Challenging the Leader

I will apply the ideas in George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language to the leadership challenge speech of our new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Thank you very much. A little while ago I met with the Prime Minister and advised him that I would be challenging him for the leadership of the Liberal Party, and I asked him to arrange or facilitate a meeting of the party room to enable a leadership ballot to be held. Of course, I’ve also resigned as Communications Minister.
The first thing the Orwell pen would scratch out of Malcolm Turnbull speech is ‘or facilitate’. He has already made it clear that he is going to arrange a meeting. Surely the former Communications Minister can do better.

Now this is not a decision that anyone could take lightly. I have consulted with many, many colleagues, many Australians, many of our supporters in every walk of life. This course of action has been urged on me by many people over a long period of time.
One place where Turnbull uses pretentious diction is ‘consulted with’. He could simply say that he had talked or spoken with his colleagues.

It is clear enough that the Government is not successful in providing the economic leadership that we need. It is not the fault of individual ministers. Ultimately, the Prime Minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs. He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs. Now we are living as Australians in the most exciting time. The big economic changes that we’re living through here and around the world offer enormous challenges and enormous opportunities. And we need a different style of leadership. We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities, explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities. A style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it. We need advocacy, not slogans. Orwell couldn’t have agreed more. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people. Turnbull repeats himself here, but he is emphasizing the appeal to people’s intelligence, just as he has already repeated the words economic and leadership. Now if we continue with Mr Abbott as Prime Minister, it is clear enough what will happen. He will cease to be Prime Minister and he’ll be succeeded by Mr Shorten. You only have to see the catastrophically reckless approach of Mr Shorten to the China-Australia free trade agreement. Surely one of the most important foundations of our prosperity, to know that he is utterly unfit to be Prime Minister of this country and yet so he will be if we do not make a change. The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership. Now what we also need to remember, and this is a critical thing, is that our party the Liberal Party has the right values. We have a hugely talented team here in the Parliament. Our values of free enterprise, of individual initiative, of freedom; this is what you need to be a successful agile economy in 2015. Old Eric would have had a lot to say about this: “Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers and the speeches of Under-Secretaries (or Prime Ministers) do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech.” {Orwell 2616} We shall see how Turnbull performs here. What we have not succeeded in doing is translating those values into the policies and the ideas that will excite the Australian people and encourage them to believe and understand that we have a vision for their future. We also need a new style of leadership in the way we deal with others whether it is our fellow members of Parliament, whether it is the Australian people. We need to restore traditional Cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls. We need to be truly consultative with colleagues, members of Parliament, senators and the wider public. Interesting how the Abbott government will be remembered for sporting metaphors such as “captain’s call” or the infamous shirt-front. We need an open government, an open government that recognises that there is an enormous sum of wisdom both within our colleagues in this building and, of course, further afield. But above all we have to remember that we have a great example of good Cabinet government. John Howard’s government most of us served in and yet few would say that the Cabinet government of Mr Abbott bears any similarity to the style of Mr Howard. So that’s what we need to go back to. Finally, let me say something about Canning. Now this is an important byelection and I recognise dealing with this issue in the week before the by-election is far from ideal. Turnbull’s mention of the Howard years is here is telling: “In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions, and not a “party line”. Here, Turnbull’s form remains to be seen, to use a racing metaphor. For a silvertail he has certainly had progressive views, a euphemism for radical, on a republic, same-sex marriage and the environment. As for women’s issues, Lucy Turnbull was Sydney’s first female Lord Mayor in 2003-4, like her ancestor Sir Thomas Hughes, so she hardly stays home doing the ironing. We shall see how much our new Prime Minister expresses his private opinions in government, or how much he toes the party line. But regrettably, there are few occasions that are entirely ideal for tough calls and tough decisions like this. The alternative if we were to wait and this issue, these problems were to roll on and on and on is we will get no clear air. The fact is we are maybe 10 months, 11 months away from the next election. Every month lost is a month of lost opportunities. We have to make a change for our country’s sake, for the Government’s sake, for the party’s sake. From a practical point of view a change of leadership would improve our prospects in Canning, although I’m very confident with the outstanding candidate we have that we will be successful. Turnbull is beginning to repeat himself here, and not in a good way, he already mentioned Canning. Near the end of this speech, he is beginning to fall into pretentious diction. He could just as easily have said: I’m sure our great candidate will win. Now you’ll understand… please, you’ll understand that I now have to go and speak to my colleagues. I trust I’ve explained the reasons why I am standing for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Motivated by a commitment to serve the Australian people to ensure that our Liberal values continue to be translated into good government, sound policies, economic confidence creating the jobs and the prosperity of the future. Quod erat demonstrandum, which is as close as I will go to “a mass of Latin words”. Remember this, the only way, the only way we can ensure that we remain a high wage, generous social welfare net, first world society is if we have outstanding economic leadership, if we have strong business confidence. That is what we in the Liberal Party are bound to deliver and it’s what I am committed to deliver if the party room gives me their support as leader of the party. Thank you very much.


