Damn Your Eyes Sir!

Having just finished Man of Honour , Michael Duffy’s new book about John Macarthur – Founding Father, Sheep Husbandry Enthusiast, Major Rorter and all round cranky bugger – I’m extremely grateful that The Great Perturbator predated the internet. There’d be more stepping out going on round here than in an Eightsome Reel.

Duffy’s central premise is that we’ve missed the point about Macarthur. He was a gentleman in an age when gentlemen were utterly defined by “honour” and bereft of the tools that democratic and legal infrastructure later provided for conflict resolution, when that honour was besmirched. In the absence of team sports, Duffy muses, what’s a chap to do but duel? Which all comes up a bit light on the old analysis as far as Mike Tyson and I are concerned but there you go.

Duffy offers the duel – Macarthur fought three and came within a hairs breadth of provoking several more – as a safety valve universally employed in Georgian Britain. But, in citing reports of “several dozen duels a year” occuring in late 18th century UK, he gives us no insight into the millions of other gentlemenly disputes that clearly didn’t end up in duels. Were they all a bunch of topiary-hugging, periwigged, breech-clad SNAGS and Metrosexuals? Or was Macarthur just a belligerent bastard in any age? It was also a bit of a shock to read that bloke on bloke dissing retribution is somehow behind us, as Duffy confidently infers. It would strike innumerable Urban Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap exponents similarly, I’d pick.

Reviews have been positive but Ross Fitzgerald, in his SMH review of the book, has a go at Duffy for his unflattering portrayal of William Bligh. Bligh has been much misunderstood according to Fitzgerald. But I’m with Duffy on this. So was Fletcher Christian, not to mention Mrs Bligh. When Bligh was appointed to the Governorship of NSW, Mrs Bligh and 7 of their 8 daughters elected not to accompany Papa. The only daughter that did – Mrs Putnam – rather proved their point by scandalising Sydney Town with her predilection for hurling the Government House crockery and streams of foul imprecations at her equally intemperate father. The denouement of the inevitable Bligh/Macarthur clash was of course the Rum Rebellion, though Duffy would prefer the ‘Honour Rebellion.’ And, if nothing else, Duffy has proved conclusively that Bligh did hide under the bed when the NSW Corps came calling.

Duffy’s is a point stretched too far ultimately but worth reading for the rattling depictions of Sydney’s origins – those narrow-minded Anglican evangelicals! The grasping rapaciousness! The shallow, gossip-laced, social scene! How things have changed. It will also provide a rich resource for anyone who wants to piss Miranda Devine off by tackling a Ph.D hypothesising, “John Macarthur and Roger Rogerson – A Compelling Synergy”

Finally, Duffy included a portrait of Lachlan Macquarie that looks uncannily like Jeff Kennett. Not sure what this means, I’ll have to think about it …..

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