Donald Horne Dies: Man Of Ideas And Opinion Shaper

Historians in the News

With Donald Horne's death yesterday, Australia lost an esteemed man of letters who in many ways epitomised the best of the Australian character.

This was partly because his 1964 book, The Lucky Country, donated its title to the lingo. It was partly because he wrote so much from his experience, using his life as a means of exploring what it meant to be Australian. And it was because his evolution from country kid to city acolyte of philosopher John Anderson to wartime Gunner Horne to putative English Conservative politician, advertising executive, tabloid journalist, magazine editor, rabid Whitlamite, pre-emptive republican, university chancellor, crusading author and revered public intellectual mirrored in its idiosyncratic way much of the wider national experience.

Through his books and his intellectual passions, Horne influenced Australian thought, values and self-perception.

"He was a true son of the Enlightenment," says his friend of half a century, historian and author Edmund Campion. "He faced the questions of what it meant to be an Australian citizen ... and in his books explored an Australian response to world civilisations." But while Horne's experience was central to his work, Campion says,"he used himself as evidence rather than from egotism".

Former Liberal politician and author Peter Coleman, who worked with Horne in the 1950s, recalls a "spirited, lively and enterprising editor ... I treasure the memory of those years; life was in some ways one long party and Donald was at the centre of it, anarchistic, irreverent, contemptuous of the Left and as contemptuous of the Right."

Horne was also defiantly proud of his non-academic credentials, author Frank Moorhouse says. "He loved it that he'd never completed a university degree and yet was made chancellor of a university."
Published in 1964, [Lucky Country] embossed an indelible mark on our culture, its uncompromising analysis of contemporary Australia excoriating those Horne deemed smugly complacent and lacking in vision. It became an unexpected bestseller, as did a much later revisiting of similar territory, Death of the Lucky Country.

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