Grieg, Alex. “So, who is Lucy Turnbull, the new Prime Minister’s very impressive wife?” Mamamia Women’s Network. 15 September 2015. Retrieved from: Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language. 1946. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume F. New York: WW Norton & Co. Turnbull, Malcolm. “Tony Abbott leadership challenge: transcript of Malcolm Turnbull’s blistering speech.” The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. 14 September 2015. Retrieved from:


Papaver rhoeas

The red Flanders poppy (papaver rhoeas) is still a major symbol of fallen World War I soldiers.  In has been drawn by artists, photographed, embroidered, knitted, crocheted and endlessly reproduced in paper and silk – sometimes even real flowers.  It has survived poet John McCrae (1872-1918), all the fallen and even those diggers who did return and lived to a great age.

At the Centenary of Anzac Day, the red poppies were much more prevalent than rosemary, a symbol of remembrance mentioned by Shakespeare.  This is because a rosemary tea stimulates the brain, a handy hint for students.

Is this because the corn poppy, its other name, grows as a weed?  Is it because it was the first to grow back in the disturbed ground of Great War trenches, shell craters and graves?  Is it because the brilliant red colour is well associated with the blood of soldiers?

We will look at the post-Armistice history of the Flower of Remembrance – and two ladies who kept the memory alive.



Moina Michael (1869-1944) from Good Hope, Georgia, was a highly educated, accomplished woman.  She was a teacher, who became a professor at the University of Georgia by 1914. World War I brought  out her humanitarian side, and she worked for the YWCA.  At their New York offices on 9 November 1918, two days before the Armistice, she was flicking through the Ladies Home Journal, when she found John McCrae’s poem.

The words touched her heart, and she vowed that she WOULD keep the faith.  Moina went to Wanamaker’s department store and bought some red silk poppies.  She sold these, then kept one for her lapel, she had vowed to always wear one.

“Moina Michael was determined to put all her energy towards getting the Poppy emblem adopted in the United States as a national memorial symbol.” {Great War}  She would be instrumental in this, writing to her Congressman in December 1918, then the War Department.

In 1919, the American Legion was established, for returned servicemen.  In August 1920, Moina, who had returned to the University of Georgia, put the idea to their convention in Atlanta.  They agreed to accept the poppy as a simple, but not the accompanying Torch of Liberty.  On 29 September 1920, the National American Legion at their convention in Cleveland adopted the Flanders poppy as their national symbol.

The Poppy Lady had won.  Moina later wrote her autobiography The Miracle Flower: The Story of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy.  She had also scribbled a poem on the back of a YWCA envelope called We Shall Keep the Faith, in reply to McCrae’s verse.

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,

Sleep sweet – to rise anew!

