Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 7, 2018

Summoning the spirit of Alfred Deakin: Judith Brett’s The Enigmatic Mr Deakin (2017)

Judith Brett has just won the $31,000 National Biography award for her bio of Australia’s second Prime Minister. The judges have called it one of “the very best political biographies written in Australia”. Read Nathan Hobby’s perceptive review to see why…

Nathan Hobby, a biographer in Perth


Like many biographers, I have a list of possible future subjects. One of my ten names has been Australia’s second prime-minister, Alfred Deakin (1856-1919). While researching his interactions with Katharine Susannah Prichard, I found him a fascinating character. I was surprised that the only comprehensive biography appeared fifty years ago. But I’ve removed Deakin from my list because Judith Brett has written a superb account of his life in The Enigmatic Mr Deakin, out this month.

Brett begins her biography with a comparison to a more famous Victorian born two years earlier, Ned Kelly:

Deakin is remembered too, but not so vividly, more as a bearded worthy than a national icon. He was Australia’s most important prime minister in its first ten years after federation, but he sits uneasily as a representative Australian figure. He is too intellectual, too respectable, for the larrikin masculinity of the Australian legend… Deakin…

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