I was unlucky to have my new book, Words Fail Me, reviewed by a man whose soul is so dead that he hates his own country (‘Lest We Forget’, November 2010). Peter Conrad describes Australia after the war as a “cowed, introverted country” – even though there were signs in every corner of our nation as Japan started bombing us saying: “FIGHT, WORK, or PERISH”. Conrad also writes that Australia was “blinkered and bigoted” and had pursued “decades of contented national mediocrity”. Tell that to fans of Queensland film-maker Charles Chauvel who, in the mid 1950s, made that great film Jedda with Aboriginal actors. Though Conrad implies Australians were racist, he himself is obsessed with the colour of our skin. He says: “Australia was white and its … language blue”, adding that Australia back in the 1950s was “pale-faced and uniformly blank-minded”. He calls Queensland “Australia’s upside-down version of the Deep South”, illustrating that he can’t come up with anything original or not American. He has no time for older Australians, saying that “the short-term memory of his readers may be failing”. Isn’t that called ‘ageism’? He also says my fans are all “in the superannuated suburbs”, though publishers would tell him this is totally incorrect.
Conrad clearly feels malice towards me – presumably as not only an Australian who was alive in the 1940s and 1950s but a Queenslander as well: and a successful author! Thus he complains “he sunbakes in his popularity” and tells your readers that I didn’t write this book – “all Lunn had to do was copy and paste” and “anthologise [his] fan mail”– which is defamatory. Simple arithmetic would show that such quotes make up a couple of per cent of the book.
Because I said we lived in a world where overseas travel didn’t exist, he writes that I imply overseas travel “is as bad as burgers” and “evil”. Because I remind everyone of the complex pre-decimal system, he says I regret that I had to “decimalise [my] addled head”. Now that’s nasty! My brain was not addled at all: I passed university-entrance maths when only 4% got to go to the only university in Queensland.
Words Fail Me laments the current lack of the use of Aboriginal words in Australia, and contains words or stories sent in by many Australians including my Russian friend, Dimitri Egoroff; a Dutch woman, Eileen Sneath; a Latvian reader; Walter Spunde; an Italian, Damiano Sponza; an Italian-Maltese woman from Melbourne, Maria de Sanctus, and my Vietnamese friend Pham Ngoc Dinh. Yet Conrad writes that Hugh Lunn has “taken on the persona of a philologic Pauline Hanson” and claims I am “leading a peasants’ revolt against multiculturalism”. I never mention multiculturalism or asylum seekers. As if to back this up he says I have “written a biography of Joh Bjelke-Petersen”. What he does not say is that it was an unauthorised biography. He chose to ignore my book, Four Stories, about Aboriginal Australians. Conrad totally misjudged the person he was writing about. That’s what happens when you write about someone you clearly already dislike.
St Lucia, QLD