- When I was a small child my mother would often take me in her arms and give me a cuddle. We would sit together for long dreamy periods of time her arm around me giving me caresses. Psychologists say that parental affection is essential for a child’s healthy development. I owe my mother a great deal and I repaid her badly. As a teenager I shied away from her attempts to cuddle me. When she reached out to touch me I shrugged her off. Cuddles were for babies, I insisted; I was a grown-up, past the ‘lovey-dovey’ stage. I know I hurt her feelings and she died before I could put these prickly assertions of independence behind me.
My parents had their faults. My mother, I thought, was too eager to make me conform to the restricting demands of mid-west womanhood. My father was quick to criticise and slow to praise – perhaps following the example of his own father. He also had a temper and I often aroused it. When I went too far, he would grab me, put me over his knee and spank me. My sister was more careful. In those days, of course, it was not regarded as wrong to spank children and he was careful, even in his anger, not to injure me.
These failings of my parents, if they can be so called, were rendered insignificant by their two outstanding virtues. They never gave us reason to doubt that we were loved and in loving us they never favoured one over the other. And their relations with each other never gave us any cause for anxiety. They did not fight; they did not shout at each other and if they ever quarreled they did not do so in front of us. So much did they avoid any show of parental disunity that my sister and I often had the frustrating experience of being referred back and forth from one parent to the other when we wanted permission to do something.
This avoidance of conflict was not merely parental policy. Our parents loved and depended on each other and made an effort to ensure that their very different personalities would complement each other rather than clash. My father was exacting, responsible in his dealings with the world and easily irritated by the perceived failings of others. He found it difficult to cope with the demands of social life. My mother had her standards but she was outgoing and her genuine interest in other people and her ability to relate to them made her popular with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. She could find her way in any social setting. She was also more adventurous than my father – more willing to venture out of the comfort of routine life. My father depended on my mother to create and manage their social life. My mother could rely on the support of my father – his trustworthiness and dependability.
In our church’s Sunday school we were told that we should love and honour our parents and love our brothers and sisters. I had no problem with the first part of this commandment. But I couldn’t honestly say that I loved my sister. Jane is three and a half years younger than me. In childhood we were too far apart to have anything much in common but close enough together to give us plenty to quarrel about. I could push her around and sometimes I did. But Jane had ways of defending herself. She knew my weaknesses and she had a sharp tongue. And when it seemed to her that I was going to retaliate she would yell out at the top of her voice, ‘Janna’s hitting me’.
Jane had the younger child’s curse of being constantly compared to me as she went through school. I got better grades. But she had talents that I lacked. As a collector of information for Canadian Government’s bureau of statistics she was able to extract responses from the most reticent and reluctant interviewees. Later she built up a successful athletics program at a Junior College almost from scratch, raising extra funds by holding bingo evenings. Like our mother she is good at working with people and she is also good at getting her way.
Both Jane and I knew what kind of life we wanted from a very early age. I did not want to get married and I did not. She always said she wanted to have a large family and so she did. She met Tom while she was finishing an education degree at the University of Minnesota. They moved to Canada so that he could avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War and there they had their four children.
I can’t say that my sister and I are now good friends. Distance, differences of personality and interests are probably more significant than history in keeping us apart. But we are on friendly terms. I visit her when I am in Canada and she always plans something that she knows I will like to do. One year she organised a rafting trip on a white water river even though this is not the sort of activity that she likes. We may not be all that close but if she ever needed my help I would certainly give it if I could. Family relationships are different, and in many ways deeper, than friendships.
- During my childhood and into adulthood three activities became my passions – reading, bicycling and horse-riding. They were not merely activities that I liked. They were preoccupations. A lot of time and effort in my childhood went into learning how to do them or making space for them, planning how I could do more of them and earning money to afford them.
I was not one of those brilliant children who teach themselves how to read but as soon as I learned I took to books. I read the books we had at school, the books in the children’s library, the ones I was given or used my pocket money to buy, then the books in my parent’s bookshelves and the books on the shelves of the relatives we visited. I read books good, bad and indifferent. I read children’s classics, comic books, magazines, Readers Digest condensed books and the old copies of Readers Digest that I found in our attic. I read books on animals, books about pioneers, science books, mysteries and romances. I was not fussy. I told my parents that I would read all the books in the Buckingham Memorial Library. They probably thought that this was an absurd ambition, but they encouraged me.
