On the value of oceans and how the earth pays for our iDevices + eGadgets – or, I’m still down the accounting rabbit hole

Storms have smashed Sydney and New South Wales for days, flooding roads, railways, entire towns, uprooting trees, tearing off roofs, sweeping away beaches, cars, houses, animals, people. The tempestuous weather makes clear once again the almighty power of our planet whose good and predictable behaviour we mostly take for granted, in Sydney at least. It’s a timely reminder, given that yesterday was Earth Day – and we increasingly live in a digital, virtual world and forget about the actual earth.

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Because I once followed my love of art and Venice into the underworld and found that accounting runs the planet, or at least largely determines how we value it, on Earth Day I think about accounting. Especially about how the way we account lets us abandon the earth for economic growth, for profit, for the production of more and more stuff that we don’t really need and we don’t properly pay for, because the earth does.

This week a new report commissioned by the WWF, Reviving the Ocean Economy: The case for action – 2015, has valued the world’s oceans in monetary terms. It found they’re worth $US24 trillion. Which makes The Oceans the world’s seventh biggest economy, with an annual value of goods and services of US$2.5 trillion. I’d say ‘for what such figures are worth’, except that such figures are worth something – because they translate the value of various bits of the earth into the language spoken by business and economics. And this is the language that counts, because business and economics rule.

So much does business rule that the lead author of the WWF report, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, tasks it with reversing the destruction of the oceans. This is new. He said it’s important that the business community understands the value of the oceans so that a strategy could be devised to reverse their decline. The Director General of WWF International, Marco Lambertini, also used the language of business and economics to argue for the ocean’s enormous value to the planet and human life:

‘The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy. As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean’s valuable assets without investing in its future … The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will.’

But will it?

And will a hard economic analysis make us pay the real cost of our iGadgets and eDevices, which are currently being paid by people and places far from Head Office, like exploited workers in an iPad factory in southern China, and a ruined lake near Baotou in inner Mongolia, the dumping ground for the waste of rare earth minerals mining (the nearby Bayan Obo Mining district contains some 70% of the world’s rare earth minerals). As BBC journalist Tim Maughan said when he saw the lake, now a toxic wasteland:

‘It’s a truly alien environment, dystopian and horrifying. The thought that it is man-made depressed and terrified me, as did the realisation that this was the byproduct not just of the consumer electronics in my pocket, but also green technologies like wind turbines and electric cars that we get so smugly excited by in the West.’

If we factored these human and environmental costs into our accounting models so we paid the real prices of the goods they helped to produce – as economist Raj Patel argued with his hypothetical $200 hamburger – would we save them? I think this is one of the most important questions of our time.

Economist Richard Denniss addresses similar questions in the latest issue of The Monthly in a piece called ‘Spreadsheets of Power‘ about the persuasive and pervasive power of economic models. Denniss dismisses environmentalists’ attempts to put dollar prices on nature, as the WWF has done with oceans this week. He says: ‘The environmental movement had spent decades avoiding a direct attack on the claimed economic benefits of mining, preferring instead to try to counterpose a value on the possums, frogs and trees that are inevitably harmed. I like possums, frogs and trees, but I think attempts to value them are as arbitrary as attempts to value human lives.’ But as Denniss acknowledges, economists put money values on human lives every day, for insurance and other purposes. So why not on possums, frogs and trees?

Would putting dollar prices on oceans, possums, frogs and trees stop us from destroying them? Force us to value them? I wrestled with this question when thinking about the new ‘six capitals‘ accounting paradigm which seeks to value nature as ‘natural capital’, torn between Raj Patel’s $200 hamburger and George Monbiot’s argument that ‘Costing nature tells us that it possesses no inherent value‘. Which brings us back to Earth Day, because Monbiot’s piece on costing nature was published on Earth Day 2014. I read it while I was writing Six Capitals. It brought home to me the full force of a remark made by John Maynard Keynes in 1933 – ‘once we allow ourselves to be disobedient to the test of an accountant’s profit, we have begun to change our civilisation’ – and of the true bankruptcy of that civilisation, which has so lost its bearings in the universe that its only apparent common measure of value, and of right and wrong action, is the rule of money.

