The remarkable Giles Auty
When the wonderful Giles Auty, artist, critic and writer, so recently died, following on the death of that other intellectual giant, Western Australia’s writer and poet Hal Colebatch, I won’t have been alone with a feeling of overwhelming loss. ‘The Captains and the Kings depart…’ and we are very much the poorer for it. I was also reminded of a saying I once came across, that the real aristocracy is that of the mind.
These were both great men in the true sense of the word, individuals whose indomitable courage enabled them to stand against the cultural bullying of our times. Giles’s motto was, ‘I’m a warrior. Keep up the good fight – and never give up!’ His and Hal’s writings contain much of the best of what has been thought and said these last decades – speaking for what have unfortunately too often been the silent majority.
Others who knew Giles for longer will be able to do more justice to his considerable achievements. Although I read his columns with huge enjoyment in The Spectator before he even left England for Australia, only recently did I get to know him. At a lunch for Spectator writers in Sydney a while back, I recognised a face quite different from the Spectator’s cartooned depiction – rather, with a gentle, whimsical expression he was quietly listening to the lively exchange of views at his table. Tentative about intruding, I nevertheless felt I would always regret not telling him how much his brilliant writing and perceptive insights into the malaise of our times had meant to me – and no doubt many others. With his typical generosity, we chatted briefly, and I sent an email of thanks when back in New Zealand.
What I subsequently learned about this gifted man in correspondence and elsewhere brings home to me more than ever how utterly insulting is today’s deliberately fostered hatred against white males. We don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants – we stand at their feet. And the basically anti-cultural bully boys and girls constantly fomenting hatred against the West – in order to destroy the best of what has been handed down to us through the centuries – in particular, their destructive attack on Christianity – met a formidable opponent in Giles. His recent book, Culture at Crisis Point (Connor Court), contains immensely readable essays, not only documenting the folly of our times, but also ‘contributing a source of possible remedies for at least some of our present, largely self-induced cultural, political and social ills.’ It is splendid writing and while Giles himself says Chapters 31 to 43 look at some of the more extreme and unnecessary follies committed fairly recently in art’s name, Chapters 11 to 30 investigate subjects as diverse as military courage, atheism, multiculturalism, bushfires, racism, relativism, political correctness, pornography and professional sport. His aim was ultimately to devote his energy to the search for truth, increasingly under attack.
And a man for all seasons indeed, Giles Auty was a fine sportsman, gifted artist and born scholar, his father a principal reader for the Complete OED. He left home to board at the age of ten having won a boarding scholarship. Given the almost complete takeover of our mis-called education institutions, who would doubt his reluctant realisation that, even when beginning Latin at eight, French at nine and ancient Greek at eleven, he was already probably more literate than most children are today when leaving school. He served two years compulsory service with the RAF regiment which looked after Gibraltar during the war, the same regiment which held the front line against the Russians on Lundeberg Heide in 1954, writing and publishing poetry while doing military service.
Above all, he always wanted to paint and became a writer by accident, because people ‘wrote such awful rubbish on the subject – as they still do’. He lived and painted in Cornwall for 20 years, before moving back to London but travelled widely, and was appointed by Margaret Thatcher to the National Curriculum Board for Art in Britain. However, it was when he moved to Australia that he met the love of his life, Annouchka, an accomplished musician, international dancer, choreographer and architectural designer. Increasingly disillusioned at what he felt was the intellectual wasteland that Australia had become, he felt that meeting Annouchka was the best gift it gave him. Writing on issues such as the unnecessarily destructive bushfires in his adopted country and the largely self-induced drought, partly caused by having sold water to Chinese syndicates, he movingly notes that ‘there were good people here once, as ancient, tiny chapels in paddocks attest.’ He and his wife have created a beautiful garden in the Blue Mountains.
Giles Auty’s unerring instinct for the truth of things strikes to the heart of what has happened to the West, with New Zealand in even more dire straits than Australia – which at least has some fine journals – including The Spectator Australia, Quadrant, News Weekly and the IPA Review. New Zealand, after the demise of Investigate magazine, has nothing similar.
Utterly on target in seeing post-modernism, conceptual art and other absurd posturing as simply neo-Marxism in disguise, he also rightly deplored ‘the steady intrusion of government funding into the realm of all the arts in Western countries’.
Inevitably leftist-controlled, to the benefit of those suitably aligned, it has even intruded into the world of children’s writing, long identified by the Economist as having become ‘a matchless source of adult propaganda’. The damage is made worse by the changes brought about by socialist governments constantly ratcheting up agenda-driven initiatives – almost invariably not reversed when conservative governments intermittently take over.
Faced as we are with the succession of attacks on the truth of things, leading to the Marxist–backed, bloody-minded distortions of the BLM movement, one is reminded of Yeats’ prophetic, ‘Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world / the blood-dimmed tide is loosed…’.
It is impossible to disregard the splendid Giles Auty’s well-substantiated contention that Western culture, even civilisation, is at crisis point.
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