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Speech on the occasion of a farewell to Donald Horne retiring chair of the Australia Council hosted by the Arts Community Australian Museum, Sydney Friday December 7 1990



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SPEECH ON THE OCCASION OF A FAREWELL TO

DONALD HORNE

RETIRING CHAIR OF THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL

HOSTED BY THE ARTS COMMUNITY

AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM, SYDNEY

FRIDAY DECEMBER 7, 1990

1

AS A RESULT OF THE SHOCKING POLITICAL UPHEAVAL AT THE END OF

1975, DONALD HORNE AND I BOTH SUFFERED A LOSS - I LOST MY SEAT

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES AND HE LOST HIS POLITICAL

INNOCENCE.

HE WAS ONE WHO DID NOT NEED TO BE ENCOURAGED TO MAINTAIN HIS

RAGE - HE WAS OUT THERE INCITING RAGE IN US ALL.

WHEN RAGE TURNED TO MOURNING, IT BECAME CLEAR THAT WHAT HE

GRIEVED FOR WAS THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SENSE OF TRUST THAT

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF AUSTRALIANS HAD REPOSED IN THE

DEMOCRATIC PROCESS. BUT GRIEF DEFIED PITY AS HE JOINED IN THE

TASK OF REBUILDING A NEW SENSE OF DECENCY AND SELF RESPECT IN

AUSTRALIA.

HE WAS, I MUST SAY, AT LEAST AMBIVALENT ABOUT HOW USEFUL

POLITICIANS MIGHT BE IN THIS PROCESS, HAVING EARLIER WRITTEN IN

HIS INTRODUCTION TO MICHAEL BODDY'S AND BOB ELLIS' THE LEGEND

OF KING O'MALLEY: "POLITICIANS CANNOT HELP BEING CLOWNS.

POLITICAL ACTIVITY IS ESSENTIALLY ABSURD. THE HOPES HELD FOR

IT CAN BE HIGH, THE RESULTS TRAGIC, BUT THE POLITICAL ACT

ITSELF MUST LACK DIGNITY: IT CAN NEVER MATCH OUR IDEALS OF HOW

SUCH THINGS SHOULD BE DONE."

SO PERHAPS IT IS JUST AS WELL FOR ME THAT I AM HAVING THE LAST

WORD TONIGHT.

AGAIN, LIKE ME, DONALD HAD A WIN OF SORTS WITH THE CHANGE OF

GOVERNMENT IN 1983 AND HIS SUBSEQUENT APPOINTMENT TO THE

AUSTRALIA COUNCIL.

2

WHAT IS NOT ALWAYS APPRECIATED IS THAT LABOR'S ARTS POLICY IN

1983 WAS VIRTUALLY UNCHANGED FROM THE POLICY THAT GOUGH WHITLAM

HAD FASHIONED SO SUCCESSFULLY FIFTEEN YEARS EARLIER. THE ONLY

DIFFERENCE WAS THAT WE HAD COMMITTED OURSELVES TO REPAIRING THE

WRECKAGE IN ARTS FUNDING THAT HAD OCCURRED IN THE IMMEDIATELY

PRECEDING PERIOD.

WHILE IN OPPOSITION, IN THIS AREA, AS IN MANY OTHERS, WE HAD

FAILED TO MODERNISE POLICY AND TO TAKE ACCOUNT OF THE MARKED

CHANGES IN ECONOMIC AND OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES.

THE PARTY, AND INDEED THE ARTS CONSTITUENCY, WERE CONFRONTED

WITH UNEXPECTED CHANGES AND DISAPPOINTING ABROGATIONS IN AN

ATMOSPHERE OF POLITICAL COMPULSION WHICH WAS, NOT SURPRISINGLY,

UNCOMFORTABLE AND, FOR SOME, OFFENSIVE.

DONALD - ALONG WITH BARRY COHEN - HAD THE DIFFICULT TASK OF

ADJUSTING POLICY AND EXPECTATIONS TO THE NEW CONDITIONS.

BUT SOMETHING ELSE STARTED TO HAPPEN AS WELL. OUR

PREOCCUPATION WITH ARTS FUNDING GAVE WAY TO A MORE THOUGHTFUL

CONSIDERATION OF WHAT IT WAS WE WERE TRYING TO DO WITH WHATEVER

HAPPENED TO BE THE AVAILABLE LEVEL OF BUDGET SUPPORT.

AND WHAT WE HAVE SEEN EMERGE FROM THE HORNE YEARS IS A NEW

ATTENTION TO THE INDIVIDUAL ARTIST WHO IS, AFTER ALL, THE

SOURCE OF ALL ARTISTIC CREATIVITY. THIS DESIRE TO PROVIDE THE

3.

BEST AND MOST PROMISING OF OUR ARTISTIC TALENT WITH THE FREEDOM

TO EXPLORE THE ENDLESS HORIZON OF THEIR IMAGINATION AND

INGENUITY IS VERY MUCH A HALLMARK OF THE HORNE IDEAL.

AND WE HAVE YET TO REALISE THE FULL CONSEQUENCES OF THIS

AMBITIOUS APPROACH.

WE ARE STILL LIVING THROUGH A TIME WHEN ART HAS BEEN TAMED,

WHERE SO MANY ARTISTS HAVE BECOME TIMID, PRAGMATIC AND EVEN

CYNICAL IN THE FACE OF THE ALL PERVASIVE, IF BENEVOLENT, ARTS

ADMINISTRATOR.

WE DON'T WANT THE ARTIST TO BE MERELY A DETACHED GENIUS - WE

WANT THE ARTIST TO BE AT LEAST A NUISANCE, IF NOT A THREAT, TO

THE CONVENTIONS OF OUR TIME.

