Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Liberal schmiberal

Malcolm Fraser has left the Liberal Party, and poor Margaret Simons, who as the co-author of Fraser's political memoirs has known for four months but promised not to say anything -- which as a journalist must have really, really hurt -- is finally liberated.

Like many old enough to remember, I've got one of those sharp 'where were you when' memories of Fraser's spectacular catapult to the top of the Australian power tree on the day of the Dismissal. I'd just come out of the Adelaide U English 3 exam, during which I had concentrated excessively on Persuasion at the expense of Anna Karenina, and was being picked up outside Centennial Hall (now pulled down and replaced) in the Wayville Showgrounds, where university exams were held, by my dear friend J in her little blue Anglia, the dead spit of the one owned by the Weasley family except that it couldn't fly, though on occasion it certainly felt as though oh never mind. We drove away to the tune of the ABC fanfare for the midday news and then the sound of a shellshocked newsreader.

Twas a day of blues: my memory of Gough Whitlam's outraged and infinitely imitable voice saying 'Because nothing will save the Governor-General' is all tangled up with lines of powdery lavender-blue flowering jacaranda against the lacquered blue enamel of an Adelaide November sky.

We were all so outraged that none of us had a good word to say about Fraser, but I remember noticing even at the time, and certainly later, that he was consistently good on race and racism. His harshest criticism of John Howard was on the subject of boat people. And his resignation from the party now seems to have been triggered by Tony Abbott's bluster about closing the borders and so on. (Hello, Budge, Australia's an island. We don't have borders.)

How Fraser is feeling can only be imagined; apart from anything else, I bet he wouldn't talk about it. Imagine being 80 and deciding that an institution that has had your loyalty all your adult life is something to which you can no longer bear to belong.


Liam said...

an institution that has had your loyalty all your adult life is something to which you can no longer bear to belong

That's very well put, PC. It would be utterly destroying. To me it's an incredibly sad development both for Fraser as a man, but also for his Party and his movement who've lost someone I'm fairly sure they don't value nearly as much as they ought to.

Mindy said...

I hope this gives rusted on Liberal votes some pause for thought and perhaps a loosening of the rust.

Fine said...

I don't think it will, Mindy. I think Fraser has been on the nose with the Libs for a long time, because he wouldn't veer to the right.

It feels so odd to feel a little fond of a man who I loathed in 1975 and for a long time after.

OT, he looks so like Patrick White these days.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Fine, it's their Easter Island chins. That and the born-to-rule post-land-grab pastoralist upbringing thing, a matter of both expression and early sun damage.

Also, Fraser turned 80 last Friday and PW was 78 when he died, so one tends to think of them as at the same age.

Also, both Geminis. PW would have turned 98 this Friday.

PW would have loathed the idea that he resembled Fraser in any way. In fact IIRC the Dismissal was one of the things that actively politicised PW. Oh yes, here he is in a letter written on Nov 25, 1975, with the post-Dismissal election coming up: 'Life has been rather chaotic since Whitlam's dismissal ... A vast [political meeting] yesterday in the open air in support of Labor. I have never seen so many people gathered together. I have had to do something on telly, which always makes me want the ground to swallow me up, and in a couple of days' time I have to speak at a rally of writers, painters and performing artists in support of our legitimate government.'

Armagny said...

About how I felt leaving Labor, but in quadruplicate.

Nice to feel from different party bases that it was the same issue that made both of us call it a day.

I too have often struggled, as a post Whitlamite, with the Fraser I observed vs the Fraser of legend. I think if I were faced with a voting choice between Fraser and Whitlam, both of them markedly to the left of both major parties now, I'd find it hard to choose.

elsewhere said...

What's really concerning me about this is that you concentrated more on Persuasion than Anna Karenin.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

El, I need to know why this bothers you!

Elisabeth said...

We were at a party the night Fraser lost the election all those years ago.

I remember a friend had bought a new TV with all sorts of then amazing controls and he kept freezing the frame when Fraser's face began to crack.

I can still see the image of a tearful Fraser in my mind's eye. These days I almost feel ashamed of our youthful gloating because like so many other people I have changed my mind about the man.

His genuine concern for refugees and the dispossessed is refreshing in the jaded world of politics. I an understand that he as left the party. He too is probably ashamed of certain posturings and behavior.

The Honourable Husband said...

I recall my brother and I sitting in the lounge room watching TV and swatting for our matric exams (we could multi-task in those days). On hearing the news, we just looked at each other with a "Holy Fuck" expression.

At the subsequent school speech day, many students wore buttons which read "Shame, Fraser, shame."

One dare not draw parallels with Obama, and his relationship to the Republicans.

I find it odd that we remember Fraser for his humanitarian work, particularly in Africa, and forget all about life wasn't meant to be easy. Memories mellowing with time, I guess.

That said, we should ask ourselves which of the Whitlam reforms he tampered with. TEAS and free tertiary tuition remained until the 80s--it was Hawke who introduced HECS, no? Whitlam's and Murphy's family law reforms remained intact for a long, long time.

Of course, industrial relations was an area of great tension, and Fraser did swing us to the right on the workplace front.

But I suspect, deep-down, Fraser was a proponent of Menzies-style middle-class welfare.

Not surprising that Fraser should lose cause with today's Liberal Party.

He might forgive Abbott for many political differences. But as a patrician, one thing for Fraser wouldn't forgive Abbott, I suspect, is his vulgarity.

Anonymous said...

I can imagine Don Dunstan would have felt much the same about Mike Rann's ersatz Labor.


Fine said...

Interesting that they're both Geminis, Pav. Both with those grave, arrogant, stern faces.

Sophie said...

I'm just old enough to remember how much most/all? of the Left vilified Fraser as some sort morally depraved vilian throughout his time in office. It is amazing how far the pendulum has swung to the right since those times, so much so that Fraser has been recaste almost completely by so many who once spat out his name with venom and malice.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

It's hard to tell what proportion of the change has been in Fraser and what proportion in the rightishness of our times, but it's probably about half and half.

A great deal of the vilification of Fraser was specifically about the Dismissal -- the Left hated him before he even got into power.