Teachers Notes for Lost Property
A Novel by James Moloney
Published by Penguin, 2006
Notes by Pam Macintyre
Josh, who has just finished year eleven, has a holiday job in the Lost Property
Office at Central Railway Station, Sydney. Routine you would think, but lost items
can represent more than their physical value, and for Josh, they represent
widening his knowledge of the human condition. Josh is seventeen, and
superficially, has an easy, routine, materialistically comfortable life: he attends a
private school, plays in a band comprised of good mates, has an attractive
girlfriend who is keen to take the relationship further, and is supported by a loving
family. However, it is gradually revealed that this is a family that is only appearing
to be holding itself together, but is covering for the absence of one of its
members – each member is pretending in their own way.
Also, the spiritual faith that has provided the core of Josh’s family’s and his world,
and the Sunday routines that accompany it, can no longer give his life purpose:
he doesn’t believe anymore. What replaces faith? Josh (unknowingly) displaces
this personal quest by going in search of his brother, Michael, who, after
rebellious acts, was forced to leave home by his father two years earlier. No one
knows Michael’s whereabouts, and during his occasional phone call home, he
will only speak to Josh. A serendipitous event at the Lost Property Office
precipitates Josh’s quest - under the guise of a holiday with friends - to bring
Michael home. However, Josh is in for a few surprises when he meets up with
Michael in Mackay, and the focus of the story shifts from finding Michael, to
The following ideas are suggestions for exploring this text, though it is not
anticipated that all areas would be looked at, neither are the aspects highlighted
seen as sequential.
Reading commentators such as Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer reminds us
that young adults’ enjoyment and interpretation of literature come from their
repertoire of knowledge and literary strategies being activated by the books they
read, and by dialogue with others (The Pleasures of Children’s Literature. 3rd
ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2003, pp53-54). It is this approach, that of suggesting
ways of thinking about the novel, and discussion of ideas, that motivate these
Consider that this is perhaps a book of, and for our times. We are an affluent
society, which has come to measure individual, corporate and political success in
terms of material wealth and power, and which admires individualism rather than
•This book asks us to consider alternative values – what makes us ‘good’?
•Is there such a thing as altruism?
•What is the nature of love? Is Dad’s act of setting Michael ‘free’ an act of
•Can we make amends for hurting others?
•Moloney doesn’t spell out all the answers for us and our responses will
differ according to who we are and how we view the world – and the kept
family secrets symbolise this. For example, is Michael selfish and
immature? How does Phil balance his son’s needs against his wife’s?
•The first chapter is a ‘parable’, if you like, of the woman and the lost
brooch whose only value is sentimental and emotional. Why do you think
Moloney has opened with this scene? Does it have greater significance
once you have finished reading the book?
•Kelly is a character who, as well as being appealing and acting with
agency, symbolises another important value in the book. For example,
Josh surprises himself (p213-4) when he tells Michael that Kelly is
beautiful. Then he reflects that rather than mere physical attractiveness,
Kelly’s beauty stems from her being happy with her life and being loved
Perhaps a good place to start in terms of exploring the novel’s central ideas
would be with the title. Students could be invited to consider all its reflections in
the story, perhaps beginning with the Lost Property Office itself, and what Josh
learns there that shifts him outside the safe, comfortable home and school life
that has thus far been his world.
This is terrific book for examination as there are few clear cut situations: Moloney
does not deal in moral absolutes and we the readers are invited to make up our
minds about the characters, their motivations, the effects of their actions.
Moloney has always created memorable characters: think of Carl inA Bridge to
Wiseman’s Cove, Nuala in Touch Me and Dougy and Gracey in the eponymous
Josh:is also a vivid character whose rite-of-passage is affecting and written with
remarkable insight. He comes from a sporting family but is the academic, musical
one. Despite his preference for music, Josh keeps playing football when his
talented brother, Michael, gives it up, because Josh senses his father’s
•While Josh narrates the novel and is acutely aware that life is changing
along with his physical self(‘It was a reminder that my mother was so
much shorter than me’) we are still given others’ views of him. For
example, on page 21 Gemma criticises the band’s sincerity – and Josh’s
angry protest singing.‘Poverty!… A protest against poverty from guys
playing thousand-dollar instruments…’(p20), and Josh acknowledges that
she is right:‘…she’d found me out in a way, shouting things I didn’t
believe into the microphone and pretending things that weren’t part of my
life at all’(pp23-24).
•On page 203 Michael says about Josh, that ‘he doesn’t even drop lolly
papers on the footpath’. Is Michael implying that Josh is too obedient, and
perhaps, a bit self-righteous?