We caught the torch you threw

And holding high, we keep the Faith

With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led;

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies,

But lends a lustre to the red

Of the flower that blooms above the dead

In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red

We wear in honor of our dead.

Fear not that ye have died for naught;

We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought

In Flanders Fields.

The poppies will be in flower on Veterans Day this year, as the 11 November is known in the United States.


Another poppy lady was Anna Guerin, who worked for the French YMCA.  After reading McCrae’s poem, she too was deeply moved.  From the country that, along with Flanders, had been devastated most by the Western Front conflict, Madame Guerin dreamed of an industry making artificial poppies.  This would raise francs for the most devastated, especially orphans.  She organised the American and French Children’s League to do this.

In 1921, Mme Guerin and her supporters went international.

The poppy emblem was adopted in Canada on 5 July 1921.  In the poet John McCrae’s homeland, disabled veterans worked to produce the flowers, which is now managed by Veterans’ Affair Canada.

In New Zealand, the poppy was adopted in 1922 by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers Association.  They were introduced on Anzac Day that year.

In Britain, Frenchwomen were the first to sell silk poppies.  In 1921 Mme Guerin met with the controversial Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who was head of The British Legion.  He agreed to adopt the poppy emblem for Armistice Day that year.

Today, there are poppy factories at Richmond and Edinburgh.  In 2014, the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was set-up at The Tower of London, by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper.  In the moat, there were 888,246 ceramic poppies, for every soldier killed in the Great War, resembling a river of blood.

Poppies and the Shard


In Australia, the red Flanders poppy also arrived in 1921.  In November that year, they were supplied by the American and French Childrens League and sold for one shilling by the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League, the forerunner of the RSL.

Today they are offered as wreaths on Anzac Day, with usually a solitary bloom for Remembrance Day.  The poppies have competition from rosemary, which grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and the tin-hat, symbol of Legacy.  However, they were a prominent symbol on 25 April 2015, for the centenary of the Anzac Day landings.  They will be again this Remembrance Day.

Poppies on the Roll of Honour. Photograph taken by Kerry Alchin. PAIU2014/128.14

Australian War Memorial

The blood-red poppies still grow in the fields of Flanders, around the graves of the World War I dead.  They also bloom in the hearts of us all, as we remember them.  Lest we forget.


‘Red poppies’.  Australian War Memorial. Retrieved from:

‘Rosemary’. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved from:

‘The Poppy is for Sacrifice’. ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee (Qld) Incorporated, 1998. Retrieved from:

‘The Story Behind the Remembrance Poppy’ The Great War 1914-1918. Retrieved from:

“In pictures: The poppies at the Tower of London”.  BBC. 7 November 2014. Retrieved from:

“The Tower of London Remembers: About the Installation”.  Historic Royal Palaces, 2015.  Retrieved from:

”The Red Poppy”.  The Australian Army.  27 August 2014.  Retrieved from:

Burke, Don. ‘Flanders Poppies’.  Burke’s Backyard. CTC Productions. 2007-14. Retrieved from:

Clarke, Dr Stephen. ‘HISTORY OF THE POPPY’. The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association. Retrieved from:

Grieve, Maude. ‘The Memorial Day Poppy’. A Modern Herbal.  1995-2015. Retrieved from:

McNab, Chris. ‘The history of the Remembrance Poppy’. The Independent. 11 November 2014. Retrieved from:

Michael, Moina. “We Shall Keep the Faith”. The Great War. November 1918.  Retrieved from:

“Remembrance Day – Poppy Day”. Northern News. WordPress 2015 Retrieved from:

Mrs Orwell

Sonia Orwell

Sonia Mary Brownell Blair Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (1918-80) was the second wife of author Eric Arthur Blair (ie George Orwell).  She is better known for her role as his widow, therefore Mrs Orwell or more notoriously the Widow Orwell.

