By Frank Enright
"I know very well that there are many people that have very good reason to believe me to be bad tempered and an arrogant bastard. You can judge a man by his friends ... but you can also judge a man by his enemies — I've got a prize pack of bastards for enemies", said Frank Hardy in his last recorded interview, conducted at his Melbourne home by Andrea Stretton for the SBS-TV's The Bookshow, and screened on Sunday, February 6.
Frank Hardy died of a heart attack, at home, aged 76, on January 28.
Setting out to write this piece I rang a list of prominent people from the now-extinct Communist Party of Australia, Hardy's party from 1939: "I could not give my enemies the comfort of leaving".
"No comment", "I'd rather not" and "I couldn't think of anything nice to say" was the overwhelming response.
In politics, his adversaries have elephantine memories, perhaps over-burdened with the past. But then Hardy gave no quarter and expected none. "Humility is not a quality I admire in other people or in myself", he said.
Frank Hardy was always controversial, a colourful personality. He was no angel — but he was a rebel, and with a cause. He was implacably opposed to injustice and fought it wherever he found it. Yes, he had a large ego, a sense of his own importance; but it did not get in the way of his work.
P.P. McGuinness, writing in the Australian, used the occasion of Hardy's death to stick the political boot in one last time, while recognising Hardy's contribution to Australian literature. McGuinness' schizophrenic piece reveals much of the had-been-left's insecurity. Some of the best and most comfortable seats in the theatre of class society are reserved for those who have forsaken the working class to fight for the rich and powerful — but their seats have to be constantly paid for.
Also fulminating against Hardy was "Justice" Jim McClelland, and for the same reason as McGuinness: Frank Hardy reminded them that it was possible to win personal acclaim while being faithful to your principles and to the working class. They hated him for it. The lesson in Frank's life is that it is not necessary to scratch a living peddling lies for the establishment.
Hardy towered over these critics.
One of his contemporaries, Dorothy Hewett, herself a former member of the CPA, has fond memories of Hardy. Hardy always supported and encouraged her in her writing. She relates in her autobiography Wild Carol: "Once we went to a party in Collingwood to raise money for the defence of Frank Hardy in the libel case brought against him for his novel Power Without Glory. Frank was riding high. Power Without Glory was a best seller, and he was an Australian celebrity. He came into that crowded, drunken gathering of his fans, a slim, dark, Irish larrikin with a bit of a swagger befitting the hero of the hour. Frank's charm was always infectious. But suddenly I found myself arguing with him about his novel.
"'It's a great story', I said, 'but it makes a hero out of a criminal and it's clumsily written'."
"Frank stared at me incredulously. 'And who the hell are you?' he said."
"'She's Dorothy Hewett', Les told him."
"'Dorothy Hewitt who wrote Clancy and Dooley?'
"'That's right', I mumbled"
"'OK', Frank grinned. 'You can criticise me if you like, but nobody else can tonight, only you'."
The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature described Hardy's qualities as "... his sympathy with the battler's sufferings, stoicism and humour, and his ear for the laconic Australian idiom". He epitomised the Australian image of a battler — irreverent, hostile to authority and committed to a "fair go" philosophy.
Hardy earned a respect not usually accorded a white person from the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. He lived among the Aboriginal people there for seven months and lent his name and energies to their cause.
His best-known novel, Power Without Glory, written in 1950, was eventually popularised when it was serialised for television by British film maker David Frost in 1975. Now another of his works, The Four Legged Lottery, is to be adapted for the screen and will star Bryan Brown.
Frank Hardy's works have inevitably outlived him. In them there is much to offer a new generation of radicals. He is part of the rich working-class history of this country, and we should "own" him.
Hardy doesn't belong to the literati who rejected his work, or rather disdained the "vulgarity" of his working-classness. The left shouldn't allow these types now, after his physical death, to appropriate his work and strip it of its meaning and purpose.