Carl Reinecke’s ‘The Vanishing Point: The story of the publication of The Lucky Country’, Meanjin Winter 2016, is a little unfair to (my father) Donald Horne. This piece is an attempt to set the record straight. There are some good things in the article about Max Harris and Geoff Dutton, but this piece only deals with the parts of the article which deal with Horne. How The Lucky Country came into existence is obviously a legitimate question, but you won’t get satisfactory answers without a proper respect for the material.
Reinecke says that Horne might have engaged in some perhaps questionable behaviour, behaviour which played a part in establishing the ‘dominant’ view that he single-handedly changed the nation by writing his famous book. As part of this claim, Reinecke suggests that Horne failed to include a document that he had written about the genesis of The Lucky Country, in his own Mitchell Library Papers, and this failure might have been an attempt by Horne to unfairly claim too much credit for the book: this document, this ‘agreed history’, would be the record of the publication of The Lucky Country, but because it wasn’t in Horne’s own papers, the author of the history, with his own agenda, would be anonymous. I would like to point out that:
- Reinecke doesn’t challenge the accuracy of any of the detail in the document – in fact he uses much of it in his article.
- When Horne sent the document to Dutton he would have been aware that the document might end up in Dutton’s Papers. As far as we know, he didn’t instruct Dutton to destroy it after reading it.
- The file in the box in the Horne Papers that Reinecke refers to is, by and large, apart from a couple of draft letters and some plans for the book, a record of correspondence from Penguin to Horne, not the other way around. Horne didn’t always keep copies of letters he sent.
- The document itself, to be found in Geoff Dutton’s Papers in Canberra, is a summary of that correspondence, and includes the fact that Max Harris suggested to Horne that he write a book about Australia; and that Geoff Dutton took the title of the last chapter and gave it to the book as a whole. Horne didn’t distort the historical record for his own vainglorious ends; on the contrary.
- There is mention of an earlier conversation in the document and it was very probably written in response to a request from (good friend) Geoff Dutton about Penguin’s correspondence to Horne. Dutton includes some of its details in his 1994 memoir and his 1996 history of Penguin, and acknowledges Horne’s help at the beginning of his memoir.
- The first point of the document is: ‘The LC has sold, all told, more than 250,000 copies’ which makes Reinecke’s claim that the document was an early intervention (important because of its earliness) by Horne, a year or two after the book’s 1964 publication, to help shape the narrative that Horne single-handedly changed the nation, ridiculous. The book had sold 170,000 copies by the end of 1970, with sales tapering, has never been out of print, and had sold about 260,000 copies in 2000. Probably more evidence to suggest that it was written some time approaching 1994, for Dutton’s memoir.
- The file that Reinecke refers to containing the correspondence between Penguin and Horne was donated to the Mitchell Library in 1978, probably well before the document was written. If it were to be in the voluminous Horne Papers, the document probably wouldn’t be in that file.
- As an unremarkable summary of the correspondence already in his Papers, probably sent in response to a friend’s request, there’s no especial reason to think Horne would have kept a copy in another file.
- The only public airing that the document got was in Dutton’s memoir. If the document shaped public views on the story of the publication of The Lucky Country, its effect was to let people know that Harris had suggested a book to Horne and that Dutton had suggested the title of the last chapter should be given to the book as a whole. Or, to put it bluntly, if the document was important (which it wasn’t), without it, people might have thought that Horne had done everything himself.
Reinecke says that Horne, as part of his role in establishing the dominant view that he single-handedly changed the nation, took care to arrange his Lucky Country papers in accordance with the thirteen points in this document, ‘down to the individual quotes’. But what Horne did, was keep the letters in chronological order, as most people probably would; there is no arrangement of the letters into thirteen discrete groups, or into any groups; just some single sheets of paper ordered chronologically. The document that Horne sent to Dutton (probably written after the correspondence was already in the Mitchell Library) gives a chronological summary of the chronologically ordered correspondence. This poor representation of the material is a characteristic of Reinecke’s piece: he describes the item as ‘… a carefully typed two-page document with its 13 bullet points, numerous quotes and including photos …’ Yet, with more than two dozen typos and some hand-written scribbles, it’s not especially carefully typed; there are numbered points, not bullet points; and (although there is mention of a photo in passing) no photos are included. The last error, at least, is not insignificant: in attempting to suggest that Horne has distorted the story of the publication of The Lucky Country (and has included supplementary material to drive home his case) Reinecke has invented the fact that Horne sent photos.
