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A Political Statement

March 15, 1992| In "Australian Voices: Writers and Their Work" (University of Texas Press: $40; 233 pp.), Ray Willibanks has collected his informal, chatty interviews with 16 Australian writers, including Peter Carey, Elizabeth Jolley, Thomas Keneally, David Malouf, Thea Astley, Kate Grenville and Frank Moorhouse. A professor of English at Memphis State University, Willibanks is the editor of Antipodes: A North American Journal of Australian Literature. He opens his book with a visit to Patrick White; this is an excerpt from that chapter

In January 1988, I was delighted to see Patrick White sparring in a ten-second interview on American television. Both "Good Morning America" and the "ABC Nightly News" showed the reenactment of the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Harbor along with protesting Aborigines, fireworks, and an appearance by Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The report switched from a laughing Prince and Princess to Patrick White sitting in apparent ease and good health in his garden. Asked what he thought of the bicentennial celebration, White, in the softest of voices, said, "Well, I think it's shocking the way the royal goons are going to be here most of the year." He added, "I can't really see an awful lot to be proud about in our past, and certainly not in our present."

Six months earlier he had told me the same thing, citing the transportation of convicts, the treatment of the Aborigines, and the allegiance to monarchy as Australian blemishes. In a letter he had written to me, he said, "I am too ashamed of so much that has gone on in our history and can't accept the pouring of millions into a 'festival' when we do so little for the aboriginals and the many contemporary white Australians who are starving. The Queen of England will be coming to open the new and unnecessarily extravagant Parliament House and her spawn will be popping up all over the country at various moments." He intended to protest in his own way, he said. He would refuse to allow any play of his to be staged during the bicentennial year or any work of his to be published. True to his word, when it appeared that the publication date of his new book "Three Uneasy Pieces" was going to be delayed until 1988, he took it from one Melbourne publisher and gave it to another who would bring it out in 1987.

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