Luke Davies, writer of Lion, features on Australian Story.
Luke Davies, writer of Lion, features on Australian Story. ABC

‘Hard to remember the wedding’

WHEN his father Brian asked him how he "really" was, Luke Davies wordlessly exposed his forearm from wrist to elbow the reveal the maze of track marks and bruises that are the hallmark of the heroin addict.

With the clarity of a junkie 27 years "clean", the Oscar-nominated screenwriter, poet and novelist frankly admits that moment more than three decades ago he was aiming for shock effect.

But it wasn't a cry for help. Not for his addiction, anyway.

This was pure manipulation. He did need help ... to finance his next hit.

"How my Dad found out was just shameful," Davies, the writer of acclaimed Australian film Lion (and Candy before it) tells ABC's Australian Story tonight.

"The shame lies in the fact that all you're doing is acting out a problem in order to be given money and run up an urgent sense of emergency."

Basically, Luke owed his dealer money.

Of course his father, Brian, who remembers it as "one of the most dreadful nights of my life", bailed him out.

“A junkie is not just a nice person going through a rough trot,” Davies tells Australian Story.
“A junkie is not just a nice person going through a rough trot,” Davies tells Australian Story. ABC

Mission accomplished, in the mind of the junkie, "giving me licence to start again", Davies says.

The admissions come during a bruising first instalment of a two-part Australian Story charting his rise from the depths of addiction to walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards this year at the age of 54 with the film writing world at his feet thanks to Lion.

Davies has never been shy about admitting his six-plus wild years of drug use - indeed he chronicled it in his 1998 novel Candy, which he adapted for the 2006 film of the same name starring Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish.

Which is not to say he in anyway sugar-coats what he was as an addict throughout university and well into his 20s.

"A junkie is not just a nice person going through a rough trot. I was an a***hole. I was a bad person," he says.

"I became a horrible person whose self-interest was absolute."

In the early days he'd make a half-hearted attempts to stop, returning to the family home to sweat and detox in his childhood bed. He stopped going when his mother, a nurse, said after he'd leave she'd strip the sheets and they smelt of people dying in hospital.


His father, he says "got smart quick".

"He was like 'you're not the old you. You're a horrible person and I'm not helping you any more'," Davies says.

The biggest rift came when Davies and his girlfriend and fellow-addict, artist Megan Bannister, systematically sold his father's collection of first edition books to fund their habit.

They told the dealer his father had died.

It remains one of the "great poisonous reservoirs of guilt in the pit of my stomach that has never gone away and probably never will", Davies says.

Speaking for the first time publicly about the toll Davies' addiction took on the family, Brian says "it was the last straw as far as close contact was concerned".

"I was angry about the books. But one gets angry and stops being angry," he tells his son.

"The anger I never discarded was the anger that you spent nine years in the way that you spent them."

It's unflinching stuff.


Equally unflinching is Bannister, who rekindled her friendship with Davies in the wake of Candy, the book which chronicles their love, and shared drug spiral.

"When Davies fell in love with her he was addicted to heroin. Before long, she was too.

"It took me years to realise we collided because we were so damaged and out of control. The reckless abandonment and the wildness was so intoxicating," Davies says.

“God, the damage and the mayhem that we caused”: Luke Davies and Megan Bannister.
“God, the damage and the mayhem that we caused”: Luke Davies and Megan Bannister. ABC

"We were like flamboyant train wrecks heading towards becoming desiccated street junkies.

"God, the damage and the mayhem that we caused."

Bannister, giving her account of those years on camera for the first time, says she doesn't blame Davies for introducing her to heroin.

"It would have happened anyway. If it hadn't been him it would have been someone else."

They married in a Melbourne registry office in a heroin haze.

"We used so much it's a bit hard to remember the wedding," Megan says.

"I remember Luke looking really the worse for wear."

The downward spiral continued: stealing, lying, exchanging sex for money: "live through those years and every day is just a scramble and scam to survive", Davies says.

Two miscarriages weren't enough to stop using, more, says Davies "they were an excuse to continue on as junkies".


Back in Sydney, Bannister had a nervous breakdown and called it quits on drugs, and ultimately, Davies.

"I was so frightened of using again because I associated it with the madness and I just said 'Luke I can't be around if you're going to use again, I'm going to leave'," she says.

"And he did … of course he did. that's what heroin addicts do." She left, and drove home to Melbourne.

By now, Davies was addicted to methadone, reduced to begging friends for $12 to fund an extra dose.

When he rang Megan she replied: "I'll lend it to you but what's the point, you're just gonna need it again in a few days anyway. Why don't you go to detox?"

On January 2, 1990, Davies packed two pairs of socks, underpants and a t-shift and shuffled into a detox unit.

Eventually he started to "feel his writing hand again".

First poems. Then Candy. Ultimately, Lion. the focus of a bidding war the second it was shown in Cannes, netted him a BAFTA Award, and saw him take his mum as his plus-one on the Oscars red carpet.

"I put her through long periods of betrayal and anxiety and pain - pure pain," he says.

"The ability to say, "Mum, I want you to be my plus one at the Oscars," that felt pretty special."

Part two of Australian Story - Luke Davies: Candy airs at 8pm next Monday on ABC. Part one is on ABC iview now.