Characters full of passion who come to life
Girt Nation is the third volume of David Hunt’s wonderfully insightful and irreverent ‘Unauthorized History of Australia’, following on Belt and True Girt.
Like his predecessors, he tells our national history with humor and genuine affection. It is indeed “an epic of charlatans and costume designers, of bush bards and bush beards, of workers and women who would no longer bear it”.
The key player in Hunt this time is Alfred Deakin, three-term prime minister and leader of the spiritist movement in Australia.
“Affable Alf” was considered a skilled medium and claimed to take advice from those in the spirit world. He was an impressive parliamentary artist and activist for a range of causes that would be popular today, including animal rights and women’s rights.
Deakin was also instrumental in passing the White Australia policy through Parliament during Edmund Barton’s tenure as Australia’s first prime minister. Hunt describes the politician as “nuanced in his xenophobia”, Deakin’s views on immigration stemming from his belief that “the unity of race is an absolute essential part of the unity of Australia”. And while he was generally conservative in his political views and relations with the British Empire, he notably refused the title of knight.
From there, Hunt crosses this vast brown land geographically, politically and culturally. Many personalities are revealed more fully and frankly than in other more conservative accounts.
Chinese not wanted
Catherine Helen Spence, an early feminist and social critic who is widely recognized for her work on children’s rights and progressive child care, was also an advocate for tighter immigration restrictions. She was particularly worried that the Chinese people would want to come to Australia “to destroy everything we have fought for!”
And what about the social and religious influence of muscular Christianity on the young Australian nation? (Yes, that’s one thing.)
After 18 months of living with COVID, it is fascinating to go back to 1900 and the bubonic plague epidemic in Australia. In an effort to curb the spread, Sydney’s children were offered six pence for every dead rat they collected and turned over to authorities, a gruesome precursor to the current 10-cent-a-box recycling incentive.
A quick glance at the Girt Nation the index gives an indication of the flight read in store. Most political history books don’t include a long list of entries under the heading “weird shit”, nor do they devote the same place to “alcohol” and “art” – in fact. , art wins in this case. What’s amazing is that these stories are true and come to life thanks to Hunt’s colorful storytelling.
Like all the most effective works of humor and art, Hunt’s writing becomes a mirror in which we see ourselves reflected a little more vividly. The Australians we see are more eclectic, more interesting and a little more eccentric than one might have imagined. They are full of life and passion and a touch of madness and more than a hint of wickedness.
Girt Nation celebrates these differences, extols their virtues, recognizes their follies and helps us understand how we Australians were born.
As the popular song “I am, you are, we are Australian” says – whatever that means.
Girt Nation, by David Hunt, is published by Black Inc. Hunt – “an exceptionally tall and handsome man who enjoys writing his own biographical notes” – is the author of previous books Belt and True Girt, and also a television presenter and podcaster.