Day 3 – 26/06/2015 – London

Currently at Oxford Circus waiting for Sarah to try on white jeans she’s been searching for all day. My feet are absolutely killing me, and all I desire in the world is to get a foot massage. Sarah also wants a massage but it is rather expensive so we’re hesitant. Hopefully we’ll find a cheaper place.

The jet lag hasn’t been too bad. I’ve managed to make it to 1-2 am, the moment after my body has simply stopped. Last night I fell asleep in an Uber.

London has been amazing. Sarah feels underwhelmed. I don’t. The city is truly magnificent. It is filled with tradition and history, progress and modernism. The streets are decorated with buildings designed in the classical and Neo-classical (according to the bus tour guide anyway).

The highlight really has been The Tower of London. It is perhaps the most interesting place in London. It is a mixture of different buildings, from different periods in English and British history. We went and saw the Crown Jewels. What an excess they are! A 3016 carat diamond from South Africa was presented to King George V at his coronation in 1904. I was consternated that it may be an error of typing. It wasn’t.

I was disappointed by the memorial to Anne Boleyn, the executed second wife of Henry VIII. I had expected a lavish memorial to her and the many others executed at the Tower. It was anything but. Just a round glass circle, with a few names on it, including Anne’s. Disappointing to say the least.

Nonetheless the Tower was brilliant. Filled with quaint reminders of the previous power of the monarchy and why it continues to remain endearing to this day.

Actors posing as members of the aristocracy provided good entertainment. They would walk around having private conversations with another, and you would just eavesdrop on what they were talking about. Then they would randomly break out into shouting matches, or Anne Boleyn would randomly emerge and we all would have to bow to the future queen of England.

For a lover of English history, this was all much too exciting.

A couple of hours later we were in Westminster. My excitement now overwhelming my usually placid exterior. We arrived into the Houses of Parliament and gained entry into the public galleries of the House of Commons.

I admit to moments of asphyxiation, as the excitement of the moment got the better to me. Here I was in Parliament. I sounded like a revolutionary as I explained to the underwhelmed Sarah the importance of this place. ‘Freedom, Democracy, Universal suffrage!’ It was all exciting.

In the commons there was a debate about national security. Only a few MPs were in the house. We entered when one MP, a large, tall man, was giving his maiden speech to the house having been elected at the recent 2015 election.

In the Gift Shop, this was the moment to finally purchase a copy of Manga Carta! I had requested it from some friends who had travelled to London before me, but they had not found it. I suppose there aren’t many of people who would go into the Houses of Parliament of Britain, well not people I know anyway. Nonetheless I found it. I shall have it framed upon my return to Australia. I also bought a gold pocket watch ‘exclusive’ to the Houses of Parliament, with House of Commons printed onto it.

It cost a little, yet I didn’t care. What more do I want?

Sarah’s done now with her shopping! Back to London!

Day 1 – London – 24/06/2015

Finally arrived in London. After more than 36 hours of travel, the Etihad flight landed ever so softly at Heathrow and my European adventure has begun.

Been in London a few hours now, most of it has been travel. The so-called express train from Heathrow to Paddington Station, wasn’t too express, owing to delays on the train tracks this morning. It was alright, nice just to soak in that dailiness of London life. Not too different really from Sydney, even the train announcers voice, the one who gives a run down of the stations the train is stopping at, sounded identical to the one in Sydney.

Arriving at Paddington station and walking up the stairs from the platform to main foyer, I immediately felt like a rural child in the big city for the first time. There were people crawling everywhere, making obscene amounts of noise as they travelled through. People in suits, others in thongs. People with travel bags, others with suitcases. Trains being announced at every moment. Support staff being swamped by people (including yours truly) unsure where to go or how to pay. The ceiling so high up, you feel invigorated and free as you walk through this enormous station. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. This was the moment it hit me. I’M IN LONDON!