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Multinational tax avoidance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the shift from nations to corporations – and Tomas Sedlacek’s Economics of Good and Evil

When you’re writing a book, there are themes and stories you must pursue, they make up the tale you’re trying to tell. And then there are other, tantalising themes that bubble away under the surface or that you glimpse in passing from the corner of your eye. With Double Entry, these intriguing side stories involved the ‘mystique of double entry’ (a whole chapter now lying on the cutting room floor) and esoterica like the five Platonic solids and the Golden Mean (or divine proportion) which fascinated Luca Pacioli and Leonardo da Vinci, as well as 20th century artists like the Italian futurist Gino Severini.

With Six Capitals, it was something taking shape beneath the story I was telling of an accounting revolution and the shift to the information age and era of ‘sustainability’ I was trying to capture. I couldn’t pause too much to think about it while I was writing, because it was only a speculation, but I continue to see its signs everywhere. It is: the transfer of power from nations to corporations.

The stats show this shift is taking place: in 2000, 51 of the 100 largest economies in the world were corporations, not nations. And in 1980 the aggregate revenues of the world’s 1000 largest companies were about 30 per cent of the GDP of the OECD countries. In 2010, a mere 30 years later, this had exploded to around 70 per cent. Another telling development is the fact that, unlike the crash of 1929, after the crash of 2008 the public sector rapidly mobilised to bail out (most of) the failing banks and other institutions – and ever since corporations have been posting record profits and nations have been flatlining or going bust.

This is exacerbated by multinationals’ perfection of the art of tax avoidance. And despite the big talk from Joe Hockey, the US and others at the G20 summit last year that they’d launch a ‘very aggressive‘ crackdown on tax avoidance, and the Senate inquiry into corporate tax avoidance in Australia, the challenge of capturing the billions of dollars a year in lost corporate taxes seems immense if not insurmountable. Multinational corporations have jumped ship, out of the nation and into the global ether.

The proliferation of trade agreements further entrenches the power of corporations at the expense of nations. For example, when Mexico put restrictions on high fructose corn syrup, three different US agribusinesses sued the Mexican government under NAFTA‘s investor-state system. Mexico lost and was forced to pay out $169.18 million to private interests.

The controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership currently being negotiated by 12 nations including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore and the United States looks set to formalise this increasing encroachment of corporate power over national sovereignty with its inclusion of a similar investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision. This is despite assurances by the Australian government that it would not entertain ISDS provisions that ‘restrict our ability to pursue legitimate public policy objectives.’ Given the carbon-promoting, business-courting, confused, retro nature of the current federal government’s public policy objectives, this is no comfort at all. I’m with GetUp, which calls the TPP ‘The dirtiest deal you’ve never heard of‘.

The rise to prominence of nation states is a phenomenon of the modern era. But the multinational corporation is a thoroughly postmodern entity, everywhere and nowhere at once. In all the recent discussions of corporate tax evasion, the story told by Sam Dastyari on 8 April seemed to get to the heart of the problem – and therefore to point the way to possible action. He wrote:

‘The idea that any company would choose to pay more tax than it legally needs to seems extraordinary on the surface. But that is exactly what happened in Britain in 2013, when Starbucks unexpectedly decided to voluntarily pay 20 million pounds ($38 million) in taxes.’

So, what prompted this extraordinary move? Its customers. When Starbucks’ tax practices were publicly exposed, consumers revolted. ‘Protests and boycotts from customers left Starbucks with little choice; either start paying their fair share of tax or cop a significant sales backlash.’ Does our power now reside not in our role as citizens and voters in a nation state, but as consumers and shareholders in a global web of multinational corporations?