I read at home and at school recess. I read during class from a book partly hidden under my desk. When we had dinner with relatives I waited impatiently to be excused from the table so that I could go away and read.
At the age of twelve reading became painful. My eyes stung and burned and I got headaches. The optometrist said I had eyestrain and prescribed reading glasses. They helped but did not make the problem go away. Over the years I have seen a few specialists. I have a weakness in the muscles of my eyes that makes close up focusing tiring. One gave me exercises that were interesting to do but did not make much of a difference. I realised that I had to learn to live with a disability that I would never have discovered if I had not been such an avid reader.
I like to read. As an academic I have to read. But I do it sparingly. I am fussy about what I read. I need good lighting and I can’t keep it up for very long without unpleasant consequences. Using a computer is not so tiring, perhaps because of the back lighting, but nevertheless there are limits. There are days when I do as little reading as possible. Sometimes I substitute listening to music or watching television for reading a book. Sometimes I listen to talking books. I enjoy doing these other things, but they are not my preference.
Those who love to read books often get the idea of writing books themselves. For a time I had that idea. In fact I have written books; I have done a lot of writing, but not the writing that I earlier wanted to do.
I never tried to write a novel but I did try my hand at short stories – at first when I was still at school and later when I had a job and had some time to write. I still have some of these stories. Some are readable; some make me cringe. None have any literary merit. Perhaps with practice and persistence I could have developed into a writer of fiction but any talent I might have had has been pretty much obliterated by the kind of writing I have been trained to produce: the cool, precise, painstaking and rather tedious prose of the analytic philosopher.
Unlike many young people with a literary bent I never wrote poetry. Acquaintance with Walt Whitman taught me that poetry didn’t have to rhyme. Experimenting, I quickly filled a few sheets of paper with outpourings of free verse. My conclusion was that either writing poetry was too easy to be interesting or that I hadn’t the least idea how to do it. The latter seemed much more likely and I never tried again.
- I read a lot during childhood but I was also physically active. Children played mostly outdoors in those days especially in the long summer evenings. We played the games that have been handed down from one generation of children to another; we ran in the woods and clambered around construction sites. (No one thought to fence them in those days.) But what I most wanted to do was to ride a bicycle. I envied the older children who pedalled so quickly and freely around the neighbourhood.
When I was 9 or 10 my mother borrowed a bike from a friend for me to practice on. It was a full sized women’s bike and I was unable to reach the seat from the pedals. I set out to ride down the footpath and came home at the end of the day covered with scrapes and bruises. By the end of the next day I was able to wobble around the block without falling and on the third day I was riding confidently and at speed.
Now that I could ride a bike I wanted to have one of my own. My parents said they would buy me a bike if I earned half the money. At that time I had only two ways of getting money: the allowance that my parents gave me every week in exchange for doing household chores and entrepreneurial activity. At the local playground I could buy material to make potholders, key chains and whistle lanyards. I invested some of my money and sold the products of my labour to households in our neighbourhood.
Eventually I accumulated enough money and we went shopping for a bicycle. My parents insisted that we buy one of adult size. No point in getting one that I would grow out of, they said. It was a standard bike – the kind that everyone rode at that time: one gear, fat tyres, sturdy frame, and brakes that took hold when you back-pedalled.
On that bike I rode round the neighbourhood, down the hill to the centre of town and the library and then back up the hill to home. I rode to confirmation classes at our church and then back to my primary school. I rode alone; I rode with gangs of kids; I dinked my friends. I once hitched a wagon to my bike and tried to take our cat for a ride.
When I was 16 or 17 my bike riding days were put on hold. Resistant though I was to some Minnesota conventions I succumbed to the notion that bicycles were for children – that the only proper transport for an adult was a motor vehicle. Even at Oxford University where students get around by bicycle, I rode a motor scooter.
