Saturday, 1st November, 2008, 9.20 a.m.
To Keating’s launch of Churchill and Australia by Graham Freudenberg, with a fine, self-written twenty-five minute speech in which he said of Churchill and Gallipoli, ‘Churchill’s ambivalence about Australia was a mirror image of Australia’s ambivalence about itself.
’ On the one hand, we were out to prove that the British race in the Antipodes had not degenerated yet we resented being dragooned into a war which did not threaten our own country or its people.
‘As Graham says, “in an almost theological sense Australian- Britons had been born again into the baptism of fire at Anzac Cove”, questioning, somewhat tongue in cheek, whether we needed being reborn at all. The “reborn” part went to a lack of confidence and ambivalence about ourselves. Who we were and what we had become. If our sons suffered and died valiantly in a European war, such sacrifice was testament to the nation’s self worth.
‘In some respects we are still at it; not at the suffering and the dying, but still turning up at Gallipoli, the place where Australia was needily redeemed.
‘The truth is that Gallipoli was shocking for us. Dragged into service by the imperial government in an ill-conceived and poorly -executed campaign, we were cut to ribbons and dispatched. And none of it in the defence of Australia. Without seeking to simplify the then bonds of empire and the implicit sense of obligation, or to diminish the bravery of our own men, we still go on as though the nation was born again or even, was redeemed there. An utter and complete nonsense.
‘For these reasons I have never been to Gallipoli and I never will.’
Freudy, whose father was a stretcher-bearer on Gallipoli and might like a hundred and fifty thousand others have died there, followed him with some off-the-cuff remarks and many, many suspenseful pauses in which he perfected his spontaneous ironic phrases, to a standing audience for a further forty-five minutes, blithely testing the love we all bore him, a Labor historian as good as Macaulay his master and an eternal, encouraging Labor mate, seeming to end a dozen times while we who are over sixty prayed he would.
Eventually he ceased and did some signing. Keating’s girlfriend, the actress julieanne Newbould, came up to me and said she’d been in The Legend of King O’Malley, her first professional job, in the Richbrooke in 1971. I said I’d seen her there and how good she was. I added that Lex Marinos was directing with a school-age cast the play in Wahroonga this week, and she proffered her good wishes. I didn’t ask what it was like living with Keating. Across the room, he glowered at me cursorily and turned away.
On the bus home after work I read fifty pages of Freudy’s book, a masterpiece. A paragraph stood out.
‘Asquith was the cleverest British Prime Minister of the twentieth century. Kitchener was hailed as the greatest British soldier since the Duke of Wellington, and Lord Fisher as the greatest British seaman since Nelson. Churchill became the greatest wartime Prime Minister in British history. Between them they produced Gallipoli.’
The northern beach suburbs went by and I continued to read. If ever there was a man who knew who he was from his earliest years, with his Olivetti typewriter, cigarettes and Macaulay and his descriptive exactitude it is Freudy. He is Labor’s Merlin, who has lived or imagined all our past years and all the years to come.