Reinecke provides a few paragraphs of (to my taste at least) overly simplistic psychological profile of Horne, and his essay is also marked by many inaccurate statements such as:
Decrying the dismissal of Gough Whitlam in 1975 with Death of the Lucky Country, more on the grounds of British interference, than in support of Whitlam’s left-wing politics …
In fact, Horne had voted for Whitlam in the previous two elections (and decried the dismissal on the grounds of home-grown un-conventional interference). Horne’s move leftwards is traditionally dated to a review by Jim Davidson of Horne’s 1970 The Next Australia in which Davidson rightly implied that Horne might be, without yet knowing it, some sort of Whitlamite.
While the critical response to The Lucky Country was robust, I’d disagree with Reinecke’s characterisation of it as unfavourable, as did John Pringle (in The Australian Journal of Politics and History August 1965):
When [my] Australian Accent was published in 1958 it was received with a storm of abuse in Australia. The Lucky Country is far more savagely critical … yet it has been received everywhere with praise.
… If this book will not make Australians think about themselves and the future of their society, then nothing will …
Reinecke is not the first to refer to Maurice Dunlevy’s seemingly dismissive verdict:
I have no doubt that Horne’s little outburst will have been forgotten by the end of the summer …
But the sentence actually concludes:
… and that we’ll all be ready for the football season without any worries of Asia, of imperialistic hangovers or of second-rate minds.
Dunlevy wasn’t criticising Horne’s book, rather ‘the lethargic slugs who lie dreaming by the surf’. But there was life in the slugs: the book came at a time when people were ready for it, and reviewers were up to the task. I like Hugh Collins in the October/November 1965 edition of Crux:
Mr Horne conducts a clinical examination of contemporary Australian society. Most of the vital organs are there, although some are running to fat and he has difficulty locating the mind.
It is true that Horne wrote a self-defence in the Bulletin in early 1965, ‘Who Am I? Reviewing the Reviewers’ in which he complained that reviewers had reviewed him more than his book, but I put that down as a response that was partly hypersensitive, and partly a fair enough response to some unfair criticisms. Reinecke uses this piece as evidence that Horne framed the early narrative surrounding The Lucky Country (in tandem with his arguments around the document that he’d sent to Dutton) but I think it’s unfair to suggest that Horne wasn’t allowed to defend himself (even if he would have been perhaps better served to just keep his mouth shut).
Reinecke suggests that the changes in national awareness etc. that The Lucky Country has helped can best be understood as the work of not one man, but three men, Max Harris, Geoff Dutton, and Horne. Each man made a valuable contribution, but it’s wrong to see the changes that happened after the book’s publication as the product of the brilliance of three men (brilliant though they may all have been). In his definitive 2000 memoir, Into the Open (Pp 130-31) Horne wrote:
The Lucky Country can be seen as part of the ‘discovery’ in the 1960s, in two or three dozen books, that the old images of Australia no longer worked.
And far from seeing himself as the man who single-handedly changed the nation, Horne goes on to say:
The writing and reading of The Lucky Country was a group experience; much of it came from thoughts and attitudes all around us, brought together and expressed in a way that caught attention – and then it went back to them, where they could make their own thing of it.
Reinecke puts the beginning of the process that ended up with The Lucky Country at a meeting between Horne and Harris, when Horne was editor of the Bulletin [not, as Reinecke says, in an editorial meeting between the two, but, I believe, in a rare visit by Harris on Penguin business, to the Sydney-based office]. Harris had liked a piece that Horne had written for the Observer, ‘Living with Asia’, and suggested that he might expand on it and write a book. I think it is (very?) possible that without Harris’s offer to Horne at this meeting, The Lucky Country would not have been written. The Horne family (if not the country!) thanks Max Harris for his foresight.
While the process that brought the book into existence began at that meeting, the evolution of the ideas in the book can be put earlier, when Horne was editor of the Observer between 1958 and 1960 (his editorship is routinely listed as going through until 1961, but Horne took over the Bulletin in late 1960 and Peter Coleman held the reins for the last few months at the Observer). Humphrey McQueen, no less, wrote in Meanjin, April 1980 (Pp 18-19):
The success of The Lucky Country (1964) was rooted in Horne’s attempts to understand this upheaval; almost every sentence in his book had been forged in articles written for the Observer which he edited.
In writing for the Inside Story website (www.insidestory.org.au) in 2014, Reinecke himself wrote:
As editor for the fortnightly magazine, the Observer, between 1958 and 1961, and of the Bulletin in subsequent years [in fact, not much longer than one year, although he returned to the Bulletin for a six-year stint well after his famous book was written], Horne began dissecting Australia as he saw it, and those views were finally and fully articulated in The Lucky Country.