The train from Paddington to White Chapel, took approximately 15 minutes. There being several stops, all within short distance of each other, on the way. I got off the station and walked out onto Whitechapel road. The site was rather surprising. Rather than being in downtown London, it felt more like downtown Tripoli. Up and down the road, there were stands of food and clothing, of an Arab and Muslim variety. They were manned by what had to be Turkish or Central Asian Muslim people, because they were certainly not Arab. I would have understood what they were saying if that was the case.

Still waiting on Sarah to arrive. She’s caught in the busy London traffic, of which there is much to behold! A lot of the traffic I’ve observed so far has been as a result of construction and infrastructure improvement. There is so much work being done in London right now, it’s crazy.

Went for a walk and ended up at the Gherkin Building. You know, that famous oval shaped building in London. It is quite a site! And there hundreds of people stand around drinking beers in restaurants, in their expensive suits with expensive cars stuck in traffic behind them. Just fantastic!

Sarah’s here now. Off to explore some more!

Thoughts on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with Dragon Tattoo is first and foremost a murder mystery. The major premise is the attempt by Mikhael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander to determine in 2003, what happened to Harriet Vanger, a young girl who disappeared off the family island in 1966.

At its behest though is a very powerful undercurrent about woman, the violence they experience, the frequency of this violence, and the infrequency of its reporting. That is what this highly popular novel is about.

First there is Lisbeth Salander, the novel’s titular character. She is declared mentally incompetent at 12 and for the next 10-12 years of her life has a legal guardian. When this legal guardian has a heart attack, the new legal guardian she is assigned uses this position to gain sexual favours from Lisbeth. First it is oral, shocking enough, then he rapes and sodomises her. These scenes are written in great detail, conclusively building a morose and macabre picture that leaves a permanent mark on any reader’s mind. Arguably the book’s most iconic moment comes when Lisbeth gets her revenge on her guardian. First she tasers him, ties him up, shows him that she had filmed him raping her and exacts demands from him. To top it all off, she tattoos onto his abdomen ‘I am a sadistic pig, a pervert and a rapist’.

Of course this is not in anyway believable. The probability of any raped woman exacting revenge in this way is minute to non-existent. One could even claim that her actions were above and beyond the pale, yet you do not feel any sympathy for her guardian. Even in that moment with the Tattoo needle in her arm, the reader is encouraging her to do it, in awe of her veracity.

What is perhaps more believable, more powerful, is what is found up on Hedeby Island. The central premise of the novel as already mentioned is the investigation, originally by Mikhael Blomkvist, later joined by Lisbeth, into what happened to Harriet Vanger. They are commissioned by the family patriarch, 82 year old Henrik Vanger to find out if she was murdered, escaped or committed suicide. Vanger believes it was the former.

Without going into too much detail about the case, Mikhael finds a diary Harriett kept of Bible verse numbers next to the initials of women that had been violently raped and killed in the 40s-60s. Eventually they figure out that these murders had been committed by Harriett’s father, Gottfried, and then continued by her brother Martin, the current head of the Vanger Corporation. Unlike his father, Martin chooses to discard the bodies he captures, rapes and then murders, in the ocean off the island. All of them foreigners. Easy to capture and murder without too many people snooping around and asking questions. It is quite chilling to listen to Martin speak of his activities with such clarity and seeming logic.

He does deny killing Harriett though and we later find that Harriett had not in fact been killed but rather escaped. She had found out that her father had killed several women, even taking Martin along to the previous murder. He used a quasi-religious method to justify his actions. She had killed her father when he drunkenly attempted to rape her violently one night, only to find that her brother was now following in his father’s footsteps. So she escaped and ended up in Australia on some farm north of Alice Springs.