On the question of the power of the state versus capital, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century makes clear the steady rise of capital and the growing impotence of states. The book expounds Piketty’s robust belief in states and national governments, and in their capacity to claw back their tax base, their power, their 20th-century ordained central role in economic life. But his chapter 13, ‘A Social State for the Twenty-First Century’ – which asks the question ‘can we imagine political institutions that might regulate today’s global patrimonial capitalism justly as well as efficiently?’ – seems to answer it with an impossible ideal: a progressive global tax on capital. As Piketty himself concedes: ‘But a truly global tax on capital is no doubt a utopian ideal.’

Will nation states go the way of industrial modernism, into the dustbin of history? Are multinational corporations the new locus of power, the new organising principles of the 21st century? And if so, are our ire and activism better directed at them than at governments, which are after all composed of increasingly indistinguishable political parties that court big business at the expense of the rest of us anyway?

UnknownIn other news, thanks to a comment on this blog, I’ve just bought the brilliantly titled Economics of Good and Evil: The quest for economic meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street by Czech economist Tomas Sedlacek, who was recruited aged 24 as an economic advisor to Vaclav Havel. The Introduction is called ‘The Story of Economics: From Poetry to Science’ and has as its first epigraph, from Zdenek Neubauer: ‘Reality is spun from stories, not from material’. Already I’m riveted. I’ll be writing about it here the moment I’ve finished it.

Tomorrow I’m off to Melbourne to take part in a Leadership Dialogue at Swinburne University, which promises to be a fascinating discussion of the ‘quiet revolution’ in accounting. Hope to see you there.

 

 

Posted in book news, Economics, Environment and the planet, Six Capitals | 2 Comments

‘Wild things are made from human histories': Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk – and the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2015

1406742829457Last night I finished reading (reading? devouring!) Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. It is just 283 pages long, including a brief postscript, and yet it contains multitudes; it is capacious as life: dense and rich like a poem. Macdonald is a writer and poet, an illustrator and historian and affiliate at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge – and all her many faculties are at work in this book. (It’s not actually illustrated but bursts with word pictures and verbal scenes.) Strictly speaking, H is for Hawk is, as its cover calls it, ‘Nature Writing/Biography’ – but for me it’s an extraordinary prose poem about a hawk, about wildness, about a father, his grieving daughter (Macdonald) and a literary hero-villian, TH White. It’s also a poem about a countryside, about England. Here is Macdonald on page 86:

‘To train a hawk you must watch it like a hawk, and so you come to understand its moods. Then you gain the ability to predict what it will do next. This is the sixth sense of the practised animal trainer. Eventually you don’t see the hawk’s body language at all. You seem to feel what it feels. Notice what it notices. The hawk’s apprehension becomes your own. You are exercising what the poet Keats called your chameleon quality, the ability to “tolerate a loss of self and a loss of rationality by trusting in the capacity to recreate oneself in another character or environment”. Such a feat of imaginative recreation has always come easily to me. Too easily. It’s part of being a watcher, forgetting who you are and putting yourself in the thing you are watching. That is why the girl who was me when I was small loved watching birds. She made herself disappear, and then in the birds she watched, took flight.’

H is for Hawk is an exhilarating and beautiful book. It’s been wildly successful in its brief life (it was published last year), becoming a ‘number one bestseller’ and winning the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. Most thrillingly for me and any local who loves this book, Macdonald will be a guest at the 2015 Sydney Writers Festival. She’s appearing in four sessions, including giving the closing address.

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Helen Macdonald

This year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival is a bumper festival with a vast range of authors, from international luminaries like Claire Tomalin, David Mitchell, Ben Okri, Douglas Coupland and Macdonald herself to local stars like Richard Flanagan, Kate Grenville and Helen Garner. And many more between, like New York classics maven Daniel Mendelsohn who wrote his PhD on one of my favourite subjects, Euripidean tragedy.

SWF artistic director Jemma Birrell gives a good overview of the festival in her welcome message ‘How to live?‘, which is surely an excellent title for a writers’ festival. I also like the quote which inspired it from Jean-Paul Sartre:

‘Everything has been figured out, except how to live.’

Why we read – and why we write.

