Tuesday, August 26, 2003

The Ten Most Influential Australians of the Twentieth Century?

In what must surely be the most blatant troll for linkage in the shortish history of Ozblogistan (at least until the next one), Scott Wickstein has called on Australian bloggers to nominate their list of the ten most influential Australians of the Twentieth Century. It makes you wish that you'd thought of it first, doesn't it? Rob Schaap has already posted his list, as has Sam Ward. I've decided that I might as well put in a few minutes on a list of my own; as this is Scott's idea, there's a much better chance that I'll get a link from Scott out of it than I stood with my last attempt. Especially if I drop him an advisory e-mail.

In any case, here's my personal, off the top of my head, list of the ten mos influential Australians of the Twentieth Century (I've decided that it's probably best not to put too much thought into this exercise, otherwise it might take the rest of the year). Following precedents set elsewhere, they're in no particular order.

Mr Justice HB Higgins of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration: It was Higgins who delivered the 1907 Harvester Judgement which established the "basic wage" and the now rather moribund system of National Wage cases, the annual ritual in which Australia's trade union movement would appear before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission once a year to argue that Australian workers could no longer afford to live without a pay increase, the nation's employers, through their peak bodies would argue that hundreds of businesses would be ruined if the requested pay rise was granted and the Government would turn up to toss in their two cents, usually on the side of the employers, arguing that a wage increase of the size sought by the unions would devastate the national economy and roon the country.

DR HV Evatt: With my name, you could hardly expect me to ignore the man who defended the Communist Party of Australia's right to exist in the High Court now, could you? But seriously, Evatt's High Court challenge to Pig Iron Bob's Communist Party Dissolution Act was a bloody important event in Australian politics. So was his subsequent campaign for a "No" vote in the Referendum of September 1951 in which the Menzies Government sought the power to ban the Communist Party. Alteration Although Evatt is revered these days as a Labor Party saint, worthy to sit at the right hand of Chifley, it's worth remembering that his contemporaries and colleagues had supported the passage of the Act and were pretty pissed off with his defence of the Reds and their right to continue hiding behind the nation's chamber pots. It cost them a bloody election.

Barry Humphries: No list of the twentieth century's most influential Australians would be complete without its foremost Australian elitist. Although Humphries did not invent the cultural cringe, through his stage creations such as Edna (later Dame Edna) Everidge and Sir Les Paterson (Australian Minister for Culture) Humphries did much to popularise the view, both here and overseas, that Australia was very much a cultural backwater with a population largely consisting of vulgar housewives with too much fondness for showy floral arrangements and drunken buffoons with delusional aspirations to "Kulcha". Paradoxically, Humphries also gave us the ocker (who later degenerated into the yobbo (sorry Sam)), through his comic strip The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie, which first appeared in the pages of Private Eye.

Through most of the late twentieth century, Humphries was on a nice little earner in London, pandering to English snobbery by depicting his compatriots as barbarians and fools, with the occasional triumphant homecoming where he would do quite nicely out of mulcting middle-class theatre audiences who were happy to pay premium prices for the privilege of joining mass rituals of self-abasement and humiliation under the mistaken belief that this was satire. Humphries' visits to this country have become mercifully infrequent over the years as he has found more lucrative overseas markets to peddle his tired and outdated stereotypes of the suburban Melbourne of his precociously early middle age; in other words his late teens and early twenties.

Ma Trotsky, who has a mother's keen eye for children who have outgrown their footwear has never been impressed by him.

Barry Dickins: Who once appeared on an ABC television chat show with Barry Humphries. The show's host was that other overrated expatriate, Clive James. Dickins was subjected to a good ten minutes of patronising remarks from both Clive and his partial namesake, on the need to go overseas to broaden his intellectual and cultural horizons. One result of Dickin's appearance was a very bemused piece in The Age. The other is his listing here as a representative of all the writers and performers who came after Humphries who, for whatever reason, didn't swan off to the Old Dart to make a quick quid by sucking up to the middle classes and intellectual elite of the Mother Country, but stuck it out here instead.

John Grey Gorton and Sir William McMahon: As we now know, it was Gorton's casting vote in a Liberal Party leadership spill which made William McMahon Prime Minister. I'm not sure which of the two should be given most credit for Gough Whitlam's eventual electoral victory in 1972; while McMahon was obviously the public architect of Whitlam's win, Gorton must be considered McMahon's eminence grise.

Sir Phillip Lynch: Lynch's most famous, and significant, contribution to Australian politics was a remark he made as head of the Fraser Government's Expenditure Review Committee or Razor Gang: "There'll be a few less pigs swilling at the public trough." Thanks to this remark, and Lynch's malicious enthusiasm for cutting deadwood and greenwood alike, the overriding need to cut public expenditure became one of the new sacred cows of Australian political life.

Sir Garfield Barwick: whose major achievements in a long and distinguished career as a jurist were, firstly, persuading a pompous sot that he had the right under the constitution to sack an elected government and secondly, persuading a majority of his colleagues that it there were good legal grounds to exempt companies and trusts whose records had been lost in maritime accidents from taxation.

Senator Vince Gair: the first Australian politician to be offered, and accept, the Dublin option.

Evan Whitton: he edited the now defunct National Times during much of its existence. He fostered a lot of journalistic careers; the names Patrick Cook and David Marr spring to mind immediately.

Now that I've got started, it's pretty obvious that ten spots is not enough - sadly, Justice Jim Staples misses out on a guernsey (unless I bump someone else), likewise John Friedrich, talk-back shock-jock pioneer Derryn Hinch, former Age editor Greg Perkin, Dr Frank Knopfelmacher, Bob Santamaria, Doug "When you see a head kick it" Anthony, Sinkers, Kerry Armstrong, Dame Leonie Kramer, Joh and Flo Bjelke-Buffoon, that bloke who wrote the Saba commercials, Michael Kroger and a few of his former adversaries in student politics who would doubtless prefer to have their present obscurity preserved, the entire membership of the H J Nicholls Society ...

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