One of the questions the novel leaves open to interpretation is whether Martin can be blamed entirely for his ways, or whether his father who introduced him to these acts should bare responsibility. Mikhael thinks Gottfried is the ultimate villain; Lisbeth doesn’t and angrily argues that Martin is ultimately responsible for his own actions. It is fascinating. Nature versus Nurture. Would Martin have turned out as he did had his father not existed? Does it even matter?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a brilliant and sobering read. Depressing yet ultimately triumphant. Lisbeth and Harriet despite what they go through find redemption in their own way. Harriett returns and takes over the company. Lisbeth brings down Martin Vanger and goes around helping women and the families of those affected by sexual violence. These women do not allow themselves to be defined by the injustice that befell them; rather they rise above it.

The irony being of course, as Larsson reminds us at the beginning of the last section of the book, the authorities are not notified. The truth is far too inconvenient.

The outside world is never made aware of their past, and it is this point above all else, despite the improbability of several storylines, that is the most believable and powerful.

Stalin and Abbott….Spot the Difference.

It isn’t often that I’m shocked by something I read in the Australian Media, but then this was published in Crickey the other day, and my jaw literally, literally dropped.

Abbott’s and Stalin’s early years are curiously similar in several important ways: both born outside their chosen countries; both trained in a seminary before taking up politics; both noted for seeing issues in stark black and white; both confident, aggressive and gifted at intimidating opponents. Their political beliefs are oddly parallel too. Strong government in everything; their own party is the only one entitled to govern; all opposition to the party is illegitimate and immoral; not voting for the party is disloyal and may be punished; the rule of law, the constitution and state institutions should all be subordinate to the party; science is not permitted to contradict the views of the party; economics is bent into a shape that suits party prejudices; arts and culture is attacked viciously and careers ruined for straying beyond limits acceptable to the party; a huge unregulated secret state security apparatus and blanket surveillance of the population is necessary.

It got worse….much worse. My jaw dropping all the more.

That’s not all. The recent vindictive Senate estimates grilling by Liberal Party senators of HRC President Gillian Triggs (her crime: acting independently) was apparently inspired by Stalin’s famous Moscow show trials of the 1930s, complete with abuse, bullying and shouting down inconvenient testimony. And one can wonder how much jealousy is involved in Abbott’s obvious resentment towards Putin, who is as near to being Stalin as anyone today….

It is amazing the hatred that Tony Abbott’s ascension to the Prime Ministry has unleashed. This is probably the worst thing i’ve read.

Lenin Meets Corleone

An excellent article from George Weigel who portrays Putin in the vein that I believe his behaviour deserves. I don’t agree with all of it but it is nonetheless an important counter argument to the growing voices of sympathy for Vladimir Putin.

Russia is, in many respects, dying. Alcoholism is rampant. Life expectancy is sinking: Today, a 15-year-old Haitian boy has a longer life expectancy than his 15-year-old Russian counterpart. The economy is stagnant, and the ruble is cratering. Russia imports potatoes from Romania. Churches are largely empty. Yet atop this rotting body politic is an oligarchic elite that functions very much like the Mafia families depicted in Puzo’s novel The Godfather and the films spun off from it.

in the waning days of the Cold War, KGB officers, far too clever to believe in Mikhail Gorbachev’s “reform Communism,” began siphoning Communist-party and Russian-state funds into KGB accounts, safely hidden offshore in banks run by the kind of men who ask no questions. Those funds, in turn, provided the financial leverage by which Vladimir Putin and some of his former-KGB comrades, taking advantage of the Wild West atmosphere in the post-Communist Russia of Boris Yeltsin, muscled their way into political power, allying themselves with other, previously non-KGB-related oligarchs and big-time Russian criminals — and then, when the time was right, liquidating those temporary allies, literally or through bogus criminal proceedings and long prison sentences. Thus Putin and his friends in the KGB, now-rechristened the Federal Security Service (FSB), drew all the strings of political power into their own hands while constantly enlarging their bank accounts.

No one knows for sure, but Vladimir Putin may well be the wealthiest man in the world today — a super-don, far beyond the ambitions of Vito Corleone, who has created something quite new on the global political landscape. Once upon a time, countries had intelligence services. Today, Russia looks a lot like an intelligence service that has gotten itself a country. And having done so, the FSB-dominated Russian oligarchy is buying up as much of what’s available — in London, on the Riviera, wherever — as it can.