(I’m also appearing in two sessions at SWF 2015, talking with economist and journalist Ross Gittins and novelist and former Wall Street investment banker Zia Haider Rahman about Creative Capital in a session mediated by Elizabeth Johnstone, and On Why Accountants Might Save the Planet. Details are also on my events page.)

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John Masefield’s Sea Fever – for Isla

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Islacircle

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‘The world is not run from where he thinks': Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall – and some upcoming talks on Six Capitals and Double Entry

1046836301I’ve just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s bestselling, prize-winning Wolf Hall. I’m a little late to the party – it was published in 2009 and the mini series has already screened on BBC 2 – but wow! What a novel. The reign of Henry VIII – and especially his second marriage to Anne Boleyn and the reverberations it caused across Christendom – has always been one of my favourite periods of English history, and Mantel retells it in mesmerising fashion. I was utterly gripped, even though at times the detail became too much even for me (a lover of detail). I can see why William Skidelsky chose it as one of his ten best historical novels in May 2012 (along with my favourite novel, War and Peace, the sublime The Leopard and Pat Barker’s extraordinary Regeneration trilogy).

I was always going to read Wolf Hall, but I became especially interested in it when I heard that it was told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, whose famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger features the most beautiful book of the age: Luca Pacioli’s Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportione et proportionalita. Published in Venice in 1494, Pacioli’s Summa was the first mathematical encyclopaedia of Europe and contains his famous double-entry bookkeeping treatise.

Thomas Cromwell (with Luca Pacioli's Summa) by Hans Holbein

Thomas Cromwell (with Luca Pacioli’s Summa) by Hans Holbein

Here’s a quote from Wolf Hall (from Part Four, II) which not only captures Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell, but also seizes the mood of those turbulent times: as Europe shifted from a medieval world in thrall to the Church of Rome to a new era ruled by merchants and money, an age monk and mathematician Luca Pacioli helped to usher into being.

‘How can he [Cromwell] explain to him? The world is not run from where he thinks. Not from his border fortresses, not even from Whitehall. The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence, from places he has never imagined; from Lisbon, from where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from castle walls, but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and the shot.’

It was of course Luca Pacioli, the so-called Father of Accounting, who sparked my unlikely interest in accounting – and led to my writing not one but two books about its enthralling history: Double Entry and Six Capitals. I’ll be talking about accounting – mostly about my new book Six Capitals – in the next few months in Brisbane, Melbourne, New York, Sydney and New Zealand. Here are the details of these events so far:

BRISBANE
7 – 9 am, Friday 27 March 2015
Brisbane Writers Festival Literary Breakfast

Customs House, 399 Queen Street, Brisbane

MELBOURNE
4.30 – 6.30 pm, Thursday 16 April 2015

Swinburne Leadership Dialogue, Swinburne Leadership Institute
Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Melbourne

NEW YORK
Wednesday 6 May 2015
Accountants Club of America
11.15 am – 12 pm: meet and greet
12 pm – 2 pm: luncheon and speaker
Club 101, 101 Park Avenue, Corner of 40th and Park Avenue, Lobby Level
Cost: $75

Friday 8 May 2015
New York University
5 – 7 pm: Presentation and roundtable discussion
More details to come

SYDNEY
May 2015
Details to come

NEW ZEALAND
Wednesday 3 June: Auckland
Thursday 4 June: Wellington
Details to come

I’ll be posting details of these events on my events page as they’re confirmed, so stay tuned.

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‘nothing less than a seizure': Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice

From hot books at Adelaide Writers’ Week – to illicit passion in Venice.

53064Death in Venice is a highly stylised, richly suggestive story of the last days of Gustav Aschenbach, a feted writer uncharacteristically overwhelmed, at the age of 53, by the urge to travel. ‘It was simply a desire to travel, but it had presented itself as nothing less than a seizure, with intensely passionate and indeed hallucinatory force, turning his craving into vision.’

The vision Aschenbach sees, of tangled tropical undergrowth, fills him with terror and mysterious longing. Haunted by his inner impulse, he travels to an island in the Adriatic where, as if by revelation, his fated destination becomes apparent to him: he must travel to Venice, that incomparable city, that ‘fantastic mutation of normal reality’.

