EJANZH: Smith on Clark

An Australian Democrat: The Life, Work, and Consequences of Andrew Inglis Clark. Edited by Marcus Haward and James Warden. Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania. 282 pp. Price: $A30.00 post-free in Australia, $A35.00 if posted elsewhere.

Orders to: Director, CTHS, History Department, University of Tasmania, GPO Box 252C, Hobart, Tasmania 7001.

This publication of the Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies resuscitates the Tasmanian, Andrew Inglis Clark, as one of the `fathers of federation’. Begun as a series of conference papers to mark the centenary of the 1891 convention, the book records the Tasmanian part in the making of federal Australia, embodied in Clark, and itself represents a Tasmanian contribution to the flurry of books beginning to appear in the run up to the centenary of the new nation, Australia, in 1901.

All the papers emphasise Clark, the man, his ideas and contribution to Australian federation, the federal legal system and the High Court, and electoral reform through the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation used in Tasmania and lately adopted by the ACT. The main thread binding the papers is that while Clark is known for his elaborate system of proportional representation, he deserves to be remembered and accorded greater stature in national iconography for his major influence in shaping the Australian constitution. Australians outside Tasmania have forgotten this. As John La Nauze pointed out, while there is no Canberra suburb named Clark, his pre-convention draft in 1891 became a detailed working document for Griffith’s dra fting and this `first proof’, subsequently revised, provided the essence of the Constitution passed in 1900. Griffith himself described Clark’s draft as `the basis of our labours’ (p.36).

The 14 contributors to this book, in their 17 papers, outline in detail Clark’s part in shaping the charter for federal Australia. Along the way the reader learns why he has been overlooked. He did not have a charismatic personality, he was a backro om boy, not one of the `self-appointed champions of federation’, and he was from Tasmania. He was absent from the second convention in 1897-8 and not appointed to the first High Court in 1903 though he was its inventor, and so dropped from view. Th is collection restores Clark to Australian political history – repeatedly. Indeed there is some justificatory repetition throughout of his worthiness of study, and overlap of evidence given in support of this view.

The book offers several very useful contextual chapters. The reader learns of Clark’s family lineage in considerable detail (he is described by one contributor as the `natural product’ of his parents – one wonders what an unnatural product would be). Other contributions seeks to locate Clark in the political and cultural milieu of Australian liberalism, nationalism and republicanism. Several authors, notably Marcus Haward, discuss Clark’s contribution to federal theory, his knowledge of the work ings of the United States constitution and favouring of the United States model, including the division of powers and role of the senate. James Warden outlines the Jeffersonian republican ideas in his political philosophy and belief in natural righ ts. Michael Roe terms Clark a liberal idealist – another of his Australian progressives – maintaining that idealism was necessary for federation but not sufficient. Federation, for example, would bury the `convict stain’ (p.90) felt in Tasmania. Ro e depicts Clark the nationalist and as a federalist with a feeling for localism, Richard Ely details his religious liberalism as a unitarian committed to reason and science, and John Williamson outlines the sources of Clark’s liberalism and national ism.

Among a range of offerings of varying quality, Williamson’s account stands out for its clear explanation of Clark’s nationalism and for relating Clark’s ideas to the Tasmanian vote for federation. Williamson offers the insight that Clark was not a n ationalist of the Bulletin school but in the democratic liberal legal model who advocated a nationalism of good, efficient government. He believed that the colonies’ future progress depended on federating and from this nationalism would develop. Ultimate progress necessitated becoming a federal republic.

The Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies has made a creditable effort at advancing the case for remembering Clark as Australia reflects on its first 100 years as a legal and national entity. The book is an example of the role of the intellectual – male, professional and political – in imagining a nation and, literally, in writing a charter for that nation. The `great man’ emphasis might irritate some readers. Unfortunately the production of the book is less than professional. Tighter editoria l control could have removed the degree of overlap between papers and culled earnest, dense patches in the poorer ones. There are glaring typographical errors on the back cover and in the foreword, which is titled `Foreward’, and the appendices to C hapter 7 on Clark and constitutional law, including his letters, appear in the middle of the book with Chapter 7, rather than at the end where Clark’s essays are included as an unlabelled appendix.

However, for those interested in reconsidering the making of Australia’s constitution, there is plenty on offer, and the Tasmanian voice is welcome, although a little clamorous at times about wanting to be heard.

From across the Tasman, this cry to be noticed by the South East is viewed empathically. Maybe Canberra, having adopted Clark’s views on proportional representation, might consider giving him a suburb after all.

Philippa Mein Smith, Department of History, University of Canterbury