Putin is like a shark: He has to keep moving in order to stay alive, meaning to legitimate his rule. The Maidan Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine threatened to halt Putin’s forward progress by posing an alternative, and potentially attractive, model of 21st-century social and political life among the eastern Slavs: not simply, or even primarily, because it promised access to the cornucopia of Western consumer goods, but because it promised a public life cleansed of corruption, violence, lies, and authoritarianism. Thus, from Putin’s point of view, Ukraine would have to be destabilized, perhaps even rendered a “failed state,” by a combination of annexation (Crimea) and invasion (the Donbass), amplified by a barrage of disinformation and lies, all wrapped in the mantle of a mythic, spiritually defined “Russian world” for which Moscow had a special, historic responsibility.

The idea of a new European war seemed inconceivable as recently as two years ago. It is no longer inconceivable; it would be an unmitigated disaster; and that is why Putin must be stopped now, by sequestering his regime as the first, necessary step toward regime change in Russia. One would like to think that there was some other way out. But there does not seem to be, for the new “plague bacillus” has spread and dramatic measures are required to stop its further progress, reverse course, and vindicate the victory of freedom in the Cold War.

Very interesting indeed.

What ISIS Really Wants – According to the Atlantic

‘Islam is a religion of peace and ISIS does not represent’, have often been the words of political leaders as they grapple with the issue of Islamic State and its behaviour in the Middle East. Well according to an article in the Atlantic, this isn’t exactly correct.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.

Read the entire article, you will be a much more informed person afterwards.

Australia Day

The 26th of January marks the day that the First Fleet arrived from Britain and the settlement of Botany Bay in 1788. We celebrate this day because it was the moment that the development of Australia as a nation began. It may not be politically correct to say so and Prime Minister Tony Abbott was criticised for saying so recently, yet he is correct. It was in this moment that the nation we know today was born. This should not be a controversial statement.

There were terrors bestowed by the British on the native population, the Aboriginals. They experienced famine, and illness. The extinction of many languages and damage to their culture. It is stain on our national history. Some have gone so far as to describe it as a genocide, I won’t go so far. It seems a grand exaggeration. The British were negligent, they weren’t tyrannical.
Overall though, the British settlement of Australia has been an overwhelming success. One that modern Australians should be proud of. Modern Australia is prosperous and wealthy. It is open, tolerant and multi-cultural. Our institutions, based in many ways on those existing in Britain have proven successful and stable. Australians are not nationalistic, not in the way Americans, Russians or even the British are, yet we should be proud of what our country has achieved.
As the son of two migrants I’ve come to appreciate more and more just how lucky I am to live in a nation such as this. I do so by juxtaposing my life here to what it could have been had my parents not emigrated. Australia is stable. I have never lived (until very recently, and I’ll come to that) in fear of attack. I have been provided with the greatest of education. I have always had access to care when ill. I have lived satisfied, with all my wants and needs accessible and affordable to me. When Donald Horne described Australian as the lucky country, he meant it as a criticism, yet it is appropriate to describe those who live in Australia as lucky, victorious at the lottery of life.
Compare this to my father and mother. My family, extended and immediate. They lived during wars and in varying states of relative poverty. They emigrated to Australia because they were promised jobs, they were promised stability. Australia gave them hope. Hope that their children would have better than they did. In almost every way Australia has delivered on these promises.
In many ways we’ve become so accustomed to our prosperity and stability, in the unquestioning superiority of our systems, that we are slow to believe or accept that it may somehow be in danger. 2014 shattered these illusions. Australians were subject to terror. People living normal lives, were directly affected by the actions of a mad man, espousing an even crazier ideology. Let’s hope we continue to be resolute and alert in the fight against terrorism, and never doubt the graces life in this country provides.
Happy Australia Day!