Unerringly Thomas Mann recounts the one last blazing upsurge of passion in his artist hero, unfurling the subtle blossoming of his desire as he falls madly in love with a young boy. Aschenbach’s life has been one of ‘cold, inflexible, passionate duty’. Intent on fame, for the sake of his talent, Aschenbach has ‘curbed and cooled his feelings’ – and his discipline and forbearance have been rewarded with accolades and universal admiration. He has fascinated 20-year-old readers with his ‘breath-taking cynicisms about the nature of art and the artist himself'; his prose is read by children in prescribed school readers. But in Venice the foundations of his lofty career begin to falter as he finds a world increasingly ‘deranged and bizarre’.

On first beholding the young boy in his hotel on the Lido, Aschenbach notices with astonishment that he is ‘entirely beautiful’. The boy, Tadzio, appears god-like. With curls of dark gold, he is Eros, a ‘divine sculptural shape’ with the ‘creamy lustre of Parian marble’. As Aschenbach’s response to Tadzio transmutes from one of ‘cool professional approval’ to utterly abandoned longing, Mann’s Christian metaphors – Aschenbach’s passive suffering is St Sebastian‘s – are usurped by those of classical Greece; his rhythms become hymnic and his prose explodes into a paean to physical beauty. Aschenbach discovers that it is passion that exalts artists, that ‘the longing of our soul must remain the longing of a lover – that is our joy and our shame …’ Dirk-Bogarde-in-Death-in--006 In essence, Death in Venice is a supremely modulated outpouring of suppressed homoerotic desire – both Aschenbach’s and Mann’s own. For as Mann later wrote of Death in Venice: ‘Nothing is invented.’ Although Mann married in 1905, the most intense relationship of his life was with the painter and violinist Paul Ehrenberg, which lasted from their meeting in 1899 until around 1903.

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann

In May 1911 Thomas Mann travelled from Munich with his wife and brother Heinrich to the Adriatic island of Pola. From there they journeyed by boat to Venice to vacation on the glamorous resort island of the Lido. Here, like Aschenbach, for a fleeting moment Mann became enchanted by a beautiful young Polish boy holidaying with his mother and three sisters. But Mann was in his prime, almost 20 years younger than the fictional Aschenbach, and was not facing an irrevocable creative and physical decline.

Following his Venetian holiday, Mann returned to an idea he’d had for a story based on Goethe’s infatuation at 74 with a young 17-year-old girl while holidaying in 1823. Between July 1911 and July 1912 Mann worked on the story, transposing the theme of an ageing man’s passion for a girl to his passion for a boy. He later described the force behind Death in Venice as:

‘Passion that drives to distraction and destroys dignity – that was really the subject matter of my tale.’

First published in two instalments in October and November 1912, the book edition of Death in Venice appeared in 1913 and the first printing of 8000 sold out in a month.

The novel opens on an unseasonably warm spring afternoon in ‘the year in which for months on end so grave a threat seemed to hang over the peace of Europe’. Two years after Mann completed Death in Venice, the First World War erupted. In an uncanny way, the novel explores the role of the artist in an age apparently intent on its own destruction. Aschenbach’s fate is aligned with the fate of Europe; both are destined to be overwhelmed by chaos. For Aschenbach’s work has struck a chord with the public – and what is his work but ‘elegant self-control’ concealing ‘a state of inner disintegration and biological decay’, like European civilisation itself. As the narrator observes:

‘For a significant intellectual product to make a broad and deep immediate appeal, there must be a hidden affinity, indeed a congruence, between the personal destiny of the author and the wider destiny of his generation.’

Reflecting this, Mann later described his pre-First World War self as someone who recorded and analysed decadence, a lover of beauty obsessed with the pathological, darkness and death.

