Gerard Henderson is crackers. This is the only conclusion one can reach from his increasingly bizarre attacks on The Spectator Australia. As with all matters Henderson, this dispute started innocuously enough.
In early January, Henderson wrote a column in the Sydney Morning Herald describing his Christmas Day. Instead of playing with his grandchildren, who had to fend for themselves ‘at the beach in shallow water’, Gerard ‘with earpiece attached, switched on the ABC Radio National Artworks program’ and began scribbling notes of condemnation. Critiquing the ABC on Christmas Day is like watching Q&A on your wedding night — it’s for those who prefer political bondage to the real thing.
Later that month, in the playful Speccie style, I highlighted Gerard’s neglect of his grandfatherly duties, noting that even the Russian dictator Vladimir Lenin had a life away from politics. Henderson has been banging on about it ever since, attacking me and our fine editor, Tom Switzer.
Some of the comments in Gerard’s Media Watch Dog blog are disturbing, in a Henderson kind of way. For instance, I have been described as an apologist for Lenin and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. The imputation is wrong, as is Henderson’s knowledge of history (given that Russia’s population in 1917 was 170 million).
It is said of the internet that every online argument ends with the protagonists calling each other Nazis. This is also true of Henderson’s blog. On 10 August he wrote:
Perhaps one day Mark Latham, after reading the work of a deceased fascist, will use his column in the ‘Aussie Speccie’ to proclaim that Adolf Hitler really knew how to relax and loved nothing better than to construct sandcastles on the edge of Berlin’s Lake Wannsee.
Gerard is madder than a box full of frogs.
By now, I can feel a Henderson letter coming on, so I might as well make it a long one…
Henderson specialises in the politics of perpetual grievance. If he takes offence at a comment, no matter how trivial, no matter how dated, it locks him into a lifetime of revenge.
Three case studies prove this point. The first concerns Australia’s leading public intellectual, Professor Robert Manne. In the late 1960s, Manne was a student at Melbourne University, serving as one of three co-editors on the university magazine. When a young Santamaria acolyte named Gerard Henderson lodged an article, the other two editors rejected it. Manne was his only supporter. Yet, for more than 40 years, Henderson has blamed Manne for this slight, vowing retribution. This is the underlying flaw in Gerard’s character: he has no perspective on history; his whole life is present tense.
As Manne told the Australian Financial Review last week:
The fact that someone recalls being rejected 40 years earlier is psychologically revealing … If you don’t get any minor detail right [Henderson] enters into a 40-page fax war in which people get worn down in the end. No normal [person] can be bothered with the amount of stuff he generates.
Another victim of Henderson’s fanaticism is the former Liberal leader, John Hewson. This obsession arose from a private dinner party in Sydney circa 1987. A number of Liberal party supporters were present, including Hewson, Henderson and Henderson’s wife Anne. As is common at such gatherings, there was a spirited debate on a question of political trivia: who was John Howard’s best-ever staffer? Anne Henderson barracked loudly for Gerard but the dinner table consensus settled on Hewson. One can imagine how this was received in the House of Hendi. Hewson has been on the enemies list ever since.
My own experience is no different. When Anne Henderson published her 1999 book Getting Even, I reviewed it for Christopher Pearson’s Adelaide Review. Towards the end of my piece I pointed out that, despite the Hendersons’ reputation for thoroughness, the book was error-prone. This provoked a flood of faxes from Anne Henderson, protesting that as Gerard had been her proof-reader, the material must have been accurate.
This was my first experience with the Henderson affliction known as corresponditis. If someone writes 50 words about them, they respond with 50,000. Instead of throwing Anne Henderson’s hypersensitive ramblings in the bin, I responded by detailing the dozens of mistakes in the book. Thereafter, I joined Manne, Hewson and scores of others on the list.
How does this habit affect the other areas of Gerard’s life? Pity the poor pizza boy who delivers ham and pineapple instead of the meat lover’s delight. Or the hapless paper boy who struggles each day with the weighty load of Henderson-ordered publications and drops them off 20 minutes late. Or the confused Indian call centre operator who refers to his irritable customer as Gerald Horrorson. Each has had their photos pinned to the Sydney Institute’s dartboard.
Last week, in a letter to the AFR, Gerard denied that Getting Even was biographical. He said ‘the title was suggested by [Anne’s] publisher HarperCollins’. If so, someone at the publishing house has a wonderful sense of humour. As the saying goes, HarperCollins — Five Paws.