•On page 84 when the rest of the band criticises him, Josh becomes
defensive – what does that tell us about him?
•On page 90 Josh says to Alicia ‘words I thought up just to make her
happy. They were like the lyrics of a song, not really mine and so I wasn’t
responsible for their meaning…I said them for the effect they created.’Is
Josh a shallow person? Or is he comprised of the contradictions that
characterise us all? For example, a few pages later (p101) he gives up
what he wants to do to have a cup of coffee with his clearly distressed
mother. What sort of person is Josh?
•On page 110 Josh puts on an act in the band – it is not what he is feeling.
Consider that one of the problems for Josh is that his life is full of
performances – for the band, for Alicia, for his father, in church (p112). He
calls himself a fraud. Is he?
Dad (Phil Tamling):
is a former rugby star who played for St George. He is well-regarded in the
community and by Josh. He is a ‘good’ man. We learn about him by what others
say about him, and occasional pivotal actions, such as his buying of a Fender
guitar for Josh (p15), which signals his support of his son’s choices. Another
revealing incident is when Josh recollects clearly his father’s heroic actions in
saving Michael’s life (pages 28-31).
•Phil’s strength of character is formidable. How hard would it have been for
him to know where Michael is living, and yet not contact him?
is five years older than Josh and is estranged from his parents, living outside
Sydney. He had almost died from alcohol poisoning when he was 16 and had
been in trouble with the police.
He is the ‘prodigal son’, the ‘wild one’ whose underage drinking and smoking
marijuana at home were designed to deliberately provoke his parents. He
appears to be aimless, and throws in an apprenticeship.
It’s as if there are two Michaels. On page 189 the world Michael has created for
himself is described – the world of work, of mateship between men, a world in
Michael is respected:‘No one had ever held Michael up as a model for me to
emulate before’(p188). Kelly describes him on page 197 as having ‘a kind of
•Michael, after Josh finds him, is a different person from the rebellious and
difficult brother he was at home. Why do you think he had to leave home
to become who he is?
•Like Josh, Michael is composed of contradictions. For example, he is very
self-absorbed and doesn’t understand the cost to his parents of his refusal
to communicate. Josh couldn’t cause his parents that grief – is that
because he’s lived it?
•Is Michael a stereotype with his Commodore, stubbies and thongs?
is slowly collapsing under the heartbreak of losing her son. The description on
pages 209-10 of Michael as a little boy holding up the sun so the day wouldn’t
end for her shows the depth of the relationship and why she is so burdened. Josh
tells Michael that he was always his mother’s special boy – and still is.
thirteen, makes occasional appearances, but is not a major player in the story,
which is essentially about the three males.
However, she is barometer of the state of the family, particularly her mother
Josh describes most of the characters physically (especially Alicia and Gemma!)
but his description of Clive is the most evocative (pp33-34). He is not physically
appealing as described by Josh, but has other qualities: he is sensitive and kind
and can divine when people have lost something dear to them, no matter what
they look like.
•He represents the essential goodness that Josh recognises can exist in
people without a religious faith. For example, on pages 115-116 Clive has
a‘feel for things’ that people will value – is he crazy old man? What
motivates altruism?‘I don’t feel like I’m alive unless I’m doing some good
in the world’(p119).
Alicia• Josh’s girlfriend, who is treated badly by him, isn’t she? It’s her physical
beauty rather than her person that attracts him, isn’t it? (p25-26).
•On page 81 is Josh being patronising about Alicia? Does he really care for
her? What does that make you think about him?
•On page 83 he describes their relationship. Do you think Alicia would be
happy with this description?
GemmaAlso beautiful, but a spirited, independent thinker who challenges the rock band.
Josh is physically attracted to her and also likes sharing ideas with her even
though they disagree on matters of faith
Music• What role does music play in Josh’s life? How important is it to him, and to
have the approval of the other band members?
•On page 108 Gemma says that Josh doesn’t like the singing that the band
want him to do.‘You’re not that kind of singer’. What is she referring to?
•How important is his leaving the band? Is it just to avoid Gemma or does it
represent something more? And why does he go back?
•Is it about changing musical tastes? Do you like the same music that you
liked in grade 6 or year 7/8? What do our changing musical tastes reveal
•On page 247 when Josh is singing the song for himself, it appears that the
song and the singing are cathartic. Josh himself labels it‘a lament, a
confession’. What is lamenting, confessing?
•Does this singing ‘for himself…It was not put on, it wasn’t an act’ signal a
change in Josh himself, not just his way of singing? Is it ironic that singing
for himself connects him with the audience in a way that he hasn’t before?
Gemma’s reaction is that it was‘real’ . What does she mean? Consider
that Josh likens the emotion to that of his dream.
