14. 801LETTERSAbout the Abbotts
GUESS what? Scrutiny of the Commonwealth heads of government reveals there was an Abbott prime minister before our Typhoon Tony.
Canada beat us to it way back by propelling to the office Sir John Abbott. “Propelling” is right. His elevation came about with reluctance on his part.
Always competent, he’d regarded himself as a caretaker prime minister. During his term he increased the Conservative majority by 13 seats resulting from by-elections.
To light, fascinating comparisons with Tony Abbott who awaits a makeover of his official residence, The Lodge.
Canada’s third prime minister, and first indigenous one, is best remembered for saying “I hate politics”.
Today most of us are aware of Tony’s rise and rise since entering John Howard’s Cabinet in 1998. He has, of course, long hungered for the political leadership of our nation.
This after being born a Pom—in London—yet of a Sydneysider mother. Aged three, he emigrated with his parents in 1967.
During our Christmas break, opportunity will occur for reflection on his first 100 days in office (December 27) and in the new year he’ll celebrate 20 years as the Liberal MP for Warringah. He’s married with three adult daughters.
But what of John in Canada? He was born in March 1821, the issue of Anglican missionaries, the Rev and Mrs Joseph Abbott who’d lived in St Andre d’Argenteuil, Quebec.
In 1849 he married and the couple had four sons and four daughters. John was a cousin of Maude Abbott, an expert on congenital heart disease, and became great-grandfather of the actor Christopher Plummer (Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music).
Canada’s future prime minister became a Montreal lawyer, a power in the railways’ spreading, and a Freemason.
Tony, a graduate of St Ignatius’ College, won a Rhodes Scholarship to Queen’s College, Oxford, and also trained to be a priest until he realised he’d be a “square peg in a round hole”.
For a while he managed a concrete factory and also worked on a news magazine, then became a political adviser.
John was for the most part a corporate lawyer, but found himself in the limelight defending successfully some Confederate agents who’d raided St Albans, Vermont, from Canadian soil during the American Civil War. He argued successfully they should be regarded as belligerents rather than criminals and, therefore, should not be extradited. In consequence Canadian and American tension came close to armed conflict.
Is there a message here for Tony? Well, yes: Tread softly with boat people and in dealings with neighbouring Indonesia. Its people outnumber us at least 12-1.
John entered Canada’s House of Commons in 1867 as MP for St-Andre Argenteuil and spent a period as mayor of Montreal. He led the Senate from 1887-1893.
He emerged unscathed from a railways scandal and rode out other controversies, the nature of which are integral to politics and reflected now in our daily news diet at home, and from overseas.
John Abbott’s health faltered in 1892. He retired after 17 months as leader. John SD Thompson, who had all along in the leadership issue been Abbott’s personal preference for PM, succeeded him.
Within a year of retiring, Sir John died of brain cancer, aged 72. His grave is in Montreal, Quebec.
Best to end with his most famous utterance in context: “I hate politics and what are considered their appropriate measures. I hate notoriety, public meetings, public speeches, caucuses and everything that I know of which is apparently the necessary incident of politics – except doing public work to the best of my ability.”
Yeah. How much of the quote might be true, or become true, of our private Tony Abbott—given it’s from one of his tribe—we are, of course, unlikely to find out today or tomorrow, if ever.
Ron Willis
First Ave, Mount Lawley

Where’s the creative genius in giant mimickry?
IF Parker Pens erected a giant fountain pen high over its showroom we would likely regard this as just another advertising gimmick.
But according to the City of Vincent’s arts advisory committee this same giant pen, like Cinderella’s pumpkin transformed into a magnificent coach, will by some arcane alchemy materialise as a “magnificent” piece of public art once it is erected at 1 Albert St. (Voice, December 7, 2013).
It seems that rather than a debate on the relative merits of which artwork offers the highest level of originality, meaning and aesthetic engagement, discussion has instead centred around what object will be replicated by the artist as though the selection process has come down to picking from a deck of picture cards familiar objects (eg, lamp, coin, fountain pen or even a plastic milk crate) and waiting for the artist to fabricate the chosen image.
With reference to the fountain pen’s suggested relationship to the nearby school, I can’t see the relevance. I doubt that many, if any, students use fountain at all. Neither is there any connection between Descarte who wrote, “I think, therefore I am” and fountain pens as the fountain pen wasn’t invented until 1828 and he died in 1650.
Clearly the arts advisory committee is neither interested in relevance nor aesthetic substance.
Vincent Sammut
Franklin St, Leederville

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