I came back to bicycling after living in Melbourne for a few years. My part of the city is fairly flat and many of the streets are quiet. I started there and then went further afield. I began commuting to La Trobe on my bicycle and gradually my trips became longer. I combined bushwalking with cycling. I would carry my bike in the car, leave it by the end of a mountain trail and then drive to the start. After completing the walk – often a week or so later – I picked up the bike and cycled back to the car – a trip that sometimes took two or three days.
I often ride alone. I have favourite trips that I do at least once a year. But I also cycle with friends and I cycle with a club. I no longer bushwalk with a heavy pack. I no longer canoe wild rivers, but I am still a bicycle rider and hope to be so for many years yet.
- I loved horses. On my great uncle’s farm I learned to ride on one of his draft horses. When my mother took a break by leaving me on the farm of a friend, the great attraction for me were the horses. I would spend hours with them. I rode them; I groomed them; they followed me around. Later an acquaintance of my father invited me to exercise the overweight, underused pony in his pasture. The pony became fitter though not noticeably thinner.
I loved horses and I wanted one of my own. My parents were opposed. Where would I keep it? How would I take care of it? But I ignored their attempts to discourage me and began saving my money. I was old enough now to get a real job and I found other ways of accumulating cash. I babysat. I skipped school lunches and put the lunch money into my savings. My parents disapproved of my project but they did not actually try to stop me and when I got to the point of looking around for a horse I could afford they began to worry that someone would persuade me to buy one that was unsuitable or dangerous.
Through some connection they discovered that a landowner who was also our representative in Congress had a horse that might be right for me. She was a young mare, chestnut with good features. Her name was Roxanne and she had registration papers. I tried her out and her owner assured us that she was just what I wanted. This reassured my parents, who I think must have contributed some of their own money to her purchase. We found a place to stable her on a farm within walking distance of our house. Someone gave me an army saddle that looked like it dated from the Civil War.
I soon made discoveries about Roxanne that provided further evidence for the common belief that you can’t trust politicians. She was mean tempered and would kick out at people without warning or put her ears back and try to bite. Her aim was not good and I was easily able to avoid her attempts to kick me. I could stop her trying to bite me by giving her a slap over the muzzle. But she was a danger to the unwary. After a few months the farmer told me that he wanted her out of his barn.
By this time I had made the acquaintance of Lorraine who had moved into the stables at the county fair grounds with her dozen horses and a mule.
She offered me a place for my horse in exchange for help with watering and feeding her horses and cleaning their stalls. Lorraine knew how to train horses but couldn’t do much about Roxanne’s vices. Eventually she bought her from me to use as a brood mare. The foal had to be separated from its mother soon after birth because Roxanne nearly kicked it to death.
Lorraine moved on with her horses and I found a similar job with a woman on the other side of town who bred palominos. By this time I had another horse: a tall, bay mare called Sis who was as sweet tempered as Roxanne was mean. I also had a much better saddle. I rode Sis up and down the hills of east Faribault and through paddocks that have since been developed for housing. I taught her to jump. I took her swimming in the river. She did everything I wanted with a good will. But she was also a cause of an accident that put me in hospital.
I was riding in a mounted version of musical chairs. When the music stopped we were supposed to dismount and stand on a sack and the one who missed out was eliminated. The game got faster and faster until three of us remained. The music stopped. I jumped off in mid gallop and pulled Sis over on top of me. I suffered concussion, broken ribs and a broken tooth. Sis was unhurt.
When I left Faribault to go to university I sold Sis to a family with teenage children. I was sure that she would be a good horse for them.
I was not done with horses. My job in Manchester did not pay well but with careful pruning of household expenses I was able to buy and keep another horse. She had a streak of white down her face like a bolt of lightening. Her name was Storm.
But in Melbourne my horse riding days came to an end. The sprawl of the city made horse ownership impractical. Besides I had other preoccupations.
- One of them was canoeing. It began with a white water canoe trip organised by the Monash Bushwalking Club. I came back with a deep cut on my arm caused by barbwire that had been strung over the river and a determination to do more canoeing.
