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

finding himself.

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

teachers’ notes.

Central Ideas

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

collective responsibility.

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

unselfish love?

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

and loving.



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 in A 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



Clive Staples:

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).



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?



Also 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



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

about us?

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 Scenes

Josh betrays Clive and misreads Clive’s intentions regarding the objects in the

suitcase (p79).

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 Sodre Imagining 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

happiness (p9)

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?



James 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 References

It 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.



The 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.

Family secrets

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

family changed?

‘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

that time?


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


Humanism/Humanist Philosophers

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 see The 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.

Further reading


Aidan Chambers Now I Know

Ben Jeapes New World Order

Paul Morgan The Pelagius Book

Values/Affluent Society

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

Riley (picturebook)

Being good

Amelie (film)

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

Lost Property

Shaun Tan The Lost Thing (picturebook)









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