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Nine years ago, I was offered a broadcasting job in Sydney by a revered journalist I had long admired, Alastair Allan. I have worked in Sydney for the past 13 years as a journalist and news presenter, so I thought it was a fair deal. But this arrangement fell apart, and I instead found myself ensconced in my home city, where I am covering the local election as a full-time Channel Ten staff reporter.
In the meantime, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Graydon Carter on two superb books: Mark Latham: The American Diaries, about the hero and victim of The Outsider, and the new biography, Mark Latham: A Tender Life by Edward Simon. These books, which I have edited, are often woven together so that the central event of the events is somewhat obscured. Latham and his story have fascinated me for two reasons. First, the subject is an outstanding writer and has been in the media long before his political career came to life, and secondly, because he was astonishingly able to write his own biographies. But, above all, he is a tremendously generous storyteller, whose brilliance in capturing a personality who was the ultimate opposition politician was magnetic.
In each of my two books I explored the trajectory of Latham’s life, and this day I was floored by the influence he had on other speakers and students and, especially, young students in Australia. In Mark Latham: An American Diaries, most of his initial generation of the young left camp, people of an older generation, really got to know him. He lived a biography of his life on a shoestring budget, in a private school, for $30,000. But that was a distinct disadvantage compared with the typical American family that had come to Australia in search of some financial security. The government subsidized almost half of Mark’s purchase, and I expect the cost of Mark’s travel to pay for the rest. I also wrote that America was also a place of “charity” for the immigrant, as the federal and state governments gave free food, clothing, and housing to impoverished and disabled people. For a very small, very expensive price, the young Australian left camp also got all these things that other welfare-driven welfare programs offered only to the well-off, and that is essentially the base of the economic system in Canada.
In Mark Latham: A Tender Life, the author explores how the massive electoral vote was achieved by the working classes within the Australian left. He writes that at first the young, middle-class left plan worked on the premise that many people of my generation wouldn’t vote for the major parties because of their social class. This assumption was invalid because, by the time of the 1974 election, the political situation had shifted dramatically, and there were several contests going on throughout the nation: the devolution of management to regional Australia, building a state, control of the mining industry, and taking over the national debt. The election was clearly in the hands of the working classes, and they had won.
Today, Canadians might not like to think about the country’s remarkable social welfare system, but we must always ask ourselves what could happen if the working class had been able to bring politicians to task. I had plenty of eyes wide open as Mark made those hard calls, and those hard choices, and did the research necessary to tell the American story with as much conviction as I could muster, as well as the Australian story to illustrate the erosion of social welfare in America.
The positive view of Mark Latham can be traced to a profound lesson he made when reading John Harvey Kellogg’s The Great Crash of 1929, by that enormously influential, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author. In a well-written book, along with other books by Kellogg about the crash, Latham tells the young leftist school children and adults in Australia of the great crisis, and why they should never forget the similarities of the two economies, and perhaps this still shouldn’t be the settled view.
I would encourage viewers and readers to read Mark Latham: An American Diaries for themselves, and remember that there was a time when being a leftie was a journey of believing in something you saw clearly in the media.