Sunday, August 19, 2012

Australian expatriates in London

When I was a science student at Sydney University in the '50s, the future celebrated author Robert Hughes [1938-2012] was studying architecture. The following photo shows Hughes more or less as I remember him, physically, in those days.


Admired as an outspoken dashing dandy on the campus, he was known above all for his comic strip in the university weekly Honi Soit. The main character was a student, like Hughes, attired in a duffel coat and shoes with thick crepe soles (the winter fashion at that time). I forget the theme of Hughes's comic strips, but it was no doubt related to the major enemy of university activists at that time: the much-maligned apathy of their fellow students. The greatest insult an intellectual could hurl at other people was to describe them as zombies overcome by apathy, unconcerned by politics, society, art, sex, etc. I've often wondered if these comic strips have survived in the university archives.

It was hard to imagine that Bob might have evolved into the excruciated spectacle of Bill Leak's astounding portrait:

Robert Hughes — Nothing if not critical 2001
by Bill Leak [1956- ], National Portrait Gallery

In the wake of Hughes's death on 6 August 2012, the media have often evoked the theme of celebrated Australian expatriates in London. Besides Hughes, four inevitable names appear:

Left to right: Rolf Harris (82), Barry Humphries (78), Germaine Greer (73) and Clive James (72).

Today, I believe that Australia has a champion expatriate in London:


The audacious style in which Julian Assange addressed Britain, Sweden and the US from a pulpit above the heads of the bored bobbies—waiting like vultures on the off-chance that he might fall down into their claws—was most spectacular.

I'm trying to imagine an escape scenario that would involve Julian's getting picked up from the London rooftops by a helicopter, before being let down in a nearby London park where a waiting automobile would take him down to the East London docks, where he would board secretly a ship leaving for Ecuador....

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