Australian Notes

Australian notes

23 April 2015

9:30 AM

23 April 2015

9:30 AM

Malcolm Turnbull is never far from the front pages (or even the covers of men’s fashion magazines!) usually with stories about his popularity, competence, and prime ministerial drive. But no one has yet written a book about him. Tony Abbott has had one – Michael Duffy’s Latham and Abbott. Joe Hockey has had another – Amanda King’s Hockey –Not Your Average Joe. But no other Cabinet Minister has yet scored a book-length biography. That is about to change. The irrepressible Louise Adler of Melbourne University Publishing has signed up Paddy Manning to do a job, as it were, on Turnbull. It will not be an authorised biography. Manning is not that sort of writer. (The Fairfax press sacked him a couple of years ago for publishing in Crikey his criticism of his employer.) He has already written two controversial books, one on Nathan Tinkler and one on fracking (‘dedicated to Australian farmers.’) So far Turnbull has been unwilling to risk an interview with Manning. Some of Turnbull’s old associates, from Nicholas Whitlam to Trevor Kennedy, have also been coy. Manning had better get a move on. Other writers may take up the Turnbull challenge. Bruce McWilliam, his old law partner, is sometimes mentioned. Manning’s Turnbull is due out for Christmas.

No shortage of books about the late Daniel Mannix. Younger readers may exclaim: Daniel who? The great Irish Archbishop of Melbourne died over fifty years ago but the books keep coming out. There have been fourteen or fifteen already, adequately covering, you might think, the various episodes that punctuated his fifty years in Australia – fighting for State Aid to Catholic schools, opposing conscription in the First World War (not the Second), supporting Irish independence (including his arrest on the high seas), defending Franco (‘If Spain goes down God help Europe.’), backing Bob Santamaria’s anti-communist ‘Movement’, (even after a ‘slap in the face’ by the Vatican.) The latest book is The Real Archbishop Mannix: From the Sources (Connor Court) edited by Jim Franklin, mathematician and philosopher, Gerald O. Nolan, economist, and Michael Gilchrist, author of Lost! about the decline of the Catholic Church. Franklin launched the book last weekend at a meeting of the Australian Catholic Historical Society. The idea has been to get away from the traditions of either hero-worshipping Mannix or blackguarding him. Instead, the editors have judiciously anthologised the ‘sources’ and, with some guidance, left it to readers to make up their own minds. They have succeeded brilliantly, although they were unable to draw on some of the greatest of possible sources – Mannix’s diaries and letters. The Archbishop did not keep a diary and left instructions that his personal papers be destroyed. He did not want his soul to be psychoanalysed after his death. Mannix scholars generally believe that the papers were in fact burned, but there is no certainty. The editors of The Real Archbishop Mannix are cautious: ‘The papers are not in existence, as far as anyone knows, but no one has admitted to seeing the bonfire.’ In these circumstances they rely almost entirely on public records and the available opinions, mainly political, of observers, allies and enemies throughout Mannix’s years as Archbishop. He was in the end on the winning side in most of his campaigns. Acting (he insisted) not as a priest but as a citizen of a free country, he helped defeat the conscription plebiscites in 1916 and 1917. The State Aid cause took much longer to triumph but shortly before Mannix died the Menzies government espoused State Aid in the form of Science Blocks. The crusade against the Communist Party in the unions was also successful. (He opposed banning the Party.) One cause dear to his heart faltered – the Irish cultural revolution which largely lost its Irish-Australian support during and after the civil war. (Eamon De Valera’s visit to Australia in 1948 was not a flop but was no triumphal tour.)


He had little interest in theology or canon law. Although devoted to building Catholic educational institutions he appeared to give little attention to what went on in them. This allowed his liberal Catholic critics such as James Griffin to treat him as ‘intellectually shallow’ and not really an ‘educationist’ in the sense of encouraging critical thinking. (In some of his early essays Jim McAuley expressed similar complaints about the Australian church in general.) It’s a pity that the Mannix debates have been largely confined to Catholics or dogmatic anti-Catholics. Even the scrupulous Ken Inglis – who is, he says, ‘a Protestant Melburnian inheritor of a sternly anti-Catholic world-view’ avoids judgment on the issues Griffin raised. The editors have added an afterword on the scandals ‘from paedophilia down’ in Catholic orphanages, seminaries and Magdalen laundries. There is no evidence, they write, that Mannix knew what was happening in the underbelly of his jurisdiction. They conclude sensibly and sensitively: ‘It is difficult to write about these matters, and doubly difficult to do so fairly. But they cannot in justice be ignored.’

American notes: The American critic, Micah Mattix, has warmly welcomed Clive James’s recent Poetry Notebook. Writing in the New Criterion in New York he thinks that American readers will take ‘particular pleasure’ in James’s discussion of Australian poets – not only the well-known Les Murray and Peter Porter but the ‘lesser-known W.J. Turner and Stephen Edgar, among others.’ Mattix quotes James on Edgar’s ‘Man on the Moon’ (‘almost perfect’)   and James McAuley’s ‘Because’ – ‘a miniature masterpiece.’

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