You hear a rapid before you see it. The louder the sound, the more formidable. As you approach you try to see if there is a clear way down between the rocks. Sometimes it is a good idea to stop, get out and take a close look from the bank. Having decided you begin. Once the rapid takes hold there is no turning back. You fly through a gap between rocks, the spray dousing you with water, narrowly avoiding being capsized a hidden rock below. You swing around another rock in time go through a chute, the bottom of your canoe flexing as it flies down a drop into the foaming water below. You plunge in deep and then pop up like a released cork into quieter water at the bottom of the rapid. You are exhilarated by the ride and your success in getting through it.
My friends and I made our own kayaks out of fibreglass. We used a mold, layed down fibreglass and resin, joined the two halves and then added a seat and foam at both ends so that the canoe would float even if full of water. Fibreglass was tougher than wood and canvas, but a sharp blow against a rock would tear it open and we spent a lot of time patching. I now have a plastic kayak under my house that is practically indestructible.
We canoed the small but sometimes tricky rapids in the upper Yarra, the challenging gorge of the Mitta Mitta (later submerged by the waters of a dam), the Mitchell, the Snowy and the rivers that flow fast and furious in the spring when the snow melts. It was Don and Fritz’s idea to go to Tasmania and canoe its rivers, including the biggest of all, the Gordon. This was a year after the walking trip in Tasmania and Ian and Peter were also part of our group. After taking a reconnaissance flight we concluded, according to my notes, that the Gordon was a river of extremes: uncanoeable gorges separated by flat water. Not really a canoeists’ river but we did it anyway. A dam was going in. It was our last chance.
I say in my notes that the gorges, called the splits, were worth the trip. ‘The cliff walls hang over the river, almost touching. From the air it looks like the river goes underground. The entire volume of water rushes through a channel four or five feet wide. It emerges into a pool and then cascades down a boulder-strewn falls. Cliffs close around the river again, gathering the water together and forcing it through a gap.’
This is a description of the first split. The second was very similar. ‘Going round the bend the waters have hollowed out the rock like the mouth of a cave. Below the water crashes through the boulders that have fallen from the cliffs. The sky is hidden and we were apprehensive about what is around the corner.’
We did a lot of portaging. ‘After hours of lugging canoes and bags over slippery boulders we emerged into the open. Hills, gentle and green, falling back from a wide, quiet river.’
When we did our aerial reconnaissance we also had a look at the Franklin River and the next year returned to canoe it. We were the first party to canoe the river in one go. (Another group had tried it before but kept wrecking their boats.) A short time later Bob Brown and a friend went down it in a rubber raft to publicise the ultimately successful campaign against the damning of the river.
I either lost my notes or never wrote any. But the trip is not difficult to remember. There was the time when the river, flooded after a rain, carried us along in wild water for kilometres, some of us in our canoes and some of us out. We got separated and I ended up alone, still upright, in the quiet water of a pool below the face of cliff. There was another time when we had to portage up a cliff through thick scrub. One went ahead with a machete and the rest followed each carrying the front and back of a canoe. We made our way along the top of the cliff and scrambled back down to the river. Then we had to go back for our bags. There was the time when Fritz got overturned in the whitewater at the bottom of a falls. He managed to swim out but his canoe went round and round in the stopper and it took us a long time to get it out. The rest of us decided to portage.
By the time the Franklin flows into the Gordon it is a flat peaceful river and the Gordon moves on past Sarah Island, an old convict prison, to Strahan where it enters the sea. A tourist boat goes up and down this part of the river. It picked us up, saving us a long tedious paddle; we were a diversion for the tourists.
Two of our party collaborated on a film of our expedition. It does not record the more exciting bits when all of us were too busy for filming and of course it largely leaves out those who held the camera. Along with other memorabilia of our trip, including Don’s canoe, it can now be found in the Tasmanian Museum. If I ever go to Hobart again I will have a look.
The trip on the Franklin was the culmination of my canoeing career. It was the hardest river I had done, the hardest river I was able to do. Perhaps because of this I no longer had so much interest in canoeing. Occasionally I get my canoe out from under the house and join a friend for a trip down some river. I sometimes carry it down to the Yarra River and go for a quiet paddle above Dights Falls. But I no longer have an urge to ride the rapids of wild rivers.