He goes on to say:
During that period an important group of writers had begun to gather in the offices of the Observer, including Harris and Geoffrey Dutton, who was engaged in establishing the Australian wing of Penguin books. With Penguin Australia’s managing director Brian Stonier, this group helped to develop what would become The Lucky Country.
But Dutton’s and Harris’s involvement in the Observer wasn’t great. In the three years of the Observer’s existence Dutton contributed some poetry and perhaps half a dozen pieces on the local South Australian scene and Harris contributed perhaps half a dozen book review type pieces. And as non-Sydneysiders, they probably never set foot inside the offices of the Observer. If it was in the Observer and the Bulletin where Horne ‘began dissecting Australia as he saw it’ (and it was), then he did it without Dutton and Harris.
Harris and Dutton were very much part of the general maelstrom of ideas at the time, but their contribution to the book, The Lucky Country, though important, was different to Horne’s. Harris’s role as literary consultant to Penguin was the procurement of new titles and marketing; after making a suggestion to Horne, he went off the scene, to become an important player again in organising publicity for the book at the time of publication (Horne himself, with his journalism contacts, also organised some publicity).
Dutton’s role as literary consultant for Penguin concerned editorial matters and, in a letter (to be found in Dutton’s papers) written just after the book’s publication, Horne thanked him for ‘being such a sympathetic and sensible editor’. It’s hard to measure intangibles such as genuine enthusiasm and sympathy (of which Dutton provided plenty), but as far as Dutton’s concrete input into the book goes, there’s no evidence to suggest that he was as equal a contributor as Horne in producing The Lucky Country. Dutton suggested that the book should be 70 000 to 80 000 words (which it ended up being) and perhaps something like a book, Anatomy of Britain, that journalist Anthony Sampson had recently written (there are some echoes from it in The Lucky Country, but it’s about a different nation, is much longer and includes a lot more facts and figures). Dutton also suggested Horne should write a few pages on the country, which made its way into the book, under the heading ‘The Bush’. And it was Dutton who had suggested in 1963 that Australia should become a republic. In his 1992 The Coming Republic (P5), Horne wrote:
The modern Australian republican movement began with an article by the Adelaide writer … Geoff Dutton, that appeared in the intellectual fortnightly, Nation in April 1963.
As far as Dutton’s input into the actual manuscript goes, it was decidedly at the lower end of editorial involvement. Reinecke suggests that there was a time when Dutton was shaping the book’s style and focus, but it’s probable that this suggestion is based on the misappropriation of an unsigned document to Dutton, rather than to Horne. The two-page document, to be found in the Horne Papers, lists four kinds of style (surely a highly personal matter) that were to be used in the book and gives a short synopsis including some chapter headings (some of which made the final cut). The handwriting in the document is Horne’s and Horne describes it on P127 of his memoir, Into the Open:
… I sent Geoff a rough two-page plan for a book, chapter by chapter.
In an April 1964 letter to Horne discussing the manuscript, Dutton suggests that Horne should provide more facts and figures (which Horne mainly rejected), and gives twenty-nine specific suggestions, many of which are of the ‘no more’ should read ‘anymore’ variety. Brian Stonier, the head of Penguin, sent forty-three editorial suggestions of that ilk, in August: ‘Hope this makes sense and hope it is not being too pedantic.’ That’s pretty much it.
I’m sure that Harris and Dutton could have written a terrific book about Australia – perhaps a better one – if they had taken on Horne’s project for themselves, but I doubt that, yes, one million Max Harrises and one million Geoff Duttons writing on two million typewriters would have produced The Lucky Country. Books have many different, important formative influences, but they aren’t really books until they are written, and The Lucky Country is a unique work of imagination, perhaps the best work of creative non-fiction written about Australia, describing things as they were and as they seemed. If you put the shoe on the other foot, it’s arguably probable that if one foresightful, sensible, enthusiastic, committed, intelligent, sympathetic publisher, had suggested that he write a book, Horne would have produced something that resembled the book that became The Lucky Country: it was in his bones. (Horne was a nimble critical observer and sincerely wanted us to be a better version of ourselves.) Who knows, the different editor might have taken a title from a heading in the first chapter rather than the last. The book could have been called ‘Nation without a mind: Australia in the Sixties’. Rather than misunderstandings about the meaning of ‘lucky’ in the title, the book might have been misunderstood as secreting Zen wisdoms. Could have been a hit on the West Coast.
Documents referred to in this article can be found in the Mitchell Library’s Donald Horne Papers MLMSS 3525 MLK 2135 L18; and the NLA’s Geoffrey Dutton Papers MS 7285/4/13 Box 25. The document that Reinecke describes as ‘key’ is included above.