Sonia was born in Ranchi, India on 25 August 1918.  Her father, Charles Brownell, died when she was young.  Later she was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent in Roehampton.  She trained as a secretary, became a model for young artists, then later worked for Cyril Connolly on the literary magazine Horizon.  This made her unpopular with some male authors who resented her authority. ‘She was blamed, mocked and derided. “There was always some absurd Sonia story floating around,” wrote Stephen Spender’ {Spurling 64}.

One author she did and make a favourable impression on, meeting through Horizon literary connection, was George Orwell.  He was lonely after the death of his first wife Eileen, struggling to care for his son Richard.  Sonia babysat for him a few times, and he proposed to her as well as a few other lady friends, but was turned down.  Orwell then travelled to Jura to write 1984.

Eventually, Sonia accepted his proposal.  By this time the tuberculosis had taken its toll on Orwell and he had little time left. ‘He said he would get better if I married him, so, you see, I had little choice’ {Spurling 96}.  They were married on 13 October 1949, by his bedside in University College Hospital.  She planned looking after him as he wrote, and they both planned to travel to Switzerland, where he would stay in an alpine sanatorium.  However, George Orwell died of a lung haemorrhage on 21 January 1950.

Sonia remarried in 1958, to Michael Pitt-Rivers.  He had been convicted and jailed for homosexual offences in the Lord Montagu scandal, a crime in the Fifties.  So we may imagine that this marriage was more in name only, fated never to last, and they divorced in 1965.  The great love of her life was the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, but he refused to leave his wife for Sonia.

Orwell had entrusted his literary estate to Sonia, who had already dealt with his correspondence.  He also stipulated for her not to allow for any biographers to write his story.  She was later involved in establishing the George Orwell Archive.  A collection of his essays and letters was published in 1968.  In the Seventies, mismanagement of the estate by an unscrupulous accountant, Jack Harrison, led to Sonia dying nearly penniless. In her last few weeks, she won a legal case that ensured a legacy for her stepson, Richard Blair.

Her role in his estate, and her persona as the Widow Orwell, made her unpopular with some. ‘Sonia would earn considerable ill feeling from male contemporaries who felt themselves better qualified than she was to say what might be best for his reputation’ {Spurling 103}.  ‘If any literary wife has been demonised, it is she’ {Niall}.

Sonia has been vilified by subsequent Orwell biographers, such as Bernard Crick and especially Michael Shelden, author of Orwell: The Authorised Biography, who portrays her as a gold-digger.  According to him, she bought expensive jewellery, and spent more time in nightclubs than by her dying husband’s bedside. He even implies adultery with artist Lucian Freud.  ‘Probably the last thing you would say of Sonia Brownell Blair is that she acted like a devoted, loving, grief-stricken spouse’ {Shelden}.

Perhaps we can see some misogyny in this.  From a feminist perspective, Sonia was merely someone’s wife.  Despite her lifelong literary connections, she was never an author in her own write.  Her friend Hilary Spurling later wrote a biography rescuing her reputation.  She claims that Orwell aimed to ‘recreate Sonia as Julia, “the girl form the Fiction Department” in 1984.  The novel’s hero, Winston, loves Julia for her boldness, her bossiness, and the uncompromising rejection of the Party that fuels everything she does.  Julia’s fearlessness electrifies him. . .Winston’s agonized intellectual reservations are overwhelmed by Julia’s fierce, blind, animal abhorrence of a totalitarian system that seeks to abolish individuality and freedom’ {Spurling 67}.

Perhaps this scene is an example of this:

“‘We are the dead,’ he said.

‘We’re not dead yet,’ said Julia prosaically.

‘Not physically.  Six months, a year – five years, conceivably.  I am afraid of death.  You are young, so presyumably you’re more afraid of it than I am.  Obviously we shall put if off as long as we can.  But it makes very little difference.  So long as human beings stay human, death and life are the same thing.’

