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