Some people of influence

(A random list of people who have influenced me.  It is neither complete nor exclusive – so don’t ask me why I put Robbie Flower and Billy Slater in – and left out Jane Austen and Dante.

This clipped memoire reminds me of how fortunate I have been to be born when and where I was and to find tables laid out for me with so much treasure.)

Ali

Simply the greatest.  Confronted the contempt for black people, but had to join the Nation of Islam to avoid the Mob.  A strident commentary on the ugly flaws in the American psyche and a reminder of the dignity that should come with our humanity.

Arendt

Serious moral courage and blinding insights.  The ‘banality of evil’ is up there with ‘darkness visible’ and ‘Satan felt how awful goodness is.’

Balzac

Effortless dissection of the emptiness of the bourgeoisie.  He wrote as easily as we breathe.  Rodin was dead right.

Barassi

The crucial role of character in sport – and elsewhere.  A child-hood hero who stuck.  An essential part of my fabric from boyhood on.  And of the city of Melbourne.

Baryshnikov

Ascended at the Palais and half of St Kilda heard the gasp.

Beethoven

A titanic Prometheus who gave thunder back to the gods.

Benaud

A true all-rounder.  Best captain since Waugh.  Captained Australia in the best series ever and was a real part in the famous tied test (the end of which I heard live.)  Later made commentary an art form.

Bjorling

A voice from God that was too much for him to bear.

Bloch

An Alsatian Jew who fought in uniform in the First World War and was executed by the Germans as a member of the Resistance in the Second.  A truly great historian, he reminds me of Maitland and Namier – his digging gives him the right to be heard.  His Feudal Society is a masterpiece that fills a massive hole in my understanding of history.

Bonhoeffer

Matchless courage.  ‘This heritage, for which we are grateful, puts us under obligation.’  The essence of communion.

Burton

The voice that brought me to Shakespeare.

Callas

Pure alchemy that will long out-live her tragic end.  As commanding a figure as Ali.  An affirmation of being human.

Carlyle

Blazing insights of a ravaged mind; not history, but tone poems beyond words.  Read The French Revolution eight times, and counting.  Sustained magic.

Cervantes

Our first novel – a masterpiece about a sainted madman and his rough mate.  The soul of Spain.  Faulkner saidhe read it once a year.  The dialogues are high theatre.

Churchill

Made history by force of character – and saved the world.  Cried easily and he still has that effect on me.

Clark

A biblical account of our disconsolate past.  Trashed and abused by people who should have known better.  Read the six volumes and the short version twice.

Coke

As tough as old boots with a sting like a Taipan who batted for England and who became the champion of the common law – England’s great gift to the world.

Darwin

People in the business of persuasion should study and savour The Origin of Species.  Darwin writes clearly and simply – and without pretence.  He is candid and patient.  He is courteous throughout.  He shows no vanity, mockery, scorn, or contempt.  He shows his respect for and thanks to other professionals.  And he knew the atheists were more dogmatic than the believers.

Davis

One of the few drivers of real change in art in the 20th century – and he kept going – against the white tide.

Denning

A hugely powerful mind in a man who changed the way we write law – and who remembered my name.  By chance or design, we did not often see the dark side.

Disraeli

The grandson of an Italian Jew who made his queen the Empress of India.  Style and grace matter – not least in a Tory.  Nothing like it since.

Dixon

Our greatest jurist – by far.  A model for aspiration who helped to destroy the cringe.  Some of his stuff on the constitution  would have made Kant sit up.

Dostoevsky

No small ego, but the Russian genius for high drama.  The Brothers Karamazov is as strong a novel as I have read.  The scene with the Inquisitor makes me hold my breath – breathtaking power and courage.

Einstein

Outrageous insights that reduced the universe to issues of faith – with a very sane view of the world – and of God.  (Not so good to his wife.)

El Greco

So ahead of his time.  Blinding novelty despite his subscription to the Vatican.  Heralds our emancipation from magic.

Faulkner

Fitzgerald and Hemingway wrote prettily, but what did they have to say?  Faulkner also had problems with skirt and the bottle, but his novels come with a breathtaking wallop.  For raw power, Absalom! Absalom ! is for me matched only by Dostoyevsky. 

Flower

Baryshnikov on the wing in a number two jersey.  The pride of Melbourne.  Helped with the misery of the curse.  Pure bliss for Victoria when he had good players around him for a change.

Freeman

Redeemed the nation in about one minute.  Turned up for the funeral of a mate of mine just because he had done some work for her people.  Quite a lady.

Gibbon

Majesty.

Gibson

Raw courage and devotion – with and without Nigger.  Harris said he would be in Walhalla – above the salt.

