It didn’t take long. Nick Cater’s The Lucky Culture had barely reached the shops when the Old Guard launched its counter-attack. The always fastidious Bob Ellis was in first in the charge: ‘What a loathsome shallow Murdochist piece of Pommy filth Cater is entirely.’ Ellis wants the book pulped. Following close behind him was Mark Latham: ‘Cater is part of the narrow intolerant right-wing culture of News Ltd. Make no mistake, The Lucky Culture is a long, carefully structured assault on progressive values and ideas.’ He calls the book ‘shite’. This former leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party and alternative Prime Minister also issued a warning: ‘Any Labor person who has anything to do with the book’s promotion is fouling his own nest.’ Labor MPs Chris Bowen and Daryl Melham naturally ignored Latham and launched the book at the Revesby Workers’ Club.
What can possibly engender this degree of rage and vilification? It can only be that Cater has announced the end of the reign of what Latham calls ‘progressive values and ideas’. But the book’s enthusiastic launchers — from John Howard (Sydney) to Geoffrey Blainey (Melbourne) to Christopher Pearson (Adelaide) and not forgetting Bill Leak in Woy Woy — well outnumber the haters. At a champagne party in the Art Gallery of NSW, Howard welcomed Cater’s critique of the ‘exclusively political class’ with no experience of life. He also welcomed the celebration of the book in the Revesby Workers’ Club. (‘I grew up in Earlwood. I feel closer to Revesby than to Annandale.’) Bowen said the book is a warning to Labor to stick to the mainstream. Melham said, yes, and let’s conduct the debate with civility and courtesy. The Lucky Culture must be, Cater says, the most launched book in Australian history.
He is ‘one of the canniest operators in Washington’ and ‘one of its smartest thinkers’. He is also ‘one of us’, a leading member of ‘the Australian diaspora’. The words are those of Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy. He was speaking about Martin Indyk, now an American citizen. ‘I must tell you,’ said Indyk, chuckling, ‘it was the Australian government that took away my Australian citizenship.’ ‘We’ll have to see what we can do about that,’ replied Fullilove. ‘We still claim you as Australian.’
Why not? Indyk was born in London of Australian parents, raised and educated in Australia, and became an American citizen in his forties. Since then he has been a special assistant to President Clinton and US Ambassador to Israel. He is now Director for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He is also on the Board of the Lowy Institute, where he spoke during the week on the US pivot to Asia and away from the Middle East. Asked what advice he has for Tony Abbott about how Australia might catch the attention of President Obama, Indyk’s reply was surprisingly optimistic: ‘Relax. Don’t worry.’ Australia does not have to salute and send troops, as it did in the past to win brownie points. Australia is a key part of Obama’s pivot to Asia, one of its pillars. ‘It is not caught between China and America. It can be a bridge between them.’
It was a black-tie affair but it felt like a dinner party. The venue was the Parkside Ballroom in Darling Harbour. More than 600 guests assembled from business, politics, law, journalism and the universities. They were rich and poor, young and old, Labor and Liberal. There was also a famous guest speaker introduced by the Premier. It was in short the 2013 Annual Dinner of the Sydney Institute.
The speaker was Amanda Foreman, the London-born, New York-based biographer and historian. Her award-winning books are scholarly and popular. Her most recent blockbuster, A World on Fire, is about the American Civil War, with special emphasis on the British volunteers who fought on both sides. Her most audacious publicity stunt has been standing nude behind a vertical pile of books for Tatler magazine. It helped her books sell in the hundreds of thousands.
Her theme at the dinner was leadership — political and military, good and bad. Her examples ranged from Spencer Cavendish to ‘Chesty’ Puller, Spartacus and Lenin. But the standout was General Sir John Monash —‘the greatest military planner of all time’. (He planned to win the Battle of Hamel in 90 minutes. It took 93.) Foreman illustrated his leadership in the great crisis of the mutiny in the AIF in September 1918. Since their arrival on the Western Front, the Australians had liberated 119 occupied villages, destroyed 39 German divisions and captured 25 per cent of all German prisoners. Their morale was high. Then out of the blue just before the attack on the Hindenburg line, the British High Command, in an act of extraordinary folly, decided to disband eight Australian battalions and send the original Anzacs on leave. The troops mutinied. They wanted to finish the war together, something to do with mateship. What could Monash do? He understood his men. But the penalty for mutiny is death. He also understood the High Command. He talked with the mutineers. (‘I realise that the AIF is different from any other army in the world.’) He then conferred with the generals and persuaded them to defer action until after the attack on the Hindenburg line two days later. The mutiny ended. The Germans lost the war. After the Armistice there was no more talk of the mutiny. The great American general ‘Chesty’ Puller could have been thinking of Monash when he said: ‘No weapon on earth is more powerful than leadership.’