistic namesake. He’s charming, adorable, and easy to underestimate until you’re given a chance to see the determined powerhouse beyond the cheeky grin. As a rugby player, he makes you feel damn sorry for his competition.

In interviews, he’s the sporting equivalent of a bush poet, using words playfully while those around him seem too exhausted to go beyond the usual platitudes and clichés. It’s made him a memorable, and popular, addition to the rugby pantheon in Australia.

That verbosity and linguistic playfulness makes for a dynamic and interesting read in the Badger’s memoir, Tales of the Honey Badger. This isn’t the usual dry retelling of a life. It’s a witty and wandering journey through the key moments of the Badger’s journey from middle child to sporting great, with all the boring bits left out.

In memoir, especially those about celebrities, there’s often a move towards exaggerating the positives, and making sure the storyteller looks good for the audience. This isn’t that kind of memoir. Cummins clearly isn’t a fan of that writing style, and the larrikin nature and human-ness of his story make a fun read even more enjoyable.

If, like me, you’re not a huge fan of sport, this is one of the few sporting memoirs for which it really doesn’t matter. You don’t need to adore rugby to enjoy Tales of the Honey Badger. You don’t even need to be a huge fan of Cummin’s career to have this book become a well-loved addition to the book shelf. You’ll get just as much enjoyment out of it if you’re a fan of word play, humour, or Australia’s beloved larrikin spirit.

Tales of the Honey Badger is Australian yarn telling at its modern finest. It’s larger than life, and yet somehow captures perfectly the mischievous childhoods many of us remember fondly. It’s hard not to be drawn in by the exaggerated bravado of an 11 year old boy staring down a dingo and contemplating his options. Or Nick’s father, a larrikin in his own right with a gift for using reverse psychology on his son in the name of the greater good.

The Cummins family are loveable Aussie characters you can’t help but cheer on. But it’s their overarching love for each other that makes the story such an engaging read.

It’s a fine line between emotional and sooky, especially in the world of professional sports, and many sporting memoirists choose to gruffly look away from such moments in their works. Sure, they’ll tell you their family loved and supported them, and that they love their family. But you don’t always get a sense for who the family members really are behind the stone wall of looking manly for the readers.

It’s hard not to like a sporting star who is happy to look emotional in the name of giving his family a well-deserved pat on the back. Cummins is quick to note that the story isn’t just his- his family has shaped his life, and deserve to be shown as the defining influences they are. So while there’s the ever-familiar sibling rivalry at play between Nick and his 7 siblings, the genuine warmth and affection the Badger has for his family makes for a beautiful read.

Tales of the Honey Badger isn’t just another story about rugby. It’s a story about a man with a hilarious and endearing family who just so happens to be a professional sporting star. Cummins has avoided the urge to showcase his celebrity status, shrugging off those golden moments because perfection isn’t as funny as those times when it all goes horribly wrong.

If you’re looking for a fun read free from rugby jargon but filled to overflowing with humour and wit, Tales of the Honey Badger might just be the book you’re looking for.

Tales of the Honey Badger is published by Harper Collins and ABC Books, and is available through the publisher’s website, at the usual physical and online sources.

Rating: 4 and a half stars

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