On a quest for na­tional val­ues

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

ing what his read­ers half-knew, giv­ing it back to them in a lan­guage that was in­stantly recog­nis­able. Even when he lapsed into di­dac­tic ‘‘hom­i­lies”, he was al­ways en­ter­tain­ing.

Horne’s as­pi­ra­tions as a writer were bound­less. He was an au­to­bi­og­ra­pher (the ex­cerpts from the The Ed­u­ca­tion of Young Don­ald, par­tic­u­larly his bril­liant de­pic­tion of be­tween-the­wars small-town ru­ral life in Muswell­brook, NSW, re­veal why it re­mains, with The Lucky Coun­try, his best and most en­dur­ing work), jour­nal­ist (edi­tor of The Ob­server, Quad­rant and The Bul­letin), po­lit­i­cal es­say­ist and so­cial com­men­ta­tor, his­to­rian, aca­demic and cul­tural critic, nov­el­ist and mem­oirist ( Dy­ing: A Mem­oir, pub­lished posthu­mously and co-au­thored with his wife, edi­tor and in­tel­lec­tual part­ner of nearly 50 years, My­fanwy Horne, is one of his finest books).

Af­ter the publi­ca­tion of The Lucky Coun­try in 1964, rarely a year went by with­out a book be­ing pub­lished. The sheer am­bi­tion and drive were for­mi­da­ble. As each new work ar­rived on his desk, Horne, never one to rest on his lau­rels, stashed it away in a cup­board, his eyes al­ready fo­cused on the next book. But writ­ing was not Horne’s only oc­cu­pa­tion. Given his piv­otal role as po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist and pub­lic or­a­tor in the wake of the dis­missal of the Whit­lam gov­ern­ment in 1975, chair­man of the Aus­tralia Coun­cil (1985-91) and nu­mer­ous other pub­lic lead­er­ship roles af­ter his re­tire­ment from the Univer­sity of NSW in 1986, it seems as­ton­ish­ing that more than a decade af­ter his death in 2005, he has not yet been the sub­ject of a ma­jor in­tel­lec­tual biog­ra­phy.

Sim­i­lar fig­ures in Europe or the US would al­ready have at­tracted sev­eral bi­og­ra­phers. Davis sug­gests prospec­tive bi­og­ra­phers may be de­terred by the ‘‘daunt­ing rich­ness of the pri­mary ma­te­rial”. Horne has al­ready claimed much of his life ‘‘story”. True. Yet there are also deeper rea­sons for our fail­ure to value Horne’s le­gacy, ones that Horne high­lighted decades ear­lier: a cul­ture that still val­ues ‘‘do­ers” more than

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.