Jacqueline Kent reviews 'The Blackburns: Private lives, public ambition' by Carolyn Rasmussen

Jacqueline Kent reviews 'The Blackburns: Private lives, public ambition' by Carolyn Rasmussen

The Blackburns: Private lives, public ambition

by Carolyn Rasmussen

Melbourne University Press, $44.99 hb, 400 pp, 978022874457

If you were young and energetic and a believer in a range of progressive causes, Melbourne in the first three decades of the twentieth century was an exciting place. It was even better if you were in love.

Doris Hordern and Maurice Blackburn, the joint subjects of Carolyn Rasmussen’s deeply researched and absorbing new biography, understood each other’s dedication to radical politics from the time they met in February 1913, introduced by the influential leftwing journalist and propagandist Henry Hyde Champion. Maurice, the chief support of a widowed mother, was struggling to make a living as a barrister, mostly for unions and workers: as he told Doris, he ‘could not shut his eyes to suffering and oppression’. Doris, trained as a teacher, was also Vida Goldstein’s campaign secretary in the latter’s unsuccessful bid to enter federal parliament as an independent in 1913. Doris was chronically suspicious of marriage, declaring, ‘I do not trust men as I do most women.’ Nevertheless, after an eighteen-month engagement they married with very little money at the end of 1914.

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Published in April 2019, no. 410
Jacqueline Kent

Jacqueline Kent

Jacqueline Kent is a Sydney-based writer of biography and other non-fiction. Her biography of the former prime minister, The Making of Julia Gillard PM (2010), has just been updated and released as a Penguin Special Take Your Best Shot. See: jacquelinekent.com.au