Peter, Gough and Manning in “The Oz” today

15 Nov

I refer to the Weekend Australian’s Review section which I have been reading on good old-fashioned paper for the last hour or so. I buy the Oz on a Saturday mainly for the Review. Of course we have Greg Sheridan on the back page, but then again you can’t have everything.

I think I have most enjoyed Peter Goldsworthy this weekend. So sensible. Anticipating that his latest novel, in which a 14-year old boy has a relationship with a 20-something teacher, may cause a stir, Goldsworthy goes for the crash tackle. He scores too in my view.

MY wife Lisa has taught Tim Winton’s early novel That Eye the Sky to senior school students for years. This is a terrific book about complex characters, among them a needy older man and a needy 15 or 16-year-old girl, who use each other in different ways.

Until recently the novel fuelled plenty of discussions about family, power, vulnerability, religion, love, sexuality — the full catastrophe of human predicaments — but recently the book has become unteachable. Outraged students can’t be steered past the debate-ending blockage that the older man, Warburton, is a pedophile.

This year Lisa has had to go back to teaching my early novel Maestro, a book she’s sick to death of. Who could blame her — so am I — although some years ago that book also ran foul of noisy moral guardians when reverend Fred Nile and his wife Elaine attempted to have it banned from the HSC syllabus in NSW…

We humans love terrifying ourselves, whether in horror movies or in the shock-horror witch-hunts of the media. A century ago it was the yellow peril, then the commies, then the homos. Now it’s suspecting that every father is a pedophile, every second Muslim a terrorist, and the end is nigh unless we repent and mend our wicked carbon ways yesterday.

Instead of panicking, let’s try to look at rational risk-management. And let’s look at the media, the Daily Breathlessness that feeds our panic and our anger, and feeds off them, for our media gives us exactly what we want…

I would love to quote it all, but stop there. Do read it all, so long as the resource-hungry Oz site doesn’t make your computer run too hot and hard… (I wish these people would think of that!)

Gough Whitlam (legendary Australian PM) and Manning Clark (legendary Oz historian) come in two excellent reviews of recently published biographies.

Previous historians of Australia — the economic conservative Edward Shann, the liberal Keith Hancock, the radical nationalist Brian Fitzpatrick — tended to focus their narratives on the economic development of Australia and the politics of managing its economy. Clark would show how the settlers of Australia brought with them three great faiths, Catholicism, Protestantism and the secular traditions that he described as the Enlightenment, and would chart what happened to those faiths in the ancient and unresponsive Australian environment.

In a lecture not quoted by Matthews, he asked "why it was in my own country, in Australia, which had the same harsh, inhospitable environment as in the territory around Jerusalem, why it was that we had produced no theology … Why it was that in my own country no one had produced the image of Christ as an Australian face?" His Christian upbringing ensured that his prose style resonated with echoes of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible. He would write history as literature with something of the grandeur of 19th-century models such as Thomas Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle.

Unfortunately, as the six-volume history progressed Clark tended to lose sight of his original vision. If his history of Australia was to be comprehensive it must deal with other themes besides religion. New trends in historical writing — feminist history, migrant history, Aboriginal Australia — demanded attention. These competing elements were just manageable in the first three volumes, covering 1788 to 1851, to which Matthews devotes most attention. Perhaps Clark should have finished there.

I emphasise that clause in paragraph one because it seems to me that thesis still has enormous relevance.


3 responses to “Peter, Gough and Manning in “The Oz” today

  1. Neil

    November 15, 2008 at 10:20 pm


    Peter Goldsworthy mentions Tim Winton’s That Eye The Sky which was filmed in 1994. I’m afraid I have reservations about it. However, I did have a kind of connection because Jamie Croft (that’s a pic), the boy in the movie, was in my Year 8 English class in 1995 or Year 9 1996 — or both!– so I heard a bit about it. He was often away on location, I recall, as he was a busy boy at that time, as clicking on his name in the linked IMDB article shows. And he is still in the business, it seems, the latest being Howl.

  2. Lisa

    November 18, 2008 at 7:43 am

    I only just saw this. . . I love Peter Goldsworthy. Did you ever read “Three Dog Night”? That novel was so mesmerising and disturbing all at once. I couldn’t put it down, nor could I shake the feelings it left me with. . .

    I like “Maestro” too, but have only had to teach it once.

  3. Neil

    November 18, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Perhaps I should mention this is English teacher Lisa, aka “Aluminium”, not Mrs Goldsworthy… 😉

    And yes, I greatly enjoyed Three Dog Night.

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