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The Eyes of Margaret Reynolds

Even crusty old writers get to escape the starvation in a garret thing and have an occasional holiday. As an avowed and well-practiced Queensland hermit I’ve even surprised myself this year: one trip out into the Australian deserts, and last week a trip down to Tasmania.

And in Tasmania a chance meeting happened …

Quite at random a friend, and yes hermits do have friends, picked out a Richmond Air B&B to stay at for a few nights. From there we planned a trip to Port Arthur and then a bit of wilderness trekking, or wilderness dawdling in my case.

Margaret Reynolds was the contact name on the Air B&B site.

Margaret wasn’t home when we arrived late in the afternoon at the Air B&B place. Her husband Henry, and dog Harry, invited us in. Never got to speak much with Henry during the visit, but would liked to have, as he had an air of mischievousness, and of academic intelligence, about him.

We were shown through to our spot at the back of the place and the first thing I noticed were … the photos up on the walls.

Gough Whitlam. Bob & Hazel Hawke. Richard Butler. Kofi Annan. Xanana Gusmao. The collected Hawke/Keating Ministry. Antonio Guterres. They all beamed down.

Further along the wall was a print of a very old Suffragette Banner. Then there was a bookcase full of feminist writings. Then there was a simple sign that said the Whitlam Room. Then there was a brass plaque that read Senator Margaret Reynolds.

All thought of the wonders of Tasmania temporarily leaked out of my ears as the penny dropped. This was ALP tribal country. A Social Justice heartland. As one does, I did the neck-swivel thing looking around for the glow from the Light On The Hill.

Ha, it made me wonder what a Howard or Abbott devotee would have made of it all.

And then Margaret Reynolds arrived home.

Because we all have feet of clay I never put anyone on a pedestal, but I have to say that in meeting Margaret Reynolds it was both a pleasure, and a learning experience.

The first thing I noticed were her eyes … laced with humour, and tinged with steel. They’ve seen a lot I reckon. They looked at us with intelligence, wit, and no doubt a fair bit of quick summing up, and then they opened up with a smile and invited us into a small part of her world.

Having just written, prior to the Tasmanian trip, a piece on the status of women in contemporary Australia for the AIMN Network, I was gob-smacked to be having a conversation with a woman who devotes much of her life, and who devoted the majority of her period in public service at the highest levels, to the pursuit of equality for women. Margaret was the ALP Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women from January 1988 to April 1990.

The subject of women though hardly came up in our conversation with Margaret, so I had to rely on the process of osmosis and proximity to glean insights. The conversation was mainly, surprise, surprise, all about politics. Historical and contemporary.

How often does any one of us get to enjoy a breakfast cooked by someone who has seen far more than she can say, who has mixed with contemporary and historical figures that the rest of us have only ever read about, and who played her part in the most progressive period of governance that Australia has ever experienced?

The most progressive period of governance that Australia has ever experienced. You may agree or disagree with that, but I see it as a given.

Do I know more about Bob Hawke? Do I know more about Paul Keating? Do I know more about Anthony Albanese? Do I know more about Tanya Plibersek? Yes I do. But can I tell you any interesting stuff without betraying the trust of what I considered to be a private conversation? Just a small bit, a little bit, a slight tad, a sliver, yes I think I can.

Bob Hawke was who he appeared to be, there was no artifice whatsoever. Paul Keating’s public persona was very different to his private one. Privately he was very considerate and quite shy, shiny suits aside. I wish I could say a lot more about a lot more.

The stay in Richmond at Margaret and Henry’s and Harry’s place was very brief. It was a rare moment where pure chance gave one a brief window of opportunity to look into a very different world. My friend and I were eyeballs-wide and ears-open I can assure you.

As I stood in the bedroom where Gough Whitlam once slept a lot of thoughts whirred around the old brain box. I thought about what the ALP once was, and I thought about what it has now become. A follow-on article will come out of standing for that moment in that bedroom.

It was a pleasure meeting Margaret and Henry Reynolds in their home. Chance meetings like that rarely come along, and moments in time like that should be appreciated for what they are.

Resonance is a funny thing, and it is also fitting to realise that the foundation level of their house was built by an entrepreneurial Convict. The place came into being in the 1820s as a working-class Inn.

From Wikipedia: Margaret Reynolds (born 19 July 1941) served as an Australian Labor Party Senator for Queensland from 1983 to 1999.

Reynolds had two ministerial appointments during her time in the Senate, serving as Minister for Local Government from September 1987 to April 1990 and as Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women from January 1988 to April 1990.

She retired from federal politics in 1999, and went on to lecture in politics and international relations at the University of Queensland. In 1995, Reynolds published a book titled The Last Bastion: Labor women working towards equality in the parliaments of Australia, which is a compilation of biographical details about ALP women from the Party’s inception till the year it was published. A further book, Living Politics, was published by University of Queensland Press in 2007.

From Wikipedia: Henry Reynolds established the Australian History program at Townsville University College, where he accepted a lectureship in 1965, later serving as an Associate Professor of History and Politics from 1982 until his retirement in 1998.

He then took up an Australian Research Council post as a professorial fellow at the University of Tasmania, and subsequently a post at the University’s Riawunna Centre for Aboriginal Education.

In more than ten books and numerous academic articles Reynolds has explained the high level of violence and conflict involved in the colonisation of Australia, and the Aboriginal resistance to numerous massacres of indigenous people.

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  1. andrew brown

    Should have googled Henry Reynolds

  2. Keith Davis

    Hi Andrew … unfortunately we did not get to spend time with Henry. His publishing feats would have been well worth writing about.

  3. New England Cocky

    As a historian, Henry Reynolds ranks with Manning Clark and Russell Ward for his accurate description of Australian history exposing the ruthless conquest and genocide of established Aboriginal communities. Indeed, together with Bruce Pascoe (“Dark Emu”) we should be re-writing Australian history to remove the cover-up and correct the historical errors that assuaged the conscience of establishment Australians of the 19th century.

  4. wam

    A very emotional read, keith.
    When I joined my darling, at a local government conference, we stayed at the Kurrajong.
    The power of Chifley and the experience of that old hotel, chifley’s home, made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up.
    At one cocktail do a canberran said to the small group don’t be put off by his appearance I hear he is a high flyer in darwin. Ms Reynolds would have enjoyed it because I am a ground dweller it is my wife who is the terrific high flyer.
    I often write about it being time to resurrect the green, white and purple but casual observation says there would possibly be more men than women saluting the flag?
    With tassie done you’ll have time for the space waste??

  5. Keith Davis

    Hi Wam … yep, I’m working on ‘Cosmic Follies’ as we speak. I haven’t done a quirky fun piece since ‘End Game’ … after a run of serious issue articles it sometimes pays to halt-stride, swivel on a tangent, forget logic and reason and fact, dive full bore down the rabbit-hole, and see what comes out at the other end.

  6. Jaquix

    Margaret Reynolds is a national treasure. What a wonderful experience to meet her, so serendipitously!

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