Born in 1875 in Lubeck, Germany, Mann, like Aschenbach, had an exotic mother and a successful, upright father. His mother, the beautiful and musically gifted Julia da Silva Bruhns, was born in Brazil to a Portuguese Creole mother and a German planter father. Aged 18, she married consul Heinrich Mann, a successful businessman. Under the influence of his mother, who played Chopin on the piano, Mann grew up loving music, above all Wagner, who profoundly influenced his writing. As a boy, he produced his own operas in a puppet theatre. Echoing his own artistic provenance, Mann writes of Aschenbach:

‘It was from this marriage between hard-working, sober conscientiousness and darker, more fiery impulses that an artist, and indeed this particular kind of artist, had come into being.’

Thomas and Katia Mann and children

Thomas and Katia Mann and two of their six children

Mann found extraordinary and immediate success with his first novel, The Buddenbrooks, published in 1901. In 1905 he married Katia Pringsheim, and together they had six children. In 1933 they were in Switzerland when Hitler became chancellor, and their children warned them not to return to Germany. They remained in Switzerland until 1938, when they moved to the United States. Mann became an American citizen in 1944 but returned to Switzerland in 1952, where he died three years later. Mann is considered by many to have been the greatest German writer of the 20th century and in 1929 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The identity of the boy who had fascinated Mann on the Lido was revealed in 1964 as Wladyslaw, Baron Moes, whose real-life friend – the fictional Jasiu – visited the set of Luchino Visconti’s celluloid adaptation of Death in Venice (1971). Visconti’s sumptuous film starred Dirk Bogarde as Aschenbach and Bjorn Andresen as Tadzio.

The great English composer Benjamin Britten devoted his last years to an opera based on Death in Venice, which had its London premiere in Covent Garden in October 1973.

Visconti's Death in Venice

Visconti’s Death in Venice

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The wonderful Adelaide Writers’ Week 2015 – and the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship

I only experienced one and a half days of the Adelaide Writers’ Week 2015 – but it was such a beautifully curated (by the brilliant Laura Kroetsch and her team) feast of a literary festival that it feels I was there for days. The audiences were big and keen, the queues for author signings the longest I’ve ever seen. My first sight of the festival was the sign below and a line of people weaving up the hill waiting to have copies of Bad Feminist signed by its author, the essayist, novelist and cyber sensation Roxane Gay. It boded well. adfest1 Because of my own bookish events, I was only able to see two whole sessions – one with US novelist and alt-country musician Willy Vlautin, the other with journalist and biographer David Marr – and they were both wonderful.

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Willy Vlautin

Willy Vlautin was talking to Kate de Goldi about his latest novel The Free. Vlautin grew up in Reno and the Southern accents and lilts of his voice were captivating. As were his stories about hanging around with tough old drunks and drifters as a teenager, rather than chasing girls like his older brother did, and his excellent knack of characterising modern ‘saints’ (his word), for example, the mid-career Paul Newman, because that Newman always played men who were kind to women. And of course, Vlautin added, he was also pretty good looking. It seemed (from the massive queue of people waiting to have their books signed) that most people were discovering Vlautin for the first time – and they were hooked. David Marr was giving the annual Hazel Rowley Memorial Lecture, established to honour the esteemed literary biographer Hazel Rowley (1951-2011). Marr regaled the crowd about the art of biography literary and political, about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and the importance of ‘character’ in politics. Marr was at his urbane, incisive and witty best. He concluded by awarding the Hazel Rowley Memorial Fellowship for 2015 to journalist, broadcaster and literary maven Caroline Baum. It was a thrilling moment. Baum received her award with great emotion and spoke movingly about the connection between her late beloved father and the biography she’s working on, about Lucie Dreyfus. She said her project ‘seeks to restore Lucie Dreyfus to her rightful place in history’. Lucie was married to Alfred Dreyfus, the French artillery officer at the centre of one of the most divisive political scandals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After hearing her talk about it, I eagerly await Baum’s biography and wish her all the best with her work on it. I also eagerly await any future Adelaide Writers’ Festival I’m lucky enough to attend. It is something very special.

David Marr in full flight (that's him on the distant stage with his hand in the air)

David Marr in full flight (that’s him on the distant stage with his hand in the air)

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