Remembering Big Mal

So Godwin’s Law was invoked by recent Parliamentary bad behaviour. The most memorable, pungent and succint political graffiti in my lifetime pulled that lever like this:
F R A
(swastika) E R
Typical student hyperbole? But that was how profoundly the Prime Minister was reviled in his time, before it became de riguer to detest politicians.

The visual memories rehearse themselves

When Fraser called a snap election in 1983, he had the rug pulled from under him by the sudden appearance of Bob Hawke as Labor leader, with Bill Hayden furiously standing aside (protesting: “A drover’s dog could lead the Labor Party to victory, the way the country is”).

The best visual of that moment was the newspaper poster (remember them?) for the Age: the cartoonist John Spooner drew the famously aloof Fraser (college nickname “Freezer”) holding an election sign but with his polka-dotted boxers around his ankles. Spooner had brilliantly punned Bob Hawke’s emergence with Fraser being caught with his pants down, an embarrassing reference to the notorious untousered-in-Memphis episode (“I wish I’d never been to bloody Memphis”).

The wet lefties (I’m occasionally in that group) came around to loving the Big Mal as he evolved into a human rights warrior and icon. But: the Dismissal; and Conscription … he was the Minister who implemented the program that sent young men, teenagers, to Vietnam; a friend remarked how he was only 18 months from being called up when the Whitlan government came in and swept it away. (Tammie Fraser is an icon of a different kind — old school grace.) For some he remained as stonefaced as an Easter Island bust. (See Geoff Pryor’s cartoon of Fraser as an Island head, shedding a tear! And did Keating really make this extraordinarily rude remark about Fraser, with reference to Easter Island statues? Oxford reference.)

Of course, Fraser provided his own pitch perfect epitaph: “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.”

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See Guy Rundle’s superbly noticing, remembering, politically acute, effortlessly witty and ambivalently sympathetic obituary of Fraser in Crikey.

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I was close enough to Fraser a few times to observe and record. He had a stern visage and his height (6’3″) and patrician manner (Western District squattocracy) meant that he almost always looked superior, without trying. But once I spotted him at a funeral of a friend — he sat apart, by himself, looking very sad.

 

 

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