Review: My Country by David Marr, Black Inc.

James Arbuthnott

David Marr’s anthology, My Country, burns the names of those who fall under his crosshairs into their political headstones.
Review: My Country by David Marr, Black Inc.

David Marr's My Country: Stories, Essays & Speeches.

David Marr’s career spans over 45 years. He has written for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Saturday Paper, The Monthly and The Guardian. His work in The Quarterly Essay has burned the names of those who fell under his crosshairs into their political headstones: Pauline Hanson, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, and the nemesis and muse of Marr’s long career, John Howard. In his anthology, My Country, Marr articulates our questions, frustrations and suspicions capturing the nation’s apprehensiveness towards the politicians we vote in and employ to serve us.

Marr’s article in The Sydney Morning Herald in 1999, Jones, Laws and cash for comment, exposes loudmouth-for-hire Alan Jones. The 2UE talkback radio host was payrolled to promote the expensive apartment buildings on heritage-listed wharves in Walsh Bay for $450,000 a year. Jones drummed up the developments on air, not in a live read but straight editorial. This landed him in front of judge and jury for not informing his listeners it was indeed advertising. Marr lists the shock jock’s previous contracts for Qantas and Optus and his lack of on-air transparency – something which reigns true to this day after Jones’ recent dummy spit while defending Sydney’s richest horse race using the sails of the Sydney Opera House.

The veteran journalist also explores his life as a gay man, marriage to his ex-wife, his now-partner of 18 years. He remembers masturbating with a ‘clear mind’ to avoid shame and sin and to naked tribesmen in National Geographic, and his religious-school upbringing.

'The only instruction my school ever gave me came when I was seventeen and the senior year was in the assembly hall for a talk by the school doctor… "You can tell a homosexual." Dr Day said, and by my calculation about a dozen boys must, like me, have frozen with curiosity and terror. "You can tell them by the décor of their flats."'

But Marr’s motif over his long career and his selected articles for My Country is John Howard. Whether it’s Howard’s family secret that his father was involved in plantations in Papua New Guinea – a topic which still agitates Howard to this day – or his skills as a public speaker and politician, Marr is incredibly critical of Howard and fears his political tactics. Tony Abbott, who still relishes in much of the fear and political landscape Howard helped create, is next in Marr’s firing line. Abbott’s views on everything from refugees, free speech, religion and politics are disembowelled by Marr’s unflinching storytelling and attention to detail.

Marr’s contribution to The Monthly as the biographer and long-time friend of Australian author David White notes their shared understanding of the Australian psyche and politics. 'White knew people like [Howard] in his bones. Everywhere in his work are small-town figures who talk about duty to hide their narrowness. Howard appealed to something in Australians that White knew, feared and fought for all his life: our yearning for small comfort and respectability.'

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆
My Country by David Marr
Release date: 5 Nov 2018
RRP: $39.95
Hardback ISBN: 9781760640804
ISBN: 9781743820674
Imprint: Black Inc.
Format: Hardback
Extent: 400pp

About the author

James Arbuthnott is a regional journalist in the Campaspe area, Victoria and book reviewer at ArtsHub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot