Sorting clothes for movie costume,
chocolate suits of bull-market cut,
slim blade ties ending in fringes,
brimmed felt hats, and the sideburned
pork-pie ones that served them. I lived then.

The right grade of suit coat, unbuttoned,
can still get you a begrudged free meal
in a café. But seat sweat off sunned vinyl,
ghostly through many dry-cleans
and the first deodorants. I lived then

and worked for the man who abolished
bastards. The prime minister who
said on air I’m what you call a bastard.
Illegitimate. And drove a last stake
through that lousiest distinction.

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Vol. 30 No. 22 · 20 November 2008

I enjoyed Les Murray’s poem ‘Brown Suits’, but found myself wondering if the irony of the piece might escape some British readers (LRB, 23 October). Would they be aware that ‘bastard’ is frequently a term of endearment in Australia? It is likely that our former prime minister Malcolm Fraser took as much pride in being referred to as ‘the big bastard’ (he was well over six feet tall) as his predecessor John Gorton did in publicly declaring that he had been born on the wrong side of the blanket. Murray himself revelled in the role of ‘Bastard from the Bush’ long after the political demise of both Gorton and Fraser, and even appeared in a television documentary with that title in 1988. So much for his claim that Gorton’s declaration had driven ‘a last stake through that lousiest distinction’.

Garth Clarke

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