Ger­ard Windsor

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

David Marr’s voice is ubiq­ui­tous, at least within the purlieus of the lib­eral Left. It’s also unique; the cul­ti­vated ac­cent of the WASP es­tab­lish­ment (al­though Syd­ney’s Shore was ‘‘a rot­ten school’’), slightly breathy, en­er­getic, length­en­ing and em­pha­sis­ing an ab­nor­mal num­ber of words, supremely con­fi­dent, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, punchy, col­lo­quial, witty and fre­quently with­er­ing.

Even if the sen­ti­ments are not al­ways to your taste, it’s a great voice to lis­ten to. Or to read.

When Marr in­veighs against the dead­ness of po­lit­i­cal dis­course — John Howard’s ‘‘in­cen­ti­va­tion’’, Ju­lia Gil­lard say­ing ‘‘keep­ing the coun­try mov­ing for­ward’’ 22 times in one speech — he speaks with the au­thor­ity of the gold­en­tongued.

My Coun­try is a sam­ple from 45 years of My Coun­try: Sto­ries, Es­says & Speeches By David Marr Black Inc, 562pp, $39.99 (HB) Marr’s ‘‘try­ing to un­tan­gle [Aus­tralia’s] mys­ter­ies’’. In a surely pre­ma­ture re­mark he says, ‘‘I know my coun­try now.’’ His cer­tainty, how­ever, is on dis­play time and again with as­ser­tions, al­ways stim­u­lat­ing, about what ‘‘ we Aus­tralians’’ think, do, feel, such as ‘‘Aus­tralia’s tepid com­mit­ment to the busi­ness of telling the truth about it­self’’ and ‘‘1967 was the sort of thing we do so well — a mag­nif­i­cent ges­ture, an ex­pres­sion of good­will that came with­out a price’’.

This is a book ex­clu­sively about in­ter­nal Aus­tralian mat­ters; the near­est it gets to go­ing abroad is the scan­dal of the refugees and a trip to Villers-Bre­ton­neux. It ranges over the law, be­ing gay, sex­ual abuse, var­i­ous lit­er­ary fig­ures, and, above all, po­lit­i­cal life and per­son­al­i­ties.

Most no­tably ab­sent in a book about un­der­stand­ing Aus­tralia is sport. Not a word. Nor about mu­sic, in any form, ei­ther.

Pa­trick White oc­cu­pies the long­est se­quence in the book. This is also one of the most mov­ing, mainly be­cause it in­cludes ex­cerpts from Marr’s di­ary while White was dy­ing.

It re­veals a man we see only once else­where in this long book. Marr might talk about his back­ground and his early prob­lems with his iden­tity, but there’s a dis­tance there, and al­ways an un­der­ly­ing face­tious­ness. Rage and ex­hil­a­ra­tion are reg­u­larly on show, but not the finer cal­i­bra­tions of an emo­tional life.

Talk­ing to Richard Fi­dler on Ra­dio Na­tional’s Con­ver­sa­tions, Marr said his fa­ther was the finest man he had known, but in My Coun­try there’s only the be­gin­nings of an ex­pla­na­tion for this sur­pris­ing judg­ment. So far at least, quiet ru­mi­na­tion about him­self and his af­fec­tions has not been Marr ter­ri­tory.

Whereas what gives him his place among

Jour­nal­ist, au­thor and civil lib­er­tar­ian David Marr

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