Holmes

A Boston Brahmin who stopped three bullets in the Civil War.  As strong a mind as any here.  The Common Law is my bible.

Ibsen

He was the subject of my first weekender at Cambridge.  It opened my eyes.  Ibsen was a difficult man who set out to put a torpedo under the middle class ark.  The Dolls’ House was explosive.  Hedda Gabler is as gripping as Hamlet. 

Jesus

A saintly man whose life and teaching have been so badly let down.  Signed his death warrant by taking to the money people.  Not a rock on which an Establishment might be built.

Joyce

Yes, Ulysses is up there with Don Quixote and War and Peace, but Portrait of an Artist is not so in your face, and The Dead contains what in my view is the most beautiful writing in English prose.

Kant

A mind so fine it nearly undid him, but he showed that mankind has an innate dignity without God – the absolute champion of what we call the Enlightenment.  Fundamental to my view of the world.  Fills the boots of God.

Keating

As tough a political warrior as you could find, who put it all on the line for our First Nations when there was nothing in it for him or his party.  Good grief – areal leader.  Then came the pygmies.

Keats

A gorgeous young songster slain so young by brutal snobbery.  Innocence defined and smashed.  ‘Here lies one whose name is writ on water.’

Keynes

A genius who called out his own government as part of the cause of the next war and then helped that nation pay for the war and repay difficult Americans.  In him ‘patriot’ is not a dirty word.

Landy

Not the first to break four minutes, but a world beater in that wonderful time when we believed, and then knew, that we could be the world’s best.  And a word you don’t hear much now – a gentleman.

Lawrence

The hero in action, Lawrence of Arabia had a massive influence on me when young – especially after the film.  This tortured soul still intrigues me with his gorgeous writing and blistering insights.  One of a kind, duped into betraying a people; the final flicker of Empire.

Laver

Our best tennis player and a great Australian champion.

Lillee

The object of Australian cricket is to beat England.  With prejudice.  Thommo may have been more terrifying, but Lillee got the wickets.  Watching him before a big MCG crowd is what living in Melbourne is all about.  As when he trapped Knott in front effectively to win the Centenary Test.

Lincoln

Sits on the right hand of God.  No one else gets close.

Macaulay

Wrote like Mozart.

Maine

A graceful scholar of the old school with a world view wide enough to underlie all my understanding of the history of the law.  The movement from status to contract is as fundamental as our being loosed from the grip of the supernatural.

Maitland

As luminous a lawyer and historian as I know.  The father of legal and constitutional history.  The best teller of the biggest story in the world.  A source of inspiration to the mind.

Mansfield

The greatest trial judge.  The god of expedition – Magna Carta made flesh.

Melville

Moby Dick is hard going, but Billy Budd is a flawless redemption story that I read or listen to so often – with the movie and the Britten opera.  Another study of pure evil.  (Claggart is mesmerising in both the movie (Robert Ryan) and the opera.)

Merkel

So far above the rest it is embarrassing.  Raised on the wrong side, she knows how lucky we all are.  The only person in public life to follow the Sermon on the Mount – and she got ridiculed for it.  And she stared them all down.

Miller

Nearly past his prime when I saw him, but he could win matches on his own with bat or ball.  A bronzed Anzac that fed a doubtful Australian myth – the likeable larrikin.  Laughed at pressure – that was having a Messerschmitt up your arse.

Milligan

The Goons with the Demons were the highlights of my boyhood.  Can more light enter a mind that is cracked than one that is whole?  The irrefutable logic of Bluebottle and Eccles.  Raw genius.  Lost innocence.

Milton

The first champion of the Rights of Man cheated the executioner and was blind when he wrote the greatest poem ever.

Mozart

As ineffable as Shakespeare – and as unbelievable.  The best evidence yet of the existence of God.

Namier

Revolutionised history by going deep to the best evidence and writing beautifully.  Offside with the Establishment – his widow says because he was Jewish, but probably because he was so good.  Diagnosed what we have lost – ‘restraint, coupled with the tolerance it implies, and plain human kindness.’  I am in awe of this man and his raw intellectual horse power.

Newcombe

A true Australian champion of the world.  And possibly the last decent one we have produced in tennis.

Nicklaus

The most imposing presence on any sporting arena – including Ali (who hung on too long).

Pacino

There is something about the way this guy breathes his lines and shows the whites of his extended eyes that gets to me – and holds my attention – from Scarface on  (with the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer).  Not bluffed by Shakespeare either.  De Niro is up there with him.  (They were paired in Heat and The Irishman.)

