Manning Clark

Manning Clark

Manning Clark

Manning Clark

Synopsis

Manning Clark was one of the most influential Australian intellectuals of the last half century. His political pronouncements were often highly provocative and his sweeping judgments, dire denunciations, and oracular prophecies infuriated conservatives and made him a controversial figure. His most enduring legacy, however, was his magisterial six-volume History of Australia. In it he reshaped the now familiar story of our nation's modern evolution; from the First Fleet's arrival, the convicts, the rum rebellion, gold, the sheep's back, Federation, and the glorious defeat at Gallipoli, up to the nation emerging from the Great Depression and on the threshold of a new world war. Within the dramatic narrative, which he envisaged as an epic, are highly original and insightful portraits of its great men with their tragic flaws: Phillip, Macquarie, Burke and Wills, Bligh, Wentworth, and above all Henry Lawson. But behind this ambitious work was a man as flawed as the historical figures he was presenting-figures in whose personalities and life events he often saw himself dauntingly mirrored. He was wracked with self-doubt and dogged by fears of failure and personal weakness; he craved forgiveness for the betrayals that stalked and threatened his marriage to Dymphna, and wrestled with an elusive Christ in whom he longed to have a secure faith. Behind the signature broad hat and the stern unsmiling visage was a tortured man. That is the complex, enigmatic, and thoroughly enthralling Clark who emerges in this remarkable biography by Brian Matthews, whose previous acclaimed memoir of Louise Lawson was judged to be both ground breaking and revolutionary. Manning Clark draws a compelling portrait of the great historian, who attracted both critics and acolytes alike in equal number. Both sides can expect to be astounded and captivated.

Excerpt

In Paul Auster's wonderful screenplay for the 1995 film Smoke, the hero, Augustus ‘Auggie’ Wren, played by Harvey Keitel, recounts to a newfound friend his years-long preoccupation with one particular photographic subject. Every morning, for many years past, he has photographed the intersection in front of his Brooklyn tobacco shop – always at the same time, and from precisely the same angle, and at the same level. the resultant gallery of images is an extraordinary record: fashions change, traffic increases, buildings alter or are replaced, the seasons roll through the days and months, certain people re-appear regularly, some disappear, and so on. No doubt closed-circuit television in these troubled times performs something of the same function, but without, obviously enough, the affection, the dedication, the slightly mad obsessiveness.

Had an antipodean Auggie Wren been photographing the intersection of Franklin and Furneaux streets from in front of his shop in the Canberra suburb of Manuka in the 1960s and 1970s – it assuredly would not have been a tobacco shop – he would have noticed many regular passers-by. One of these would have been the tall, unsmiling, vaguely eccentric figure of Manning Clark striding up to the entrance of St Christopher’s Catholic Cathedral. It was a short downhill walk or an easy freewheel on the bicycle from Clark’s house at 11 Tasmania Circle in Forrest to the gate of St Christopher’s. Clark would not have appeared constantly in the daily photo, but he was a frequent enough visitor and sufficiently distinctive to be noticeable. Occasionally he would be among a group of parishioners attending Mass; sometimes he would be one of the small knot of faithful going to evening Benediction; most often, however, he would be alone and his visit brief. On those occasions, once inside in the echoing gloom and silences, where memories of incense wavered through the solemn . . .

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