Goodbye Babylon: Further journeys in time and politics
Bob Ellis is the quintessential Labour groupie, and Goodbye Babylon the latest instalment in the saga of his love affair with the ALP, which began with The Things We Did Last Summer, a slim and evocative volume, published twenty years ago. By contrast, Goodbye Babylon is a fat book; rather like Ellis himself, it is sprawling, dishevelled, undisciplined but likeable, witty, and gregarious. His prose, though prone to excess, can be rich and compelling.
Goodbye Babylon covers the period from the ALP national conference of early 1998 to the South Australian election of 2002, but the book is not organised chronologically, bouncing round all over time and place. One does not go to Ellis for linear logic; he is a lateral thinker. Yet out of apparent chaos a subtle and effective structure emerges, reminding us that the author is also a master scriptwriter. Ellis advances and backtracks, circling what is the core of the book: the period between August and November 2001, from the Tampa affair to the federal election. This was the time when Kim Beazley’s journey to the prime ministership, seemingly unstoppable in early 2001, was derailed. Ellis is obsessed by this period, in which Australian history was wrenched from its seemingly preordained course. He writes of this time in tones of nostalgic anguish, with innumerable melancholic ‘what ifs’ and ‘what might have beens’. ‘I ... tried to recompose my mind,’ writes Ellis after the election was lost, ‘reorder my plans, for a world, a future, that contained no Age of Beazley.’ This, if anything, is Ellis’s lost Zion: ‘By the rivers of Babylon ... we wept, when we remembered Zion.’