Pontormo

Painted the most arresting painting I have seen – Mozart in jockey’s silks at Santa Felicita over the bridge in Florence.

Pound

Fought hard cases before cow punching juries in Nebraska, and published a paper attacking the decline he saw in court control before becoming the sage of Harvard.  Invested the common law with an almost spiritual urge, but kept his feet on the prairie.  The Spirit of the Common Law is second only to Holmes.  Another juristic godfather.

Rigg

On many Wednesdays in the 60’s, the conversation of four love sick law students in a Zephyr on the way to University turned on what Emma Peel wore the night before in The Avengers.  Sex with style – both so far above us.  Years later, I saw her in Medea in the West End.  Lethal ugly sister in Lear. 

Rowe

Long legs and dimples.  Drop dead gorgeous.  Incandescent as Juliet.  Those tall arabesques.  I wrote a fan letter about which her husband was at best cool.

Shakespeare

The face of God.  Towers above all the rest.  Burton spoke of his ‘towering compassion.’  A very learned person said that when he read Shakespeare, he actually shaded his eyes. 

Slater

A strapper from Queensland, number 1 for the Melbourne Storm, Queensland and Australia, may be the most exciting sportsman I have seen – with the possible exception of Thommo.  Shouting for a champion with the whole crowd at your back was a precious novelty for Demons supporters.

Smart

A fine artist who did for our view of the city what Fred Williams did for the bush.  Another cringe killer.

Smith

The Rolls Royce of judges.  Underlies so much of my understanding of the law – a proper subject of reverence.

Spinoza

A genius and a saint who was excommunicated.  Fundamental to my understanding of the threat posed to humanity by those claiming to have God.  As is Kant.

Sutherland

Lit up Covent Garden – a twelve minute ovation for the Mad Scene – and every other opera house, but was coolly received back here.  The New York Times said her voice was ‘flawless’.  Our Joan was a great Australian.

Tanner

Although I read Bradley on Shakespeare at school and later, and still admire him, I am sceptical of the value of critics.  Not so with Tony Tanner.  He mixes close reading with slashing insight, measured respect, and cordial sense and courtesy.  A real pleasure to read someone up to the job.

Thatcher

Bedevilledby the Establishment and the boys, she wiped the floor with the lot of them.  Like Keating, she was prepared to say what she stood for.  (I learned a long time ago not to express these views at Oxbridge – the best result is defenestration.)

Thompson

As compact a golf swing as I have seen.  Unassuming winner of British Opens during our salad days in the fifties.  The money then was not corrupting – we were shocked when the Davis Cup went professional.  And Melbourne has some of the best golf courses in the world.

Tolstoy

An unpleasant Russian genius who created two of the title deeds of western civilisation.  Capable of shocking power.

Truman

One of the very few not corrupted by power.  A model education for his office.  Second only to Lincoln.  Dropped the bomb and fired MacArthur – and did not lose any sleep.

Turner

So far ahead of his time – shock treatment for suburbia.  (There’s one in the old Tait that prefigures Boyd and Nolan.)

Verdi

So Italian but so universal.  A true lifelong companion.

Waugh

A model of a Captain – and an Australian who made me proud of my colours.  The twin could play too.

Welles

The word ‘genius’ has been abused, but this guy had it.  Citizen Kane does little for me, but Falstaff is great and The Third Man is the most artistic movie ever made. You could stop the film almost anywhere and frame the still.  Magic.

White

Blistering insights from a man with some poison in his soul who became our leading intellectual champion.

Whitlam

A man of immense grace and charm – another tragedy for us – brought down by people who kept their hate going for generations. Ended one party rule and king hit the cringe.   Meeting Gough was up there with meeting Denning and Barassi.

Williams

A great painter who finally showed us our great land as it is.

Williams

The label ‘R M Williams’ holds an assured place in my life and that of my country.  And we export it to the world and are bringing its production back home.  De rigeur for chaps in the City, old boy.

Williamson

Our mirror of the people next door, our version of Alan Bennett, and in a more permanent form than Barry Humphries.  His arrival coincided with our Renaissance in the 70’s.  The Coming of Stork and Don’s Party gave me two of the best nights at the theatre and the movies in my life.  And they have stayed with me.  The author got our zeitgeist.

Wittgenstein

A lightning-strike mind from a family given to suicide, he amazed his colleagues and had nothing to say for the rest of us.  He stands for the death of philosophy.  ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’  ‘During the war, the trains carried a sign: ‘Is this journey really necessary?’’  

3 thoughts on “Some people of influence

  1. Your love and admiration of great creative minds has helped me hone my ‘books-to-be-read’ list. Thank you.

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