A fine farewell was held for Clyde Holding today. Appropriately in the Great Hall at the National Gallery under that majestic ceiling. Two former Governors-General, one current and two former Prime Ministers, one current and three former Premiers, multiple current and former Ministers, Federal and State. These people don’t have to come to these things, especially the “formers”. It is a testament to Clyde’s gregarious character and capacity for friendship, as well as his importance during some very important times, for Labor and for the nation, that they came today. And nice to see how these public figures are traveling. Zelman Cowen in a wheelchair, Peter Hollingworth still an imposing figure. Never a big man in stature (as distinct from intellect or ego), Bob Hawke is looking more and more like a well polished walnut, silver hair still a crowning feature. Paul Keating strides in looking as suave and well turned out as in his glory days, the only difference being his colouring – no jet black hair nor hint of six o clock shadow to underline the faint sense of menace. A renaissance man still, those beautiful hands as expressive as ever. John Cain looks just like his statue outside 1 Treasury Place. Slight, wrinkled (as he always was) and earnest. Steve Bracks relaxed but still with plenty of energy. John Brumby at ease with himself. Some of the old Richmond characters were there – surprising to see them still with us given their riotous lifestyles. Bob Monaghan looking spectral, Peter Burns in a wheelchair but looking pretty good. Ross Betts who straddled a few of Clyde’s worlds – electorate, the old Richmond Tammany Hall operation, Chief of Staff (before they had such fancy names for that forlorn position) for the Leader of the Opposition, then Partner in the good old firm. Looking splendid and imposing as always. A pity that Peter Redlich, with whom Clyde established the law firm that bears his name was not able to be with us due to ill health. Old union Secretaries, Wally Curran, Jim Beggs. What stories could be told. Parliamentarians. Friends and colleagues. Trade unionists, lawyers and artists. All gathered for the final show.
Deborah Cheetham’s operatic rendition of the National Anthem was wonderful. Reminded us from the start of Clyde’s love of the arts. Expanded on later by Paul Keating, an emotional and knowledgeable appreciation. A perfectly composed overview of his public life, strongly delivered, from the Prime Minister followed. A personal tribute from Peter Holding showed how his Father’s childhood circumstances contributed to his later political life and of his openness to other lives, and cultures. It’s interesting how someone who had the shadow of sectarian bigotry hang so heavily on him personally could so readily embrace diversity, including the loyal Labor Catholics of Richmond. I loved the story of the family’s wholesale transfer of AFL allegiance from Hawthorn to Collingwood – the price extracted for being a loyal local MP. And the automatic assumption that he would live in his electorate – more honored in the exception these days. A nice picture of three bored kids stuffing envelopes. It’s nice that Peter has continued his Father’s political activism, though in different ways. You can read Peter’s tribute Here
Paul Keating gave a lovely eulogy, sharing recollections of a Clyde that we could all recognize. A bit of a blade, and man about town. I recall a photo of Clyde, alongside Wally Curran holding a young Peter by the hand, marching behind the Meatworkers banner on the May Day march – wearing a cravat! Looking very much the dapper gent. Paul went on to describe a great raconteur, a trait mentioned by others. I remember Clyde’s visits to his law firm, where I worked as a young solicitor, where he entertained us after work with tales of political skullduggery – current and past. But Paul went on to describe how at his core, Clyde was an enlarger No greater compliment really. Manning Clark’s characterizations remain as apt today as when he wrote his great History of Australia – there are two sorts of person in the world – enlargers or straiteners. Politicians should consider the question. Perhaps it’s not something that can be retrofitted after you get in – just part of your character for good or ill. But when your contribution comes to be measured, as it is on occasions like today, it matters. (In the current climate we are seeing how easy it is to be a third type – a wrecker. When balance sheets are drawn up, that will be the least worthy contribution to public life, though it might well have enduring consequences.)
How Clyde enlarged his part of the world was amply demonstrated in all the speeches. In preparing the Victorian Branch of the Labor Party for the reform that led to the Whitlam Government and people like Gareth Evans being embraced. What dark days Clyde endured. In hindsight today, people could smile at the madness that was Hartley and Crawford and co. But what damage they did. I saw Clyde and Margaret Holding, by then divorced, meeting at Head Office on the night John Cain became Labor’s first Victorian Premier for 27 years. Sharing a rueful smile they embraced. That smile acknowledged all that effort, all they had endured personally, in pursuit of such a victory. It was a poignant moment. Many of the people who were in Clyde’s caucus went on to become effective Ministers in the Cain Labor Government and were there today.
Clyde also enlarged the life of Aboriginal Australians. Peter alluded to Clyde’s early interest in Indigenous culture. Paul spoke of his early recognition that this was the great moral issue that had to be addressed if white Australia was to advance. Many individuals including Mick Dodson and Marcia Langton spoke movingly of the impact he had on them personally. Clyde was lauded for having the courage to raise the issue of land rights, even if he was ultimately unsuccessful. The fact that he put it on the agenda lifted people’s hopes and expectations about what was possible. Something worth remembering. And Paul was clear in his condemnation of those primarily responsible for the land rights legislation being scuttled – Brian Burke and Graham Richardson. But he, Paul, had an interesting take on the final outcome of land rights through the Mabo decision in the High Court (which Clyde assisted financially though the Government of which he was a member was the defendant – another lesson, think and act outside the box occasionally). Paul said a legal decision recognizing rights that had never been taken away was better than an Act of Parliament giving back something that had been taken away – by those who had done the taking. An interesting perspective, and maybe self- serving, but right I think.
Clyde enlarged our vision of the importance of the arts in society. It was good to see some proper recognition for achievements in the arts. Too often this is seen as a peripheral area of government, occasionally recognized for it’s economic contribution but rarely as a proper, substantive policy and program area. Clyde’s real understanding of the arts was recognized as were his considerable achievements. Often these were more complicated than they looked and required hard work and persistence. I liked Paul’s insights into the complexity of the Arthur Boyd bequest – diplomatic niceties, bargaining with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Good stuff.
Finally, Clyde enlarged the lives of his constituents. It was nice to see an MPs electoral work recognized. Jacqui Willox gave a lovely speech about life in Clyde’s office, helping locals win real benefits for their community, roping in family members in election campaigns, dealing with different issues, often in difficult circumstances – gunshots and floods were instances – and always being respectful. It was also nice to see some faults remembered – a terrible driver, couldn’t remember names! Gareth Evans, in another nicely observed contribution, included a certain lack of attention to detail (albeit more colourfully phrased).
I could go on but will conclude. It was a lovely ceremony. Nice of the Premier to attend such a tribal Labor event – even enduring some gentle ribbing from PJK – Victoria’s a Labor State now, you might have it for the moment Ted, but we’ll take it back soon! I hear that he made a fine speech in his contribution on the condolence motion in the Parliament later in the day, very gracious. I hear Richard Wynne the current Member for Richmond did likewise, including some references to Richmond’s colourful political history.
We need these celebrations of public life. It reassures us about the worth and what can be achieved.
Vale Clyde Holding.