Significant ScenesJosh betrays Clive and misreads Clive’s intentions regarding the objects in the
•What does it tell us about Josh that he sees bad motives in Clive’s
collection of objects, even though he has got to know Clive and has seen
him be insightful and sympathetic? Do you agree with Josh about Clive or
do you think the author is inviting us to see him as jumping to
conclusions? (p80). This links to another crucial scene:
The search on the train (chapter 16).
•Has Josh lost the plot? Is it a moment of epiphany? What is Josh
searching for? James Moloney says of this incident that Josh is unaware
that this frantic, crazy searching is‘metaphoric – that it’s what is lost within
him that he’s searching for’(Viewpoint 13 (4) 2005: p6). What do you
make of Josh’s object gathering? Why do we do crazy things?
Singing the Don Jennings’ song at rehearsal (p245-248).‘It wasn’t put on. It
wasn’t an act’(p247).
•Discuss the significance of the performance and the choice of song. Write
the music, or choose the music that you think will suit the words Josh
sings. Justify your choice. (You might like to know that the original song
was the Beatles’‘You’ve got to hide yourself away’ sung by John Lennon
and covered recently by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam – excluded from the
book for copyright reasons – and given new words by the author). It might
be fun to reveal this after students have written/selected the music
themselves, for comparison. It might also be fruitful to talk about whether
knowing the intended song has an impact on the scene itself, and how
readers respond to it.
Josh’s Dream (p226-7)
•Ignes Sodre tells us that dreaming is ‘the unconscious capacity to create
narratives which represent aspects of the internal world in symbolic
form…a dream is a form of unconscious communication with oneself’(A S
Byatt & Ignes SodreImagining characters, London: Chatto & Windus,
1995: p230). How do you interpret Josh’s dream?
•There are patterns and connections throughout this book and Josh’s
dream might make you think of his train journey home after work when he
reflects on the woman who had found her brooch and the memory of pure
Pages 167-169 Josh is robbed and bashed.
•What is the purpose of this episode? Alone without money, how do you
survive? What would you do?
FaithJames Moloney says about Lost Property ‘…Australian society only ever
whispers the word God, preferably in private between consenting adults…Yet, at
the same time, up to a third of Australia’s young people are educated in schools
professing a religious base and more Australians than not claim belief in some
kind of creator/deity’(Viewpoint 13(4) Summer 2005 p6).
•Do you agree that we are reluctant to talk about God? Why might that be?
Josh’s shift from a position of faith in his Catholic beliefs to non belief is not
sudden, but a gradual process of serious, intellectual contemplation and is
affected by his relationship with his father. For example, he says on page 55 that
he attends church because he doesn’t want to disappoint his Dad who is a
believer. Choosing is not easy. For example, the initial rush of freedom is
replaced by uncertainty –‘But that freedom had taken me further, into the open,
and out here there were no walls and nothing to hang on to’(p72).
•Unlike Alicia, Gemma is prepared to talk to Josh about belief in God, and
offers counter arguments:‘But I like the idea of a God watching over us.
It’s a comfort, especially when something bad happens’(p109). Is that
why people believe?
•Josh asks Gemma ‘Does it make any difference to what you do though,
Gemma?’She replies ‘The things I do each day are just the way I am’
(p110). Do you agree with Gemma?
•Again on page 143 Gemma tries to explain the place of her faith in her life.
But Josh says that religions are just‘trying to make rules to suit their own
view of the world.’Who do you agree with?
•Josh anguishes over his choices: ‘There’s something triumphant in being
so sure of what you believe, or in my case, what I don’t believe….but all
the same I hadn’t counted on mornings like this when an emptiness
opened up inside me despite my rock-solid certainty’(p112). Is it
sometimes just easier to believe?
Biblical ReferencesIt is not drawing a long bow to suggest that this novel has a strong Biblical
parallel with the parable of the prodigal son. Indeed, Moloney himself says‘At
one point Josh steals food from (metaphorical) pigs, like the prodigal son was
forced to do…’(‘Whispering the word’ in Viewpoint, 13 (4) 2005, p6). You might
like to look up the parable of the prodigal son in the Bible in Luke chapter 15.
•Moloney has reworked the Biblical version in several ways. What does
Moloney’s version suggest is the ‘message’ in his version? Consider that
the father’s final words in Luke’s gospel are‘He was lost and is found!’
Consider how he has reversed the older/younger son configuration, and
that the ‘good’ son, is beaten, broken and destitute before he finds his
‘prodigal’ brother, who needs no rescuing at all.
•Also in Luke 15 is the parable of the lost sheep, in which the shepherd
goes in search of the one lost sheep, although he has ninety-nine safe
ones.‘When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing’.
