An Insight Into Australian Culture: Tall Sword Syndrome

The Sydney Morning Herald 28.08.14, pp. 4-5

‘Swordsman Bob won’t be drawn by Keating’s unholy cuts’, Tony Wright

Paul Keating has always taken wicked pleasure in cutting his enemies down to size, but his delight in shrinking Bob Hawke’s most treasured legend to that of a minnow surely ranks close to the unholiest cut of all.

There wasn’t, according to Mr Keating, actually much to behold when the honourable member’s member was exposed to the light.

How relived must Tony Abbott find himself? He merely has to suffer the slings of those who find themselves confronted by his attachment to budgie smugglers and the breadth of his budget.

Mr Keating recalled on Wednesday the days of government in the 1980s when he and other cabinet ministers would stroll the grounds of the Lodge to find Mr Hawke, Prime Minister of Australia, sunning himself au naturel by the pool.

“It does take a certain chutzpah to meet ministers in the nude,” the former Treasurer offered. Indeed, he and the then foreign minister Gareth Evans had once arrived in suits, sweating, the business of government at hand, to discover Mr Hawke on full display. “I said, ‘don’t worry – midgets’,” he recalled. And to ensure no one missed the import of his reflection, he held out his hand in the universal fisherman’s gesture of insignificance, the thumb and the forefinger barely an inch apart.

Mr Keating was moved to relate his memories of government in the raw while launching the former Senator Evans’ diaries from the early Hawke-Keating government’s years, 1984-1986.

Professor Evans, now chancellor of the Australian National University, gives a robust telling in his diary – Inside the Hawke-Keating Government – of the clashing egos of what he calls a “cantankerous” gathering of mostly men in the cabinet, none of them quite as cantankerous as Hawke and Keating themselves.

He also recalls being sacked as Attorney-General after being summoned to the Lodge where he found Mr Hawke sunning himself by the pool, though there is nothing about the prime minister’s state of costume.

Mr Keating, who finally snatched power from Mr Hawke in 1991, clearly felt the time had come to put that omission to rights. Mr Hawke, known in the blokey vulgarity of his circle as a considerable swordsman in his day, has suffered uncharitable observations previously regarding the alleged dimensions of his weapon.

The man he deposed as labor leader in 1983, Bill Hayden, waited until he published his autobiography in 1996 to offer the same sort of critique as Mr Keating.

Mr Hawke has maintained an unusually lofty silence about the subject, and his spokeswoman, very sensibly, refused to be drawn on the matter on Wednesday.

***

On 04.09.92 Maxine McHugh in an interview of Keating (on the ABC’s AM show) asked him (he was then Prime Minister) a bizarre question, indicative of a deeply sick culture – all the more so in being put to that nation’s leader: ‘Can we be considered a nation of losers?’ Keating acknowledged the validity of the question and referred to Australians ‘hopping into’ those who ‘we’ perceive have more ability than us.

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Related:

Shame and the Need to Shame

How bleak is our valley

The Lucky Country: Part Three

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