2014: My Reading Year

2014 was my most productive reading year. As my library grows at an increasing rate, so must my reading if I’m going to keep up.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was the best book I read all year. I read it in two periods over a couple of months. It was impossible to put down. Her writing is immersive and beautiful. Focusing on the rise of Thomas Cromwell in Henry VIII’s court, Mantel delves into the human mind and its frightening capacity for evil, which she finds even in the most innocuous conversation. Written in the third person, Cromwell is the ostensible narrator, simply known to the audience as ‘he’, even if sometimes it is unclear who ‘he’ is. I can’t wait to read the second book in the trilogy, Bringing Up the Bodies.

2014 I was introduced to a couple of well-known British Catholic writers, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. Greene was the more arresting character, intensely religious, with a fairly flexible sexual morality. I read two of his books, the Power and the Glory, and the Captain and the Enemy. Both books take you to Latin America. The former set entirely in Mexico. His books are short yet intense, written with a rigid detachment, I look forward to reading more of Greene.

Brideshead Revisited a very famous work by Evelyn Waugh was one of the more enjoyable reads of the year. Waugh is considered a great linguist and I can understand why. His sentences are lucid and flow with ease. His characters are almost Dickensian, yet he imbues them with more depth than Dickens ever did.

Speaking of Dickens, Bleak House was his major contribution to my year. I’d watched the BBC series and felt I had to read the book and like all Dickens books I read, had I not seen the series, I would have been lost. Yet the book is remarkably vivid in its descriptions, a sense of being there in the moment of early 19th century England, not to mention Lady Deadlock who has to be the most fascinating character Dickens ever wrote.

Australian authors also contributed to my year, I read Christopher Koch’s Year of Living Dangerously, about a group of journalists living in Indonesia in 1965 under the anti-western rule of Sukarno. Billy Kwan is the emergent anti-hero, a dwarf, who keeps records of people, eventually attempts to assassinate Sukarno and gets killed in the process.

Eyrie by Tim Winton wasn’t my favourite, evidenced by the fact that it took me a while to finish a fairly easy read. Despite an exciting finish, the book wallows except for a few sentimental scenes between the main character, a disgraced former environmentalist, and his neighbour’s grandson.

One of the more intriguing novels this year was Donna Tart’s Goldfinch which I read at the start of the year. Long and detailed, it’s an absorbing story about a young boy that loses his mother in a terrorist attack at a museum. He steals a painting known as the Goldfinch and the painting serves as a metaphor for the rest of the book as he has difficulty letting go of his mother. It’s a novel that stays with you long after its completion. I expected to read a couple of chapters, yet the writing was so beautiful, I remember staying up till the early morning and having it complete in a couple of days.

Another of hers that I read later in the year was The Secret History. A rather depressing read, about a group of Greek learning university students who decide to kill one of their own. The first line establishes the melancholy, ‘This is the only story I will ever tell’. One thing about Tart to remember, she’s verbose and wants you to know it.

The Book Thief by Marcus Cuzak was the most experimental book I read all year. The narrator is death, rather depressingly, and the narrative focuses on the day to day life of a German family during the Second World War. Its experimental narrative ensures the work isn’t too preachy, yet still manages to get its point across, not to mention it’s extremely depressing ending. A brilliant book.

Robert Galbraith, or should I say JK Rowling debuted a crime novel which I read in 2014. A private investigator with only the one leg, is hired to investigate the death of a model, that police had ruled a suicide, by her brother. It was the most absorbing book I read this year. Like Harry Potter, Rowling has a keen eye for minute detail that slowly, but engagingly builds the story for the reader. The reveal of the murderer at the end was somewhat of a let down, and didn’t make complete sense, yet the process getting there was phenomenal.

