Thursday, 12 August 2010

There'll Always Be a Latham

Someone remarked that the description of Burke here reminded them of Mark Latham. Yesterday, outside Melbourne's lovely Exhibition Building (allegedly the world's best surviving example of the 'international exhibition style'), I noticed a great big piece of rough hewn stone on a plinth. It had a plaque fixed onto it which said that the stone had been quarried at Stawell and placed in front of the building 'at the insistence of The Hon John Woods MP ... to express his indignation of the choice of New South Wales stone for Parliament House and to show the enduring qualities of local stone.'

I'd never heard of John Woods, so I looked him up. This is what David Dunstan, in the surprisingly interesting book 'Victorian Icon - the Royal Exhibition Building' has to say about him:

'John Woods was a Liverpool-born and -trained engineer with railway works experience in Britain, Germany and North America. As a young man he had won first prize for railway axles at the 1851 Great Exhibition and was later the inventor and proponent of a hydraulic brake (patented 1882) used on Victorian lines. On the Ovens diggings in north-east Victoria, Woods became politically active on behalf of the miners, and thereafter pursued technology and politics as joint - and often interchangeable - interests. Ruined by mining speculations in 1857, he returned to his old profession, and it was while working as an engineer at Stawell in 1859 that he was elected to parliament and forever afterwards associated with the district. Woods was one of Graham Berry's more radical supporters [Berry was Premier of Victoria in the late 19th century], and an important figure in Berry ministries up to March 1880, after which he became a disaffected liberal. Deakin described him as well-read with an original mind but abrasive in approach and ultra-radical in his opinions - 'a Chartist by training to whom all restraints were obnoxious', who harboured 'old scores against the wealthy and influential which he was eager to pay off.'

The character that emerges from this description - especially from Deakin's comments - sounds every bit as eccentric, intelligent and difficult as our Mark. I think it is the never-ending cavalcade of crackpots, crazies and unhinged power grabbers who present themselves for election (and are not all politicians to a greater or lesser extent mentally questionable?) that makes Australian politics the enduringly fascinating spectacle it is. Whether it is conducive to good government is a whole other issue.