- A few weeks before the start of my first fall term at the University of Minnesota I knocked on the door of the Duncan family in Faribault. I intended to ask Judy Duncan if she was interested rooming with me when we both went back to the University.
Judy was a class ahead of me in Faribault High School and I did not know her well. She went around with a group of classmates who stood out from the others because of their intellectual interests. Judy was a person I wanted to know, but I had no reason to suppose that she wanted to know me. In approaching her in this way I was taking a chance.
She told me that she was happy to room with me and so began the closest friendship that I had during my university days. We lived together first at a hall of residence and then in a series of rented apartments. We had a falling out in her last year when married a man who I thought was unsuitable (and stupidly said so), but when that relationship ended we resumed our friendship as if nothing had happened.
Judy was an English major and she loved poetry. By reading it aloud she gave me access to a form of literature that I had never been able to appreciate. I learned how to like the poems of Yeats, Auden, Cavafy, Catullus and others. We had in common a love of reading and militant atheism. At the hall of residence the latter got us in trouble when we decorated our door at Christmas with anti-Christian sentiments.
Judy was a calligrapher. She did fine lettering in gothic script, sometimes illustrated, as in medieval manuscripts, with flowers, birds and fantastic animals. We delighted in odd forms of literature and for a time collected literary curses. From some of this material she later put together a collection of book curses under the imprint of her self-founded Scholar-Gypsy Press.
‘Whoever steals this book let him die the death; let him be frizzled in a pan; may the falling sickness rage within him; may he be broken on the wheel and be hanged.’
When she became a professional calligrapher she was often asked to write citations or documents for ceremonial occasions. She also produced and sold beautifully copied and illustrated books of the Bible. The Book of Jonah with its whale illustrations was her best seller. Copying biblical texts did not conflict with her atheism. She regarded the Bible as a great piece of literature.
She knew that calligraphy would not earn her a living – still less give her resources to help her younger sisters. So in the last year that we were together at university she began a course in library science. Later, after I had gone overseas, she got a job at the University library and met the man who she lived with for the rest of her life.
I wrote to Judy and visited her when I could. She and her partner lived in a house near the University with their two cats. He was religious, very much involved in church activities, and she was mildly sardonic when she described them to me. But their differences over religion did not seem to affect their relationship.
Judy had Type One diabetes and had to give herself an injection of insulin daily. People who have this disease do not generally live to a great age and she died before she was sixty. I received a death notice from her partner along with the proceedings of the funeral service. It was all thoroughly religious and Judy was spoken of as a fellow church member. Perhaps she had changed her views in the last months of her life, but I doubt it. Funerals, people often say, are for the living. I don’t agree. But there is no doubt that the living have the power to determine how the dead will be commemorated.
I had other friends at University. I was friendly with members of a campus peace group and then later I got to know students who were fellow workers at the First National Bank. We met for drinks in the bars of the west bank, an area of sleazy dives and student housing, now entirely taken over by University buildings.
At Oxford I shared a flat with another Marshall Scholar, Caroline, who was doing a degree in history and each week had to read her way through an enormous pile of texts to prepare for her tutorial. We took turns cooking, entertained our friends and in the two summers we were at Oxford we went together on a trip to southern Ireland and to the islands of Greece. I picture in my mind Caroline using sign language to negotiate with a woman about renting a room on Mykonos when we arrived by boat.
Caroline is a New Englander not only by birth but also by outlook and preference. She spent most of her academic career in Urbana Illinois but never managed to feel at home on the Midwestern prairie. She moved back to New England as soon as she retired. We see each other seldom but when we meet we fall into a comfortable relationship, taking up where we left off when we were last together.
I know some people in Melbourne who have known their best friends since their school days. I think that this might be the best kind of friendship to have, especially when people live in the same place and meet each other often. By the time they have reached old age they have had so many experiences together and know each other so well that each meeting must seem like the continuation of a dialogue that needs few words to be perfectly understood. By moving around so much I have denied myself the possibility of that kind of friendship. I try to compensate as best I can by keeping in contact with my friends and visiting them when I can.
