The Fatal Lure of Politics: The life and thought of Vere Gordon Childe
by Terry Irving
Monash University Publishing, $39.95 pb, 432 pp
A young Australian radical, who finds academic success later in life, struggles with an inexorable question: what is the relationship between these two worlds: the activist and the scholar? This question animated the life of Vere Gordon Childe, the Australian Marxist and intellectual whose The Dawn of Euro pean Civilization (1925) helped establish modern archaeology, as it has his most recent biographer, activist and labour historian Terry Irving, whose Class Structure in Australian History (1981, with Raewyn Connell) remains a key text.
The two might have met, if only fleetingly, in April 1957. Childe had returned from London in what were to be the final months of his life and was receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters from his Alma Mater, Sydney University. Irving, a young socialist and member of the campus Labour Club, caught glimpses of ‘the collar of [Childe’s] green shirt just visible behind the academic gown and its heavy woollen suit’. While having ‘only the vaguest idea’ who the visitor was, the club had gathered in honour of ‘a fellow socialist’.