Culture Buff

The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

6 January 2018

9:00 AM

6 January 2018

9:00 AM

Judith Brett has written extensively about liberalism in Australia. The emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University, her output includes Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People (1992) and Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class: From Alfred Deakin to John Howard (2003). Now she has published the first biography of Alfred Deakin in over 50 years: The Enigmatic Mr Deakin (Text). It is likely to be (or should be) in the holiday reading of Australian politicians, at least non-labour ones.

That very phrase ‘non-labour’ illustrates the definitional difficulty around the old liberal/conservative labels, now as much as ever. It is a tension in Australian politics that Judith Brett has long written about; her timely and important biography of Deakin is especially welcome. Alfred Deakin (1856-1919) was the Australian-born son of English immigrants; handsome, a brilliant orator, he became the leading figure in creating the Australian Federation. Although Edmund Barton was the first prime minister, Deakin succeeded him in 1903 when Barton went to the High Court. That was the first of Deakin’s three terms as prime minister (1903-4, 1905-08, 1909-10), always in a minority government. In many ways we’re going back to square one.


Brett provides a vivid portrait of Deakin and his family as well as a social history of Melbourne at that time.

The dominant events at the start of the century were Federation and the Great War; this biography fills much of one’s knowledge gap.

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