One Nation's Furphy

By Partington, Geoffrey | Journal of Australian Studies, June 1998 | Go to article overview
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One Nation's Furphy


Partington, Geoffrey, Journal of Australian Studies


The rise of the One Nation Party has, at least temporarily, changed Queensland politics and to a lesser extent those of the whole of Australia. It may also lead to some reconsideration of the historical roots of contemporary political forces. The immediate effect of the success of One Nation in attracting over one fifth of the primary vote in Queensland has been to embarrass the National and Liberal coalition: a decided shift to the right among the electorate has produced a government decidedly to the left of its predecessor. However, the rise of One Nation also poses grave potential difficulties for the ALP and the Australian left as a whole. This is because many of the key values advocated by One Nation have traditionally been espoused in this country even more on the left than the right.

Within the Australian left throughout the last century, the 1890s has been the decade most frequently thought to have displayed `traditional' labour values. Central figures include William Guthrie Spence, William Lane, Henry Lawson, and Joseph Furphy, on whom this paper focuses. Australian intellectuals of the left especially esteemed Furphy, the bullocky who became a frequent contributor to The Bulletin under the pen-names of Warrigal Jack and, more famously, Tom Collins. Miles Franklin and Kate Baker wrote in 1944, `By his feeling for it [Such is Life], any literary Australian betrays whether he lives in a state of Australian grace or in one of mere mental colonialism.'(1) Miles Franklin described his best work, Such Is Life, as `so much more than a novel ... it is our Don Quixote, our Les Miserables, our Mob), Dick, our Vanity Fair.' Franklin and Baker praised Furphy because in his novels `the doctrine of state socialism and the importance of the common man are forcefully promulgated' and enthused that Furphy's `creed was the brotherhood of men, as taught by Christ, and to be put into effect by state socialism'.(2) Vance Palmer praised Furphy's `robust egalitarianism', radical populism, and antiauthoritarianism, finding in Furphy's bullockies `a passion for social equality' among `the men who pioneered unionism'.(3) Lloyd Ross, son of the proprietor of the Broken Hill Barrier Truth who first published Furphy's Rigby's Romance, thought its strength was that `the ethical case for socialism is blended with the rich deep humour of an open-air Australian': it was `propaganda for socialism woven into a series of short stories'.(4) Ian Turner praised Furphy for his dedication to the revolutionary proletariat and the socialist future, and his belief that `the individual is powerless to determine his own destiny', since `collective humanity holds the key to the kingdom of God on earth'.(5) J K Ewers commended Furphy, not only as a socialist and a republican, but as an advocate of `the `common humanity of the Slav and the Mongol'.(6)

When Meanjin first appeared in 1940, it regularly featured `Letters to Tom Collins'. Contributors included Kate Baker, Nettie Palmer, Kylie Tennant, Jim Devaney, James Duhig, John McKellar and Manning Clark. In 1943 Manning Clark criticised Furphy for failing during his many years on the track to notice the vile effects of the presence of the white man on the land: `how he treated her as a harlot, frequently raped her for her wealth wool, gold, wheat'. The wretched colonists had stuck their spades into Mother Earth and grazed their sheep on her! However, Clark forgave Furphy because he and Henry Lawson had `almost canonised the word "mate"'.(7) When Overland appeared in 1954, it took, and retains, as its motto Furphy's self description: `temper democratic, bias Australian'. Which of Furphy's ideas have relevance to contemporary Australia, and among which groups do they most flourish?

Furphy was robustly committed to `state socialism', which is advocated not only in contributions by `Tom Collins' to The Bulletin, but also earnestly advocated by Jefferson Rigby, the hero of his novel Rigby's Romance.

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