On a quest for national values
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