‘Oh rubbish!  Which would you sooner sleep with, more of a skeleton?  Don’t you enjoy being alive?  Don’t you like feeling: This is me, this is my hand, this is my leg, I’m real, I’m solid, I’m alive!  Don’t you like this?’” {Orwell 156}

This whole scene is so much more poignant, if we consider it was written by a terminally ill man, in love with a woman15 years younger, who he managed to make his wife before the end.  So this is Sonia’s legacy, as Orwell’s last muse.



“Michael Pitt-Rivers.” LGBT Archive.  Retrieved from:

Diski, Jenny. ‘Don’t Think About It.’ London Review of Books.  25 April 2002.  Retrieved from:

Glastris, Kukula. ‘The Widow Orwell’.  The Washington Monthly. July/August 2003.  Retrieved from:

Harris, Robert. ‘What ever happened to Orwell’s missing millions?’ Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 21 May 2002.  Retrieved from:

Jura, Jackie. ‘What Was Orwell’s Sonia Like?’ Orwell Today.  Retrieved from:

Niall, Brenda. ‘A Portrait of Sonia Orwell’.  The Sydney Morning Herald.  Fairfax Media. 17 August 2002.  Retrieved from:

O’Sullivan, Jack. ‘Outdoors: The Thrill of the Chase’. The Independent.  23 October 2011. Retrieved from:

‘Quotes by Sonia Orwell.’ Like Success, 2015.  Retrieved from:

Shelden, Michael. ‘The Merry Widow’.  The Age Company Ltd.  New York, 2002.  Retrieved from:

Stritof, Sheri. ‘Sonia Brownell and George Orwell Marriage Profile’.  About Relationship, 2015. Retrieved from:

Wikimedia Foundation. ‘Sonia Orwell’. 21 September 2015.  Retrieved from:


Lucas, Scott. Orwell. London: Haus Publishing, 2003.

Orwell, George. 1984. London: Penguin Books, 1954.

Spurling, Hilary. The Girl From the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell. London: Penguin Books, 2002.

The Main Blog


To answer this question we should consider what interest, concerns and experiences these 20th Century writers had and how universal they are. If so, they are still completely relevant to the human needs of the 21st Century. Modernism might have become definitely historic today, even post-Modern has become a worn cliché. If interests, concerns and experiences are universal; they will be far more ancient than Modernism, as well as more modern than the latest blog post.

We will look at the contrasting issues wealth and poverty, partying and mourning and life and death, the latter now in a peacetime context.  We have already looked at the work of Great War writers Erich Maria Remarque, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, etc.  Now we will look at two Modernist writers, Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, and see how they look at these issues post-War.

We shall look at Katherine Mansfield’s story The Garden Party, with its universal themes of rich and poor. The wealthy Sheridan family hosting the party compare with the poverty stricken and bereaved Scotts. The scene here was early 20th Century Wellington, where Mansfield grew up, but it could easily be a story for a city of today, where the mansions of the affluent are down the street from the homeless and welfare dependent.

“The little cottages were in a lane to themselves and the very bottom of a steep rise that led up to the house. . .True, they were far too near. They were the greatest possible eyesore, and they had no right to be in that neighbourhood at all.” {Mansfield 2587}

The underclass Scotts could be helots, serfs, peasants – or maybe today’s slum dwellers or housos. We all know an area like the cottages they lived, or existed, in. The contrast between the Edwardian working class and today’s indigent, is that the family would suffer more from the father’s death, financially anyway. “The chap was married too. . .Lived just below in the lane, and leaves a wife and half a dozen kiddies, so they say.” {Mansfield 2589}

In contrast the Sheridan family is depicted living on the hill, geographically above them. Even today, developers and real estate agents can add a few digits to the prices in a suburb, if they tack Heights onto the name.

Only Laura sees anything bourgeois about going ahead with the garden party. The rest of the family dismiss the deceased as a drunk or say at least it didn’t happen in our garden. Only she is sensitive to the human needs of the Scotts.

The party could still go ahead in those circumstances today, with the green-coated band replaced by incessant 21st Century dance music.

