Stirring the Possum
Viking, 261 pp, $29.99 hb
It seems strange to describe Diamond Jim McClelland as, really, rather an old-fashioned man. Few septuagenarians have anything like his energy, his forthrightness, his optimism, or, most of all, his receptivity to new ideas. But if there is a continuous thread in his extraordinarily full and complex life, it can probably be best summed up as a very untrendy, passionate commitment to morality. The catch is that his ideas of what constitutes morality – or at least what is the best way of achieving it – have gone from here to there and back again.
McClelland started as a devout and guilt-ridden Roman Catholic. Like many such, he developed doubts, and embraced communism in its most radical (and unachievable) form: Trotskyism. The doubts resurfaced; he became a dedicated fellow traveller of the Catholic based Movement, committed to breaking the power of the communists within the unions. This in turn became unsatisfactory (or perhaps just boring) and the Camelot held out by the Labor Party under the leadership of Gough Whitlam beckoned. 1975 disposed of that magnificent obsession, which was followed by a term in the Land and Environment Court, in which McClelland became greener than many of the greenies appearing before him. This obsession lasted with him into the Maralinga Royal Commission on British Atomic Tests, and about the same time he became converted to feminism.