David Day on Keating, and some Aussie movies

In the past year or two I have really enjoyed three of David Day’s political biographies: Andrew Fisher, John Curtin and Ben Chifley. This is his latest:


And what a storm it encountered!

HarperCollins Australia has apologised and agreed to pulp unsold copies of its flagship 2015 release – Paul Keating: The Biography by David Day – to settle a fierce legal battle with the former Labor prime minister.

The spectacular capitulation resolved the previously unreported dispute over incendiary – and it turns out false – claim by the author, that Mr Keating suffered from the reading and comprehension disorder known as dyslexia.

That assertion touched off a real-time history war in February, as biographer and subject argued over truth and biographical rigour versus fictional embellishment. At its culmination Mr Keating branded the award-winning historian an “also-ran” and a “humbug”, who, in the search for a new angle, had succumbed to “cussedness and … crude prejudice”…

Mr Keating said it was a “calculatedly wicked thing to say of somebody holding the highest offices in the country, that they had some sort of comprehension disability, when the author had no experience of me ever in public life, has never met me, and had no experience of the Canberra policy years”. He said it was “a bald-faced lie” which had ignored the fact that he had been “a conscientious treasurer and prime minister”.

“I read and understood everything that mattered,” he said.

“We find there are no sources, because the claim is fundamentally false and untrue … so it’s written out of a desire to try to write a book which had a new element to it … its sole insight is this great lie.”

In email correspondence dated February 2, just days after Fairfax Media reported on the biography’s publication, Dr Day writes “It was good to speak to you. I am sorry that I was unable to change your view of the book … it will reinforce your reputation rather than erode it.”

“It was not good speaking to you. You are a humbug,” Mr Keating wrote in his uncompromising same-day response…

I have reservations about the dyslexia thesis, though I think David Day makes a good case for Paul Keating preferring to learn through spoken encounters. What fascinates me most are the early chapters on family background, particularly since I am just six months older than Keating and can relate to much David Day finds. In later life too I spent time unwittingly in places and streets Paul Keating’s paternal and maternal ancestors lived and walked. As Alan Ramsey says:

What is original is Day’s research on Keating’s extraordinary background on his mother’s side. It is his father Matt’s Irish Catholic roots in Galway we’ve always heard about. It is his mother Minnie’s Protestant English background Day has unearthed. Minnie, born in Redfern, was raised an Anglican by Fred Chapman, a “chancer and a spinner of stories”, and his wife, Beatrice Storey, a barmaid from the Captain Cook Hotel in Sydney’s Moore Park. Fred’s parents, John and Sarah, had come to Australia in chains in the late 1830s, and this son of a 19-year-old English horse thief and the 15-year-old daughter of a Dublin tailor would not live to see his grandson become Prime Minister of Australia 160 years later. You’ll have to read Day’s book if only for the wondrous detail. It sets up everything that follows.

So I agree with that and like the book. My library copy has a sticker informing me that all unsold copies have been pulped.

Three great DVDs from Wollongong Library too.


Charles Bean’s Great War: “A thoroughly absorbing new documentary about Charles Bean the courageous Australian war correspondent, intellectually honest, determined to publish unpalatable truths, and to admit where he had been wrong. His description of the, ‘tender Australian public which only tolerates flattery, and that in it’s cheapest form’, rings just as true today.” Melbourne Age.


Satellite Boy (2012) starring David Gulpilil and Cameron Wallaby, filmed in the Kimberley. Well worth seeing.

Catriona McKenzie blends a fairytale aesthetic with the immediacy of social change to strong effect in Satellite Boy, her feature debut and a gentle, timely addition to the growing canon of indigenous screen successes.

First-time actor Cameron Wallaby stars as Pete, a young boy tiring of the wisdom imparted to him by his grandfather, Jagamarra (David Gulpilil). The harsh but enticing outback landscape has intrinsic powers, the old man tells the boy, but Pete is too busy hunting game to concern himself with his grandfather’s sage advice…

Eliciting a lovely turn from Wallaby, who carries the film with his elder-statesman co-star, Gulpilil, McKenzie’s film has a lightness of touch that’s compounded by David Bridie’s feel-good score set against a visually arresting backdrop (shot by veteran director of photography Geoffrey Simpson).

As the boys’ plight grows ever bleaker, Jagamarra calls to the stars in a profound way that draws emotional resonance without resorting to cliche….

Ed Gibbs in the Age.


 Message from Mungo (2014) – thought-provoking and scrupulously fair.

This film is about a defining moment in Australia’s past, marking the life of someone who was a modern human, yet lived so long ago – approximately 42,000 years ago – challenging the idea that Australian history began in 1788.

McGrath thought film would be the medium to open up Mungo Lady’s story to as wide an audience as possible, but also to open up the minds of many who may not realise the breadth of Australian history.

“There’s a thirst to learn more about Australia’s history, yet despite all the great work done by historians in recent decades, Australian history still gets taught as a story that started in 1788,” she says.

On a personal note:

End of an era: June 1992 to September 2010

Posted on September 21, 2010 by Neil

The longest I have ever been at one address: Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills.

Swept the garage today, gathered the last load of stuff, left the keys behind.