Virginia Woolf looks at the same issues in Mrs Dalloway.  The two opposing characters are the wealthy politician’s wife Clarissa Dalloway, hosting a party, and the shell-shocked, depressed war veteran Septimus Smith and his desperate Italian milliner wife, Lucrezia.  She organises a medical intervention for him, but Septimus jumps to his death before they can take him away.

Later his doctor, Sir William Bradshaw, attends Clarissa’s party and mentions the case, which he no doubt still saddened about. “Oh! thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party, here’s death, she thought.”{Woolf 2258}  She shows some concern, but it is overshadowed by selfishness, that he and they were spoiling the party somewhat.

“What business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party?  A young man had killed himself. . .And the Bradshaws talked of it at her party!” {Woolf 2258}

Also in Mansfield’s story, any concern for the experiences of the bereaved Scott family, is as cold as the little charity that they offer, after the party is over. Laura does make an effort, however.

The experience of death and grieving is universal, in any century which we remain mortals. “Her face, puffed up, red, with swollen eyes and swollen lips, looked terrible.” {Mansfield 2590} What can really done for the human needs of a Mrs Scott, or a Lucrezia Smith, now that their husbands are beyond all cares?


Greenblatt, Stephen Ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth Century and After.  New York & London: WW Norton & Company, 2012.


“Then the time has come for you to take the last step. You must love Big Brother. It is not enough to obey him: you must love him” {Orwell 324}.

How could you be expected to love someone you do not know? A man who is only a face on a poster, another dictator with a moustache: like Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein. This narcissistic attitude is typical of many an autocrat in history, societies in which the common people have lived under the system called tyranny. The Greek word turannos merely meant an absolute ruler unlimited by law or constitution {Etymonline}, but the cruel excesses of many of these rulers has turned it into quite a dirty word.

The ancient Athenians experimented with many forms of government, including the legendary and now revered demokratia. Before this, they were ruled by a tyrant named Pisistratus. He was considered mild, but his son Hippias was quite harsh, especially after the assassination of his brother by Harmodious and Aristogeiton. He was eventually deposed, and then a democratic system was established by Clisthenes in about 508BC {Livius}.

Greek philosopher Socrates had a lot to say about tyrants, still relevant today:

“Some of those who joined in setting him up, and who are in power, speak their minds to him and to one another, and the more courageous of them cast in his teeth what is being done.

“Yes, that may be expected.

“And the tyrant, if he means to rule, must get rid of them; he cannot stop while he has a friend or an enemy who is good for anything.

“He cannot.

“And therefore he must look about him and see who is valiant, who is high-minded, who is wise, who is wealthy; happy man, he is the enemy of them all, and must seek occasion against them whether he will or no, until he has made a purgation of the State.

“Yes, he said, and a rare purgation.

“Yes, I said, not the sort of purgation which the physicians make of the body; for they take away the worse and leave the better part, but he does the reverse” {Plato Republic VIII}.

He could have been talking about Stalinism, and the purges of the 1930s.

Socrates had a lot more to say, about the nature of a tyrant:

“How then does a protector begin to change into a tyrant? Clearly when he does what the man is said to do in the tale of the Arcadian temple of Lycaean Zeus.

“What tale?

“The tale is that he who has tasted the entrails of a single human victim minced up with the entrails of other victims is destined to become a wolf. Did you never hear it?

“Oh, yes.

“And the protector of the people is like him; having a mob entirely at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; by the favourite method of false accusation he brings them into court and murders them, making the life of man to disappear, and with unholy tongue and lips tasting the blood of his fellow citizen; some he kills and others he banishes, at the same time hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands: and after this, what will be his destiny? Must he not either perish at the hands of his enemies, or from being a man become a wolf –that is, a tyrant?” {Plato Republic IX}

Many tyrants in history fit the description of the ancient philosophers, comparing them to werewolves. He, and occasionally she, seems to wish to enslave people not only physically, but also mentally, making them live in fear. Bloodbaths inevitably follow in the wake of these tyrants, but only sometimes a revolution.

