Letters to Eureka

In view of an association with your journal since its first issue, I found the hostile review of my book, John Wren: A Life Reconsidered (Eureka Street, April 2004) disturbing. Most of Jane Carolan’s statements are based on misunderstanding, or are irrelevant. Three times she complains of my ‘microscopic detail’ and the length of my book but laments that ‘only in 25 instances’ (certainly adequate) do I quote Wren and that I ‘lean heavily’ on the relatively short compilation of Hugh Buggy’s undocumented journalism in his The Real John Wren. Of slightly less than 1,000 endnotes in my book less than four per cent cite Buggy, as a courtesy as much as a source and he needs no more. Needless to say, Buggy lacks ‘microscopic detail’.

Carolan says that I have not produced a ‘clearer picture’ of Wren when the generally accepted charges against him as a gangster-homicide are specifically refuted; his family life and major business interests, his activities during World War I and after, his newspaper interest, relations with H.V. Evatt, Tom Ryan, Ted Theodore and Albert Jacka VC, to take just a few notables, are portrayed as never before. Reputable reviewers elsewhere have expressed surprise at the amount of research done. What I do say is, of course, that the research cannot be exhaustive.

Where others call Wren ‘short’ in a context suggesting that he was a runt, I am somehow at fault in calling him ‘short, but not inordinately so’. It seemed necessary to say that he had passed army requirements by a good inch. I am supposed to have ‘perpetuated furphies’, notably in the case of W.L. Baillieu’s infamous swindle of 1892–3. The swindle was fact not furphy, as the opinion of (Sir) Isaac Isaacs shows (see M. Cannon, The Land Boomers, 1986, p140). Somehow I should not say this because in World War I Baillieu did good work in war munitions! Carolan misreads the irony with which I contrasted Wren’s determined plebeianism with his children’s ‘posh’ manners and Mary Wren’s style with that of her proletarian mates.

Carolan is incorrect in her assertion that the authoritative Richard Stremski (Kill for Collingwood, 1986) was wrong in ascribing to Wren the lucrative transfer of the Tivoli Club’s liquor licence to the Collingwood Football Club in 1941. As well as writing the definitive Club history, Stremski has been a director and general manager of the Club. He has now rechecked the social club’s membership of the 1940s to find that Carolan’s alternative ‘fixer’, R.H. Macintyre, was not then on the books, although Macintyre had installed a bar in the Ryder Stand in the 1930s. Carolan gives no source for her claim.

James Griffin
Spence, ACT

Luke Fraser’s ‘The Threat to Empire’ (Eureka Street, July–August 2004) reads as a diffuse apologia for the Howard Government’s belief that the only people of value are those who are paid for what they do.
There is a consistent message that everyone who reaches retirement  is immediately a burden on tax payers. This is untrue. Many older people contribute taxes through continuing employment or investment. They also contribute hours in voluntary activity.

The growing industry in residential and community care provides opportunities for employment as well as employment for those who provide training, accreditation and services.

Fraser, with the government, laments that there will not be enough people in the paid workforce to pay the taxes needed to support more dependent people.

This overlooks the fact that a smaller workforce means less unemployment, and fewer younger people reliant on the public purse.

Older people are the very same ones who supported and nurtured the younger generation. Through paid employment and taxes they funded schools. Through family involvement and volunteering they supported the communities in which young people were raised.

Fraser’s article also rehashes the unverifiable figures about the costs of raising a child. The value, again, is alleged as only monetary. Families in the African countries which Fraser mentions actually regard their children as wealth in themselves. Living comfortably is good, but what good is it if you have no children to carry on your hopes and dreams, and to support you when you are older, as you supported them when they were young?

These are people who value children, who know that there are far more fundamental values in life than the selfish consumerism which is stifling our country.

Elizabeth Bleby
Unley, SA



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