Why oh why did I ever get into this mess!?

Colonial Ambition Peter Cochrane's story about Australia's Foundation of Democracy Sydney NSW 1856 Melbourne University Press

Well, I guess it goes a bit like this …. it started now a long time ago with a book, some free time and the ‘dulcet’ tones of Malcolm Turnbull, the Younger, ringing in my ears.

The book – Colonial Ambition by Peter Cochrane – The Prime Minister’s prize for Australian History & The Age Book of the Year, both in 2007.  It’s a book about the “Foundations of Australian Democracy” the type you just stumble across when you’re in The Coop Bookshop in Phillip Street, Sydney & NOT looking for a law book.  Now, I didn’t read much then unless they were government reports or inquiry submissions.  Reading for ‘enjoyment’ seemed mostly oxymoronic, you did it when you needed to but I’ve always liked having books.  My reading habits were about to change.

Enter … in my head … Malcolm Turnbull.  Malcolm had long since finished as the Chair of the Australian Republican Movement but I kept hearing ‘the Federation is broken’ on the back of the Centenary of Federation activities promoting something to do with Henry Parkes as being “The Father of Federation”.  My head only heard – Who was “Henry Parkes, Father of Federation”? And is the Federation broken?  And to figure that out, I had to know what ‘he’ was trying to do in the first place.

Simple! Yeah?

Well it turns out Henry was just one of the Federation Fathers (& Mothers – shall we just say ‘Founders’) and I’ve found that Henry has many modern day fans as well as his ardent detractors (such like he did in the 1800s).

Broken? For mind, very much so and the much bigger question is HOW do we go about fixing it or if its ever possible. Some days I’m optimistic, some days not so.  Either way, we just have for find a way.  Henry would say:

“Remember, gentlemen, that no work worthy of achievement was ever attained without surmounting difficulties.  Supposing ours were tenfold greater than they are, they ought not to turn us from our object, for it is sound and good (Parkes 1890 Crimson Thread speech)”

Colonial Ambition you ask?  For me, CA is more about Peter’s writing style and the realisation that reading history can be enjoyable ble for ‘the rest of us’ not constrained by academic demands. In the end, CA really doesn’t have much to do with Henry.  CA centres around the events of 1856 in Sydney and the various characters trying to extract themselves from the clutches of direct English rule.  Henry’s there but only as a bit part.  His character was yet to unfold.

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“This is not the usual political history; it’s more wide-ranging, more vivid, more alive with people, places and talk”  John Hirst

Jane Reynolds

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