Orwell captured life under a modern tyranny in 1984. It seems to be the recurring pattern, whether the tyrant is from the left or right side of politics, or perhaps neither in some Middle Eastern countries. The methods are forever going to be frighteningly the same.


Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary. 2001-2015. Retrieved from:

“Harmodius and Aristogeiton”. 2005. Retrieved from:

Plato. The Republic. The Internet Classics Archive. 360 BCE. Retrieved from:

Orwell, George. 1984. London: Penguin Classics, 1954.

The Portrait of an Artist

Sir William Dobell (1899-1970), painter, was born in Newcastle on 24 September 1899.  He attended Cooks Hill Commercial Public School, learning art from teacher John Walker.  In 1916 he became a draughtsman for architect Wallace Linott Porter.  After his death, he moved to Sydney in 1924, working for Wunderlich Ltd.  During this time he studied art at Julian Ashton’s Sydney Art School.

In 1929, he won First Prize in the Art Society’s Travelling Scholarship, to study at the Slade School of Art in London.  Dobell would spend most of the Thirties there, refining his art while studying the masters.  ‘He was an observer of people and most of his London work shows this.  He would sit in parks and cafes sketching people.’{Dobell House}  He returned to Australia in 1939, when his father died, then ‘treated local subjects to the racy, Dickensian style which he had established in London, producing a “gallery of Australian types.”’ {ADB}

He would teach at East Sydney Technical College.  As World War II progressed, he used his art for the war effort by painting camouflages for the Civil Construction Corps.  Here, he met another young artist named Joshua Smith. {Dobell House}

In 1943, Dobell’s portrait of him won the Archibald Prize.  The main reason there was so much resistance to Dobell’s work in this painting is that it was seen as not a true portrait, but a caricature.  You can draw your own conclusions.

Brush strokes: William Dobell's 1943 painting of Joshua Smith.  Source material: Joshua Smith.


This was the beginning of a scandal.

The controversy began when Smith’s parents urged Dobell to withdraw the painting, or at least not publicise it.  He agreed, but consider this void after the Smiths went to the press.  Joshua Smith commented: “Dear me, I hope I don’t look like that. I don’t think I do.” {SMH}

The controversy meant that many more people came to see the painting.  The gallery was crowded for months, everybody was talking about THAT painting.

Two artists who had also entered the Archibald, Mary Edwards and Joseph Wolinski, launched a court case against him, aiming to have the prize money withheld.  Dobell commented: “I was one of the defendants, as though I’d committed a crime.” {SMH}

This was heard in the Supreme Court in October 1944.  James Stuart MacDonald testified that this was not a portrait, there were strict rules on these, the same as writing a sonnet.  Dr Vivian Benjafield testified that ‘Joshua Smith’ made the sitter look like a sick man.

Mary Edwards was even more scathing.  She called the painting a “grotesquerie” and a “Pearl Harbor attack on art”. {The Australian}

Dobell defended himself admirably.  On 8 November 1944, Justic Roper handed down a judgement in his favour.  The plaintiffs also lost their appeal.

After all this, the sensitive artist was shattered.  Not only did all the notoriety make him suffer a nervous breakdown, but he also suffered from dermatitis.  Tragically, he was unable to paint for some time.  Dobell would retreat to his family’s holiday house in Wangi Wangi, on Lake Macquarie, living with his sister.  Here, with this lake change, his recovery could begin.

In 1948, Dobell submitted his ‘Margaret Olley’ painting to the Archibald Prize, winning for the second time.  This was to be the year of the artist’s redemption.  He also won the landscape painters’ Wynne Prize, for his lakescape ‘Storm Approaching Wangi’.

