Horne’s irony was lost on Australia

Donald Horne, a historian and author who first labelled Australia ”The Lucky Country” and was credited with helping launch its republican movement, has died at age 83, his agent said.

Horne, who also was a respected journalist, died early on Thursday at his Sydney home, said his literary agent, Jane Cameron.

Horne’s description of Australia in the title of his 1964 The Lucky Country was intended ironically — he believed the country was lucky to have flourished despite poor political leadership — but has since been adopted by many of his countrymen as a fitting description of their nation.

Friend and fellow historian Edmund Campion said Horne rued the fact that his most famous phrase lost its meaning over the years.

”He conveyed his thoughts very much through ironic sentences, and the best example of that is The Lucky Country, which in common usage lost all its irony,” Campion said. ”That annoyed him considerably.”

As well as writing more than 20 books, Horne twice served as editor of the respected current affairs magazine The Bulletin and was an academic at Sydney University before becoming chancellor of Canberra University.

The chairperson of the Australian Republican Movement, John Warhurst, praised Horne for questioning Australian society and its unwillingness to adopt a local head of state to replace Britain’s monarch.

”His iconic publication The Lucky Country in 1964 opened up wide public discussion on an Australian republic for the first time,” Warhurst said in a statement.

”In his typical Australian way he bluntly asked the straightforward question, ‘Is Australia alone in the world in being unable to rig up its own head of state? This is backwater colonialism, nervous of its final responsibilities.’

”He will be greatly missed; his contribution was enormous and his dedication to the campaign for an Australian republic was unstinting,” Warhurst added.

Cameron said Horne had been ill with the lung disease pulmonary fibrosis for several years.

”He passed away early this morning … after being ill for some time,” she said. ”His family will be organising a small funeral for close family and friends.”

Horne is survived by a wife, son and daughter. — Sapa-AP

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