Moloney subverts this doesn’t he, because Josh does not bring the lost
sheep home with him? Michael must make the journey and reconciliation
with his father himself, in his own good time. Consider how this further
confirms Moloney’s themes.
LanguageThe opening paragraph is striking in its imagery and use of simile: ‘…as though
she were a stubborn stone blocking the stream. Her solitary figure seemed
dwarfed by the station’s massive roof…’; ‘the ribcage of rafters’ (p1).
•Discuss why Moloney has chosen this opening scene and how it is an
important introduction to the story.
There are plenty of other examples of rich use of figurative language. Some I
enjoy because of the strong sensuousness and imagery they create are:‘the
words scurried away like cockroaches’(p198); ‘a massive bougainvillea clung to
Michael’s side of the house, crowning the tiny front porch with a headdress of
deep pink’(p191); ‘A lazy breeze sniffed at the nets above our heads…’ (p204);
‘The day was wilting towards sunset as though the languid tropical heat sapped
its energy as much as ours’(p208).
•Find some you like and use them as models for your own writing.
Clive’s suitcase(p121) reveals what people value, and why.
•Can you understand the value of these objects? Or do we generally value
what is monetarily valuable?
•What is precious to you? What would you hate to lose?
On page 204 Michael describes his mother, which doesn’t fit with Josh’s view of
her, or his memories.
•Think about your own family and how different each member’s perceptions
can be of each other, or even of family events.
On pages 130-3 Josh’s father reveals that he had known where Michael was for
a year, but had not told the others, especially his suffering wife.
•Michael and Josh keep Josh’s trip to Mackay a secret from his father.
Why?‘We’ll tell them one day, though, when they’re grown up enough to
handle it’(p265) says Michael about his parents – has the balance in the
•‘Maybe there were some things Mike would find out when he was old
enough to handle them too’(p267). Why does Josh think that Michael
couldn’t deal with the knowledge that his father knew where he was all
The Nature of Love• Is it ‘hard love’ that prompted Phil to ask Michael to go even though he
knew his wife didn’t want him to go? (p135)
•Phil’s love for Michael means knowing he is safe and giving him space.
Does this indicate that his love for his son is greater than his love for his
While this is a book that deals with relationships, it is also a book that deals in
ideas. This can be very appealing to readers who would rather read for, and talk
about ideas than emotional relationships.
Religious belief and humanism are two big ideas that Josh and the book deal
with. Some readers might like to explore these further.
On page 257 Josh tells his Dad about the important moments in his recent
experience – what his faith in God been replaced with. He is presenting his
version of the humanist position:‘I’ve worked out what the soul is, you see. It’s
the good inside us. God or no God, the soul’s a human thing’.
Humanism is an ethos, attitude or way of life centered on human interests or
values, stressing an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization
through reason and other human skills. It usually rejects supernaturalism, but
some religious people consider themselves humanists.
For a more extended definition seeThe Philosophy of Humanism by Corliss
Some readers might like to research more about this school of thought and its
proponents such as Locke, Kant, Hume, Stuart Mill and discover who its
contemporary adherents are.
Consider Josh’s arguments for not believing in a supreme being: p54 Regarding
the universe he says:‘It made far more sense to accept that no intelligent force
had anything to do with it at all – that it just happened.’You might like to pursue
this in relation to the current debate on whether the idea of ‘intelligent design’
should be taught in science or religion classes, or at all.
Quote for Discussion
•P53 ‘God is not something you talk about, certainly not to mates like Dave
and Neven.’Why is God off limits?
•P215 ‘The best things in life are the ones you go out and grab for
yourself’. Do you agree?
•P256 ‘It’s a matter of faith, Josh’. Is this the basic theme of the book?
•P206-7 ‘…we weren’t a patch on our old man, no matter how hard we
tried, we’d never be as good’. What is it like living in the shadow of a
famous father? You might like to research some well-known examples.
•Aidan Chambers Now I Know
•Ben Jeapes New World Order
•Paul Morgan The Pelagius Book
•Scott Westerfeld So Yesterday
•Clive Hamilton and Richard Dennis’s Affluenza: when too much is never
•Colin Thompson & Amy Lissiat The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of
•Being There (film)
•Nick Hornby How to be Good
•Gary Crew and Peter Gouldthorpe First Light (picture book)
•Sonya Hartnett Thursday’s Child
•David Metzenthen Stony Heart Country
•Robert Newton Peck The Day No Pigs Would Die
•Peter Rose Rose Boys
•Maureen McCarthy Flash Jack
•Shaun Tan The Lost Thing (picturebook)
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