From one famous author to another, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was a book I just had to read and boy am I glad I read it. I thought it would take me ages but I was wrong, just over a week, it was that difficult to put down.
Tolstoy’s story is dramatic yet filled with moments of realism that force the reader to pause and reflect. For example when Levin finds out that Dolly is sick, he is hunting birds, two fly over his head in that moment and he is distracted by them, before remembering that he was unhappy and why. Tolstoy gets into the minds of all his characters, even a dog at one stage, granting them great depth. I plan on returning to it.

Politics is never too far away and I was very excited when a political thriller from two Australian journalists, Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis, whom I admire was released. It’s a sequel to a work they wrote a couple years ago. Titled the Mandarin Code, the work recreates Australian politics with a satirical take that is both hilarious and frighteningly accurate. The book also focuses on the difficult Australian balancing act between China and the U.S. I recommend reading both books. Can’t wait for the third.

Fantasy fiction is a favourite of mine.

I finally began the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. The story is engrossing, and certainly worthy, the world loaded with depth and detail, not to mention magic and enchantment. Yet the writing is a let down. Long winded and clunky, the books could be almost half the size with a leaner writer, and be just as good. I hope to have a few more of them finished by the end of the year, after all there are 14 books!

I’m in the process of re-reading the Lord of the Rings, don’t get me started on how much I love Tolkien. It’s even better the second time around.

I read the Da Vinci Code for the first time….the less we say about that the better.

2014 was also the year of non-fiction. There was much Australian non-fiction to enjoy. Paul Kelly’s Triumph and Demise on the six years of Labor was brilliant. A totem on how not to run a government.

John Howard’s the Menzies Era, focusing on the 23 years of Liberal Party rule between 1949-1972, sought to challenge the perception that the Liberals did nothing for the 23 years they were in Government. A brilliant read.

Afternoon Light by Robert Menzies, a book I had to get off Amazon, was something I’d longed to read. In it Menzies articulated his political philosophy and defended his political legacy, notably his contested leadership during the early years of the Second World War. The book proves what an accomplished writer he was.

Menzies appears a fair bit in 2014, a book by his daughter Heather Henderson, focuses on her father’s personality and character. A more intimate and wholistic image of our longest serving Prime Minister is emerging.

Bob Carr’s somewhat controversial, Diary of a Foreign Minister is a very well written insight into what life in Foreign Affairs is like. It also provided an insight into the elitist, yet cunning politician Bob Carr is/was.

Julia Gillard’s My Story was also an important book published this year. Gillard wrote a highly selective account of her Prime Ministership, unable to acknowledge her errors, portraying Kevin Rudd as mentally unstable to justify her move against him. To her credit, most of the book was about policy and the reasons behind her decision making. Unfortunately Gillard was unable to show this as Prime minister.

Another political tome, is He Who Must be Obeid, about Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid and the trail of corruption he left behind. It’s truly depressing, yet sometimes I got the impression that the writers, notable journalists Kate McGlymont and Lynton Besser, were so keen at portraying Obeid as evil they try and find something wrong in everything he does. Nonetheless Eddie attempted to rig a tender license, of that there could be no doubt.

The centenary anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War was this year and it provided much discussion and publication. I read two books on the reasons behind the war (and countless other articles and watched countless documentaries). It has to be one of the most fascinating periods in history. The first book July 1914: Countdown to War by Sean Mckmeekin provides a day by day recount of the diplomatic wrangles from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to the final declaration of war between Austria and Russia. It’s intense and detailed, displaying how diplomatic incompetence contributed to the war, especially in Austria-Hungary and the eagerness with which the great powers clung to their alliances.
The superior work is Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark. It is breathtakingly brilliant and detailed. Shattering illusions about the war, highlighting the role Serbia played and providing a detailed account of the pre-war years. In fact Clark begins the story in 1903, when the Serbian Monarch was overthrown and replaced. He can be a little too pro-German in his analysis. Doesn’t criticise Germany’s decision to invade neutral Belgium enough, almost excusing it as ‘well if they hadn’t, the French would have’. Yet the story provides brilliant analysis and anecdotes of some of the European characters of the time. The most vivid to emerge is Kaiser Whilem II, who Clark portrays as a somewhat childish leader, in constant need of affirmation.