So in recent years I have visited Kee Kok in Manchester, Irmingard in Berlin, Katinka in Upsala and Andrew in Toronto where he now lives with his wife Harriet. Some of the friends of my earlier days have died; some have partners who do not like me. And some friendships have become so attenuated, so much a relationship of the past that it is better to let them go.
Aristotle divides friendships into three categories. There are friendships of mutual advantage; friendships made for the pleasure of the relationship; and friendships of virtuous people who appreciate and support virtue in the other. Aristotle thinks that the third kind is the best – indeed he says it is the only kind that really counts as friendship.
Sticking to Aristotle’s categories I would have to say that most, if not all, of my friendships are of the second kind. My friends are the people whose company I enjoy, the people I like to do things with. But Aristotle’s distinctions are too rigid. A friendship based on the pleasure of doing things together can develop into one of mutual appreciation and support. And friends of the third type would not have a very satisfactory relationship unless they could find pleasure in each other’s company.
The friends of my parents were mainly the people they worked with: other teachers and their spouses. But they also made friends with some of their neighbours and with people in our church.
I never managed to make close friends with people in my workplace at La Trobe. This I think is mostly my fault. I liked and admired some of my colleagues and if I had made an effort at the right time I could probably have made them into friends. But for one reason or another I failed to act, and later when I did make overtures of friendship it was too late to overcome the impression they had probably formed that I was standoffish and judgmental.
Some of my friends date from the time when I was more politically active. We have a view of the world in common and a common political history. Some are philosophers past and present. A few are neighbours. I have made friends with some friends of friends. I have turned some former lovers into friends and some of my friends are partners of former lovers. I have friends in other countries: Germany, England, Canada, Sweden and of course the United States.
I live alone, I don’t have a partner and so friends are important to me. They give me a connection to the world; they bring me out of my own society; they are an antidote to self-absorption; a cure for a one-track mind. I also treasure them because they make me feel at home in the social world. I am not at ease in most social gatherings. I know how to make conversation with people I meet at parties, receptions or formal dinners, and now and then I spark off an interchange with someone that is stimulating, amusing or extremely informative. But conversing with strangers is hard work for me; I tire quickly and I rarely find it enjoyable. In the company of friends relating is easy. We know each other well and fall naturally into chat about each other’s lives. We know how to discuss ideas with each other, who to ask about books or gardening or recipes, and who is likely to have inside information about local affairs. We know each other’s sensitivities as well as each other’s expertise. We can relax and enjoy ourselves.
- Following Aristotle’s example, I classify enemies into three groups. In the first group are those who take a dislike to you because of your mental or physical characteristics, your temperament or because of some injury real or imagined injury that you have done to them. This dislike may be perfectly rational if you have deliberately harmed or threatened someone. But it may also have no rational explanation. Some people just don’t like you and may not even be able to explain why. If you have done someone an injury the best response is to make amends. But there is not much that can be done about those who simply take against you except to stay away from them if you can.
When I was in primary school I fell into a long-term enmity with a boy in my class. We didn’t like each other and when we met we would exchange blows. He disappeared into the Catholic school system and I didn’t encounter him again for a few years. Then one winter afternoon when I was returning from the farm where I kept my horse he appeared suddenly in front of me. In the interim he had grown and was now head and shoulders taller than me. I had no time to lose. I jumped on him, knocked him down and rubbed his face in the snow. Then I ran away as fast as I could. From that time on we managed to avoid each other. He would have gained nothing by fighting a girl and I did not want further confrontations.
Enemies of the second kind are those who dislike you for your views, your allegiances or associations. They think that your views are despicable and that the group you belong to is evil and in their eyes that makes you despicable or evil. This basis for enemyship is not very rational. It often results in misplaced antipathy. People do not always share the views or the behaviour of their associates. Besides, it is important to distinguish a person from her views or her allegiances. Not to do so is to give up all hope of critical engagement and to rule out the possibility that the other is capable of reflection and change.