WE SHOULD RECALL THAT ACTIVIST ART IS A POWERFUL ANTIDOTE TO

APATHY AND A FATAL POISON TO THE PHILISTINE.

THIS IS, I AM SURE, THE IDEAL WHICH DONALD HORNE SEEKS TO

ENCOURAGE.

BUT DONALD HORNE IS NOT JUST A MAN OF IDEALS: HE IS ALSO, AND

PERHAPS PRIMARILY, A MAN OF IDEAS.

NOT THE CONCEITED KIND WHO LAYS CLAIM TO ALL THE BEST IDEAS,

ALTHOUGH HE'S HAD MANY ENOUGH, BUT RATHER A MAN WHO BELIEVES IN

4 .

THE POWER AND THE ESSENTIAL IMPORTANCE OF IDEAS. HE BELIEVES

THAT IDEAS ARE NOT JUST FOR INTELLECTUALS, NOT JUST FOR

ARTISTS, BUT FOR EVERYONE - AND IN HIS MORE OPTIMISTIC MOMENTS

- EVEN FOR POLITICIANS. ALTHOUGH SPEAKING FOR MYSELF - AND FOR

JOHN BUTTON - I CAN SAY THAT IT IS MORE DANGEROUS THAN YOU

MIGHT THINK TO HAVE IDEAS IN THE FIELD OF ECONOMIC POLICY.

AND DONALD IS NOT SEARCHING FOR JUST ANY OLD IDEAS. HE IS

AFTER AUSTRALIAN IDEAS AND IDEALS FOR AUSTRALIA.

DONALD, YOU CONTINUE TO DEMONSTRATE IN YOUR LIFE A COMMITMENT

TO AUSTRALIAN NATIONALISM THAT IS NOT XENEPHOBIC; TO AN

INTELLECTUALISM THAT IS NOT IVORY TOWERED; TO A BELIEF IN

LIFE'S DREAMS THAT IS NEITHER DOGMATIC NOR UTOPIAN.

YOU CONSISTENTLY CHALLENGE AUSTRALIANS TO TEAR DOWN WHAT YOU

ONCE DESCRIBED AS THE "BOOFHEAD WALLS" THAT DIVIDE OUR

ENDEAVOURS AND ENCOURAGE PETTY SQUABBLING, BLINKERED

SELFISHNESS, AND THE PERPETUATION OF UNQUESTIONED MYTHS AND

METAPHORIC MONUMENTS THAT MIGHT NOT WITHSTAND THE CRITIQUE TO

WHICH THEY SHOULD BE SUBJECTED.

IT WAS DONALD HORNE WHO PROPOSED THE FIRST IDEAS SUMMIT, THE

PROCEEDINGS OF WHICH BECAME "IDEAS FOR A NATION."

5 .

I DECIDED THAT THIS SHOULD BECOME AN ANNUAL EVENT OR, MORE

ACCURATELY, A CONTINUING PROCESS - A TASK IN WHICH WE HAVE NOW

INVOLVED THE AUSTRALIAN STUDIES CENTRE AT MONASH AND

UNDERWRITTEN WITH HALF A MILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR.

BUT IN ORDER TO COMMEMORATE THE TRUE AUTHORSHIP OF THIS IDEA, I

HAVE PROPOSED THE INAUGURATION OF AN ANNUAL DONALD HORNE

LECTURE TO START THE FLOW OF IDEAS EACH YEAR ON AUSTRALIA DAY.

AND IN ORDER TO AVOID THIS PROCESS BECOMING TOO INTROVERTED AND

REMOTE FROM THE WORLD WE LIVE IN, IT WOULD PERHAPS BE

APPROPRIATE TO INVITE HOME A DISTINGUISHED AUSTRALIAN WHO HAS

ACHIEVED PROMINENCE AND FAME ABROAD.

ROBERT HUGHES, MICHAEL CHARLTON, KEN MINOGUE, GERMAINE GREER,

JAMES WOLFENSON AND WANG GUNG WU ARE SOME OF THE NAMES WHICH

COME TO MIND.

HOPEFULLY SUCH INVITATIONS WILL NOT BECOME SO ATTRACTIVE AS TO

RESUSCITATE THE BRAIN DRAIN.

I MAKE THIS PROPOSAL NOT BECAUSE OF ANY EXPECTATION THAT DONALD

HORNE IS IN DANGER OF DISAPPEARING.

6 .

I KNOW HE WILL CONTINUE HIS DETERMINATION TO KNOCK DOWN THOSE

"BOOFHEAD WALLS" WHICH ISOLATE AUSTRALIANS IN THEIR

INTELLECTUAL, POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ENCLAVES. HIS IS A VITAL

CONTRIBUTION TO OUR PURSUIT OF THE CLEVER COUNTRY.

DONALD, WE WANT YOU TO STIR US; TO ERECT NEW SIGN POSTS; AND TO

DO SO IN THAT DIRECT AND UNAMBIGUOUS STYLE WHICH HAS BEEN YOUR

FORTE. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, TO SHAKE US WITH YOUR WONDERFUL

USE OF IRONY.

YOU ARE ONE OF THE SMALL BAND OF THINKING AUSTRALIANS NOT

EMBARRASSED BY THE FUNCTION OF CREATIVE THOUGHT.

THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL WON'T BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU. SOMEHOW

THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL WILL HAVE TO MANAGE.

AUSTRALIA CANNOT, HOWEVER, GET ALONG WITHOUT YOUR CONTRIBUTION

TO DEFINING WHAT AUSTRALIA IS; AND WHAT IT MIGHT BECOME. I

JOIN WITH EVERYONE HERE TONIGHT IN WISHING YOU ALL THE BEST FOR

A BUSY AND EXCITING FUTURE.