Charles Moore is a prominent conservative commentator in England and was selected by Margaret Thatcher to write her biography. Part 1: Not For Turning, published shortly after her death, is brilliant. Amazingly researched, Moore rises above partisanship and writes with remarkable balance. Provides Thatcher’s early years with skin and bones, explores the shaping of her political philosophies, her unexpected and lucky rise to the top, her economic policies, culminating in England’s victory in the Falklands War. The chapters on the Falklands War are thriller like and the best part of the biography. The chapters on economic reform were too dense for my mind. I await Part 2.

The most moving book I read in 2014, was Dear Leader. A book written by a North Korean deserter Jan Jin-Sung, it details the poverty and oppression of the North Korean state. Some of the chapters on the poverty are heart breaking and stay with you. What elevates this story further, is the fact that Jin-Sung was a senior propagandist for the Kim-Regime. He reveals details about the way the Government functions that until now many western readers would never have known. Ofcourse we cannot know if the details are correct, yet they are impressively detailed and therefore must have some truth.

Here’s to a greater 2015.

Vivid Imagery

The skull was shattered open, blood and intellect, spluttering out. So long constrained, now free to move as they choose, their services no longer required. The jaw broken, on the verge of tearing from the rest of the face, the nose a fountain flowing blood. The body, moments earlier seated upright in the swarthy black executive office chair, lay slumped sideways, upper body hanging off the left edge, right hand thumb caught inside a cleft in the broken skull. The legs spread apart, pants filling with blood. Carpet, chair, desk, all red with liquid. A silver frame, hanging behind the desk, of a newspaper front page ‘Peace Ensured’ was splashed in gore, slowly dripping down the frame.

The Whitlam Legacy

Gough Whitlam was and remains a hero for members of the Australian Labor Party. In him they see the perfect Prime Minister; the enactor of grand social reform after 23 years of static Liberal (Conservative) Rule. They praise his decisions to end Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, abolish the White Australia Policy, abolish university fees and introduce universal health care. Paul Keating summed up this mentality in a statement after Whitlam’s death was announced. “He snapped Australia out of its Menzian torpor – the orthodoxy that had rocked the country asleep, giving it new vitality and focus”.

This is the grand dichotomy of the Australian Labor party. Bitterly divided at the time; eternally protective of the legacy. They allow myths to form around their leaders. Hawke and Keating reformed the economy, Rudd saved us from the GFC, Gillard gave us the NDIS, Curtin won us the war.

Their failures can all be explained away. Gillard was the victim of sexism, Hawke and Keating the victims of the ‘recession we had to have’ and perhaps most damagingly, Whitlam’s removal was a grand conspiracy of the conservative forces.

The Liberals manage greater unity when in politics (not always), their instinct for survival is greater than that of their Labor counterparts, however in the aftermath willingly criticise each other.  The Liberals have allowed Labor to be the masters of legacy. The myth that Australia was stagnant under Menzies, and it was only until Whitlam was elected that Australia moved forward, has sprung around the nation, even into our children’s history books. Only now are the Liberals moving towards a protection of their legacy, even then, not at the same rate of its Labor counterparts.

In protecting their legacy, Labor has been delayed in re-evaluating itself after an election losses. Yes Whitlam was dismissed, but an election was also held in 1975. Whitlam lost in a landslide. Fraser received a 55 seat majority. Two years later in 1977, just to prove it wasn’t a mistake, the public gave Fraser at 49 seat majority. Numbers never before seen, and never seen since.

It took the staunch effort and endeavor of Bill Hayden and Bob Hawke to reform the party. They recognised that Labor would not be re-elected until the public was convinced they could handle the economy. Whitlam, as Bob Hawke acknowledged today was not very interested in economics.