I have been disliked or distrusted because of my association with leftwing causes and organisations. But I have collected more demonstrations of enmity simply from being an American. At a party in Oxford many years ago a woman railed at me for my country’s behaviour in Vietnam. I felt that this was unfair. Like a lot of Americans I was opposed to the Vietnam War. But even if I had supported the War I could hardly be blamed for it. I wished later that I had told her that I would convey her concerns to the President next time he asked for my advice.
Enemies of the third kind are those who see you as an intolerable hindrance to the pursuit of their interests. These are probably the most common and anyone who is in a position of power has them. But the existence of enemies of this kind is conditional. If the situation changes the reason for being enemies can disappear – if you can manage to forgive each other for damage inflicted in the course of your conflict. In politics enemies can turn to allies overnight and vice versa. In politics you have to learn not to hold onto old grudges.
I have not had many enemies of this kind, but this is because I have rarely been in a position of power. A few students have berated me for refusing to give them the grade they thought they deserved. But since most of my teaching career took place before the time when students were encouraged to regard themselves as consumers and before floods of under-qualified foreign students entered the system confrontations of this kind were very rare.
When for a few years I was the head of the Melbourne University branch of a research centre I got into a protracted struggle with the head of the whole organisation who wanted to gain control of the branch and its budget by removing me from my job. I held out and refused to resign. As in many fights of this kind we both had our allies and accusations were hurled back and forth. In the end the University decided against me. I left the centre and went back to La Trobe. Some years later my old enemy and I ran into each other at a conference. We had a conversation about the bad fortunes of the research centre – about the battles he had lost against more powerful opponents. Neither of us had any inclination to bring up the subject of our old antipathy. The cause of our enemyship had been swept away by events that put us both in a different position.
- From a section of an autobiography called ‘love’ it is reasonable to expect an account of love affairs. I am a heterosexual woman. What makes this statement of my sexual orientation somewhat misleading is not because it is false or disputable in any way but because I regard it as one of the least important facts about me. I am at odds with a culture that makes such a big deal about sexual identity. Let’s be tolerant about what adults do with each other in bed, let them marry who they want, but let’s also be able to keep our sex life in in the closet without arousing suspicion or reproof. Victorian novels say nothing about the sexual lives of their characters. We assume that the reason for that is prudery. But it might be better explained as the result of healthy conviction that sexual behaviour is not all that important for a person’s sense of self or their existence as a social being.
That I am a heterosexual female is indubitable. But that does not mean that being one has not been problematic. When I was growing up, a girl would wait for a boy to ask her out. If he had a car the date might end in some deserted niche where he would see how far he could go and she would have to decide where to draw the line.
I hated everything about the conventions of dating. I hated the preparation, the tight fitting girdles, the garter belts, the hobbling skirts, the pinching shoes, the discomfort of make-up. I hated making stilted conversation with a boy who felt as awkward as I did. Most of all I hated the moment when the boy would make his move, give me a wet kiss and if he was daring enough, a grope.
I was not without sexual desires. Sometimes when I was sure of being alone in the bedroom I shared with my sister, I would put on a bra that made my breasts stand out, and I would caress myself, winding myself up. But the pleasure I might have got from trading caresses with a boy was subverted by the task I was supposed to take on of controlling his sexual behaviour.
I did not like being the one held responsible for policing the requirements of sexual morality. But I also knew how necessary it was for a girl to exercise control. A girl who failed not only risked her reputation. She also risked becoming pregnant. A few girls in my class had to leave school because of pregnancy. In those days there was nothing else they could do. The other opportunities that they might have had no longer existed and whether they liked it or not, they were doomed to early motherhood. I did not want that to happen to me.
It seemed to me that girls always held the losing hand and that the only solution was to avoid the dating game altogether. I did not blame boys or people responsible for laying down moral rules. I did not blame society. I thought that my quarrel was with nature itself.
I once told my father that I wished I weren’t a girl. This made him angry. He probably thought it was ridiculous, even wrong, to complain about something that should simply be accepted. I don’t think, however, that I would have been a candidate for a sex change if such a thing had been possible in those days. I liked doing some of the things that boys did but I did not feel that I was a boy in a girl’s body. I was really complaining about restrictions that seemed at that time to be unalterable facts of female existence. Because I was a girl I could never be a baseball player, a test pilot, a boxer, the President of the United States, a warrior, a deep-sea diver, or anything really interesting. Puberty merely added to the disadvantages of being female.
