December 2008 – January 2009

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Alfred Deakin & John Bunyan

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Alfred Deakin occupied many notable posts and earned several memorable sobriquets in his long and distinguished public career. Member for Ballarat, Minister for Public Works and Water Supply, Chief Secretary and Solicitor-General of Victoria, Executive Chairman of the Federation League, first Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Prime Minister three times. Affable Alfred, Father of Irrigation.

An omnivorous reader and assiduous writer, Deakin filled an endless stream of notebooks and diaries; subsisted for a time as a journalist; contributed ‘secret' commentary on Australian politics to the London press; published a five-act blank-verse drama on the Renaissance-era Flemish painter of grotesques Quentin Massys; and penned essays, poetry and treatises on subjects as diverse as funerary architecture in India and anti-sweating legislation. But his most intriguing work of literature was composed at the very beginning of his career when, barely 22, he occupied his first office: President of the Victorian Association of Progressive Spiritualists.

Spiritualism was enjoying a certain vogue by the 1870s, and young Alfred's search for a Higher Truth drew him to its mystic endeavours. At séances conducted by his psychic mentor, a former draper, he proved an ideal medium. In short order, he was communicating with the disincarnate departed. And not just any passing apparition. Deakin found himself taking post-mortem dictation from the shade of John Bunyan, the nonconformist poet whose bodily departure from this mortal coil occurred in the distant year of 1688.

A contemporary of Milton, Bunyan was an uneducated tinker who did most of his writing in jail, where he was banged up for more than 12 years for preaching without a permit. His allegory The Pilgrim's Progress was once one of the most widely read books in English literature, as familiar to many Protestants as the Bible itself.

In the original version, published in 1678, Christian, its everyman protagonist, undertakes a perilous journey to Heaven, overcoming the temptations of Madam Wanton and Vanity Fair, escaping Doubting Castle and the Slough of Despond, before arriving at the Celestial City, thereby assuring a pre-eminent place in the Glossary of Phrases Proverbial.

As channelled through Alfred Deakin, two centuries later, A New Pilgrim's Progress featured a hero named Restless, who found his true path via vegetarianism. It was published pseudonymously, crediting Bunyan with spiritual guidance. Shortly after, Deakin began his political career by running for parliament. Denounced in the papers for "outraging religion", he withdrew from the spiritualist movement.

Alfred Deakin died in 1919, a spent force politically, his mystical questions unanswered. He is also known as a Founding Father of the Liberal Party.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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