He did not react accordingly to the global economic downturn in 1973 and the economy went in recession. Wages continued to increase strongly leading to an inflation rate in 1975 of 16% (to put that into perspective it is currently 3%) and increasing unemployment (although by today’s standards relatively low).  Yet Whitlam continued to introduce increases in spending, rather than slow down to allow the economy to heal. Labor would spend another 8 years in opposition.

‘Free Universities’ is also another great Labor party myth. Although the principle of free universities is wonderful and many people from low socio economic backgrounds benefited from it, it was eventually removed by the Hawke Ministry because it was too expensive and did not have the intended effect. The first great myth is that it was ‘free’. It was subsidised by the taxpayer, hardly making it free. In fact it proved to be very expensive.

It was also found that there was little change in the socio-economic background of those attending university, and had developed into a means of government subsidy for those who could already afford it.

Not to mention that prior to the introduction of free universities, almost three-quarters of all university students already had their university fees paid for by the Government. In an article in the AFR this year Elena Pasquini Douglas noted that “By 1963, some 37 per cent of Australia’s full-time students had all their university fees paid and a means-tested living allowance. The 1965 Martin Report noted an additional 39 per cent of students received bursaries and cadetships. That means three-quarters of all university students had their education paid for by the Menzies government.”

The abolishment of the White Australia policy is another achievement attributed to Whitlam by Labor that isn’t exactly his. Whitlam officially ended the policy and it was eventually replaced by the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975. However it was Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt who introduced the Migration Act of 1966, effectively ending the White Australia Policy and increasing non-European immigration to Australia.

In Parliament today, Malcolm Turnbull claimed Harold Holt would be turning in his ‘watery grave’ at the claim it was Whitlam who abolished the White Australia Policy. Despite the crass reference to Holt’s mysterious drowning in 1967, Turnbull does have a point. Nonetheless it is important to note the symbolic nature of dismantling a policy that until 1965 had bi-partisan support.

Universal health care is one area that Whitlam is the undisputed leader. His introduction of Medibank in 1975 was a watershed moment for Australia’s social safety net. Britain had introduced it in 1948 with the National Health Service, also under a Labor government. Although it was eventually dismantled by the Fraser Government, an improved version was introduced in 1984 by the Hawke Government.

It has proven so popular that when the Liberals returned to Government in 1996 under John Howard they dared not removed it, ironically they improved and enlarged it.

Other notable social reforms included the abolishment of the death penalty for federal offences, end of conscription, however with no more Australian troops fighting in Vietnam this was largely symbolic.The introduction of no-fault divorce.

The abolishment of the British Honours System that was re-introduced by Malcolm Fraser, then removed by Bob Hawke, left by John Howard, but partially re-introduced by Tony Abbott. The national anthem was changed from ‘God save the Queen’ to ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

One of Whitlam’s more daring and visionary moments occurred when he was still Opposition Leader. In 1971, he surprised the country by visiting China and meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai. It was a risky move that originally was derided by the Government. They were left red-faced when several months later, Republican US President Richard Nixon visited China and established diplomatic relations with the country. When Whitlam was elected he immediately recognised the Communist Chinese Government.

As the world opened up to China, China reciprocated and opened up to the world and Australia is currently reaping the rewards of this connection; and so we will into the future.

Whitlam was a radical, transformative Prime Minister. He shifted expectations of what the Federal Government could do. The Liberals had followed a conservative approach to Government. Australia was stable, prosperous, evolving. However, there was more to be done.

Whitlam was the man to do it.

He did too much too soon.

He didn’t react to an economy that was in need of serious reform. He didn’t discipline his party (despite his well-known disdain for many colleagues). There were too many scandals. Eventually the public was worn out.

We can, and will, debate the judgement of Sir John Kerr in dismissing Whitlam; it was indeed controversial. However, the judgement of the people is what matters, and after three years of Whitlam, the people handed their judgement; two of the biggest election losses in Australian political history. It isn’t the only element of Whitlam’s legacy; he changed the country for the better, made us more inclusive and less reliant on our British character. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten, because Whitlam certainly won’t be.