The Art Gallery of NSW

The first thing you would say about this painting is that it is strong in realism, compared to his earlier portrait.  Even more so if you were to compare it to the works of the contemporary Cubists.  Fellow artist Margaret Olley is depicted in a large hat, along with an Empire-style evening dress of parachute silk, popular with many Forties women.  The colours give a sunny effect.

She tells the story of that portrait.  She had met Dobell at Sir Russell Drysdale’s party, wearing that dress, agreeing to let him draw her.  Later, when she posed for him she wore normal clothes, but he remembered and the ‘Margaret Olley’ painting wore her party dress. {Dobell House}

Truly Olley helped her fellow artist to recover from his most major, public setback.  Dobell, described as a “reserved, gentle man” {ABD}, would continue as a successful artist for the rest of his life.  He won a third Archibald Prize in 1958.

Maybe there really is no such thing as bad publicity.


“A Short History of Sir William Dobell and Dobell House”.  Dobell House. 2015.  Retrieved from:

Anderson, Patricia. “Bill revisits William Dobell and the 1943 Archibald Prize controversy”. The Australian. 1 November 2014. Retrieved from:

Art Galley of NSW.  Works by William Dobell.  Retrieved from:

Bevan, Scott. “The William Dobell portrait that broke a friendship and divided a nation”. Good Weekend.  Fairfax Media. 18 October 2014.  Retrieved from:

Eagle, Mary. “Dobell, Sir William (1899–1970)”. Australian Dictionary of Biography. 1996. Retrieved from:

Jameson, Neil.  “A glimpse into the life of William Dobell”. Newcastle Herald.  Fairfax Media. 17 September 2010. Retrieved from:

White, Judith. “WILLIAM DOBELL: YOURS SINCERELY”. Art Collector. Gadfly Media. Issue 12, April – June 2000. Retrieved from:

In Flanders Fields

Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918) was a Canadian doctor, soldier and poet, who began the tradition of using red Flanders poppies as a memorial to the fallen.  His poem In Flanders Fields was first published in Punch in 1915.

McCrae was born on 30 November 1872; in Guelph, Ontario, to a Scottish family.  He would become one of the favourite sons of his hometown.  He attended Guelph Collegiate, then won a scholarship to the University of Toronto.  He studied for a BA, then later Medicine, graduating in 1898 with the gold medal.

At this stage McCrae was already publishing poems.  However the young student could have had no idea then in what circumstances his writing would become famous.

His military service began in the Highfield Cadet Corps, when he was 14.  When the Boer War began in 1899, McCrae joined up, delaying a fellowship in Pathology at McGill University.  He was horrified by some of his experiences in the artillery there.

Back home, Dr McCrae completed his studies in Montreal.  He worked there at the Royal Victoria Hospital.  Eventually he became a lecturer at McGill University.

In 1914, McCrae again became one of about 45 000 Canadians to join up.  He was promoted from an ordinary soldier to the Brigade Surgeon at the Number 3 General Hospital.  This must have been a harrowing job for such a compassionate man; just as it was for the doctors and orderlies of All Quiet On the Western Front, in the hospital behind enemy lines.

The death that affected Dr McCrae the most was his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who was killed on 2 May 1915.  He wrote his most famous poem while sitting in an ambulance, as a tribute to his friend.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

Like so many young men who went to the Great War, Dr McCrae was fated not to return.  In 1918, he fell sick with pneumonia, then meningitis.  He died on 28 January.  He was buried with full military honours and many attended his funeral.

His childhood home in Guelph has been a museum since 1968.


Peddie, John.  “The Story of John McCrae”. a multimedia history of world war one. Retrieved from:

Hutchcroft, Anthony.  “Biography of John McCrae”.  Flanders Fields Music.  2008-13. Retrieved from:

”The Red Poppy”.  The Australian Army.  27 August 2014.  Retrieved from:

“Poems”.  Australian War Memorial. 2015.  Retrieved from:

“Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae”.  Veterans Affairs Canada. 31 August 2015  Retrieved from: