Reviewed by Ian Lipke
David Hunt, author of Girt, True Girt, and now Girt Nation, has been flying beneath the flag of public notice for far too long. First of his books in this series to appear was the very funny, 2013 award-winning Girt which was shortlisted for the 2014 Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA), the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and the Australian Book Design Awards. It was also the only non-fiction book shortlisted for the ABA Nielsen Book Data 2014 Booksellers Choice Award. Having missed this publication, I was intrigued when Girt Nation came up for review. I had to ask who David Hunt might be, and few people could answer. A publication blurb informed me that Hunt was “an unusually tall and handsome man who likes writing his own biographical notes” (book cover). While this comment gave me some insight into Hunt’s character, it took me no farther in coming to grips with the man.
Reading Girt Nation led to two quick, inarguable conclusions – that the author holds no truck with Australia’s national anthem, and second, that this author’s book will be no serious follower of those of Ross Fitzgerald, Manning Clark or Geoffrey Blainey. While the writings of these academic scholars are works of distinction, Hunt’s depiction of a magpie defecating on the head of Alfred Deakin suggests that the reader be prepared for a spoof. And so it proves. Hunt’s comic take on aspects of Australian history almost convinces readers of Girt Nation’s authenticity.
Readers could be forgiven for arguing that the information Hunt provides must be true given the copious and thorough research that supports the footnotes. I concur with this view. The narrative suggests that it is true – a feel of scholarship accompanies the text. But the examples that Hunt employs are so numerous, odd, and often downright funny as to cast doubt. The question, “Is my leg being pulled?” never leaves the reader. What is one to make of Alfred Deakin who is presented as a Liberal necromancer, or Banjo Paterson’s extremely unlikely presence as a jihadist who called on God and the Prophet to drive the Australian infidels from the Sudan ‘like sand before the gale’? Or Catherine Helen Spence, the advocate of a future where contraceptives were free and immigration restrictions sufficient to prevent the ‘Chinese coming to destroy all we have struggled for!’
Add to these unlikely scenarios, an all-amputee street gang, an AFL trainer injecting his troops with crushed dog and goat testicles, and a political party that is charged with spending a quarter of a century infighting over how to spell its own name, and you realise that serious research is only the accompaniment to the orchestra of satirical address. One reviewer’s comment that,
This is a history lesson for a broad audience – I don’t think I’ve ever read a narrative history that’s more entertaining while maintaining accuracy. It’s unique and filled with riveting stories that will surprise you, move you, and make you laugh out loud,
was never more true.
Above all, David Hunt delights in inserting his own, never less than controversial opinions, that are almost always very funny. In late nineteenth century Australia, the inhabitants ‘believed in democracy (for men), a fair go (for white men) and housework (for women of all colours). They were committed to a free press, to trial by jury, and for the most part, freedom of religion. They trusted in commerce, progress and the Queen. And most of all, they shared the bond of losing money, [as well as] betting on ridiculously dressed short arses engaging in S&M with defenceless animals.’
David Hunt irreverent look at history is a refreshing and engaging look at ourselves that is missing from conventional historical accounts. Bless him!
By David Hunt