The woman I shared a room with in my first months at university told me that she was there to find a husband. I thought that her aspirations were small-minded. I was there to be educated, and the ideas I was encountering seemed far more interesting than anything I could get out of a relationship. However as I entered my last year I felt that I had to do something about my lack of sexual experience. I was going out occasionally with a fellow student whose company I found agreeable. More important, I had access to contraception. The pill had come into existence and although it was supposed to be available only to married women, I knew a doctor who did not believe in this restriction.
So my boyfriend and I spent an afternoon losing our virginity. He was as inexperienced as I was and I think got as little real pleasure out of our fumbling. The deed was accomplished. But I could not manage to get rid of the thought that I might after all have got myself pregnant and when I got on the boat to go to Oxford I had that as a background worry.
In Oxford at the time I arrived men outnumbered women about five to one. Even a person as inept as me at attracting a partner had plenty to chose from. I could have said, echoing Miranda in The Tempest, ‘How many goodly creatures are there here. O brave new world, that has such people in it.’
I attached myself first to a fellow Marshall Scholar. Once off the boat he was away chasing Englishwomen, but I had no reason to lament. I soon met Andrew, a reluctant law student. He was intelligent and witty and became a life-long friend. I fell briefly in love with someone who decided that he preferred another woman. I met up with a Rhodes scholar who revealed that his ambition was to be President of the United States and told me that I would make an excellent First Lady if I could learn to dress better. I declined – wisely, because he did not become President. I sorted through my fellow philosophy students and found a few agreeable partners. I went out with a South African until we had an argument about apartheid.
I had many relationships at Oxford but almost all of them were chaste. We all knew that sexual relationships could have unfortunate consequences in one way or another. We were concerned about our future. We had reason to be cautious and we had other things to worry about. We wanted a social life; we liked to flirt and cuddle, but we were not interested in falling into a time-consuming passionate affair.
In Manchester my relationships were longer, more intense and sexual. Out on the moors I met a working class lad who was a hiker and caver. Our common interests kept us together for quite a long time despite differences in background and temperament. Then for awhile I shared a bed and my spare time with a scientist doing a PhD at Manchester University. But I was in transit and these relationships were always meant to be transitory.
When I arrived in Melbourne I was in my late 20s, a time of life when most men and women were through with transitory relationships and wanting to find a partner to begin a family, if they had not done so already. A few men briefly considered me as a possible spouse. One of my lovers wanted to introduce me to his mother. Paul, a man I was very fond of, made it clear after a time that he wanted a family. But I was not interested in settling down; I did not want children and all my relationships came up against my stubborn desire to remain free. The ending with Paul was particularly cruel. Between methods of contraception I found myself pregnant. I was carrying Paul’s child and I insisted on aborting it. Someone told me many years later that Paul had married but did not have children. I did not know his circumstances but I felt bad. He wanted children and would have made a good father. But feeling bad did not make me think that I should have made a different decision.
Don, my walking and canoeing companion, once told me that the trouble with me is that I am too independent. In this description I am sure he meant to include the accusation of selfishness. I took what he said to heart, but not to much avail. I was who I was.
On the table near her bed my Aunt Inez had a picture of a man she met in Hawaii during the War. He was married and a lasting relationship was impossible, but he was the love of her life. I have no man’s picture at my bedside. There is no one who I can call the love of my life. Nor have I ever met anyone who knocked me off my feet and turned my world upside down. I do not think that this is due to the bad luck of not meeting the right person. In the throes of a relationship I have done silly and irrational things but I have never been ready to sacrifice all that much for the sake of love. I have never been prepared to do what the phrase ‘falling in love’ connotes. Don might also have included ‘obsessive desire for self-control’ in the meaning of ‘too independent’.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had married, had children or at least been able to acquire a long term partner. Would I have been happier or a better person? But these wonderings are of the same order as my thoughts about the life I might have led if I had become a journalist rather than a philosopher or if I had remained in the United States. There is nothing in them to produce an emotion as strong as regret.