A Gathering to Celebrate
the Life of Fred Gruen
14 June 1921
29 October 1997
University House ANU
2 November 1997
I followed Fred Gruen in the Chair of Economics in RSSS. I have known him for a long time and it is my job today to welcome you all and to introduce the speakers.
Thank you for coming.
Ann, David Nick and their families will be comforted by your presence.
Today is a family gathering and it is obvious looking around, that Fred had an extended family. We all feel that he was a special person in our lives. For some of us he was like a special uncle, although I don’t remember anyone calling him Uncle Fred. Perhaps members of the family did. For others Fred was more of a father figure, although I don’t remember any of the extended family calling him Dad, even in jest. For others Fred was just a very good friend in much the same way as favourite family members can be.
Because it is a family gathering, Ann has asked only a few people to speak: David Gruen, Peter Karmel, Bruce Chapman, Margaret Weeden, Henry Lippmann and Nick Gruen.
Fred was an important public figure. In recognition of this there will be another occasion in a few weeks time when we will focus more directly on Fred’s professional contribution to the Australian academic profession, to the Academy of the Social Sciences and to the development of public policy. Those of us who would publicly like to add their own special stories, reminiscences and talk about the way Fred impacted on their lives and the economics profession will have the opportunity to do so then.
As I said earlier, I have known Fred very closely from the early 1970s and, before I introduce the other speakers, I would just like to add three very personal comments of my own which might strike a chord with many of you.
In many ways Fred seemed to me to be from another place and time. For example, he was extremely elegant and well dressed for an economist. He was the only person I knew who could drape a sports coat over his shoulders without his arms in his sleeves and look good. My wife used to say to me often ‘why don’t you dress as well as Fred?’ and I said ‘if you have three arms like I do, it is very difficult!’.
I always thought of Fred as a very handsome man, almost a Cary Grant amongst economists and the elegance and charm that I have in mind is apparent in that very nice photograph which I hope most of you saw in The Australian on Friday morning. I just thought that was the essence of the sort of thing that I am trying to talk to you about now. The other thing about Fred which I think of instantly is that he was very broad minded and a relaxed academic. Fred discussed intellectual matters as an intellectual should. The discussion was never personal. Although Fred had strong beliefs and felt confident in his own judgements he never thought the less of you if you disagreed. To Fred good ideas were good ideas no matter who said them, no matter where they came from. I was talking to Tim Colebatch about this characteristic just before he wrote Fred’s Obituary in The Age, and Tim used the phrase that Fred was a civilised person, and I thought that is what I had in mind. He was civilised in a way that many academics would like to be, but can’t be. He had extraordinarily good intellectual and personal values.
And the last thing I want to say is, I can’t remember Fred speaking badly of anyone. Fred was a rare individual and someone special and someone who will be missed by all of us. So I call on David, one of his children, one of his sons, to add some further comments..
Thanks Bob and thanks everyone for coming to this memorial to remember and celebrate the life of my father, Fred Gruen.
The return of Dad’s cancer in May, his gradual deterioration, and the seemingly endless medical intervention, put him and his family and his many friends through a terrible ordeal. And with it all over, to have him gone is an unspeakable loss.
I want to spend some time giving you a thumb-nail sketch of Dad's life, especially his early years, although many of you will know many of these details. About 10 years ago, Dad wrote a brief chapter about his life for a book on Austrians in Australia. Its a chapter that I have re-read in the past couple of days and it is something I would recommend to anyone interested in a review of his life as he saw it.
He was born in Vienna in 1921, 76 years ago. He says that his childhood was a fairly unhappy and lonely one. I've no doubt he's telling it like it was, but I must say that anyone who met him as an adult would be surprised to learn that he was an unhappy child. He showed remarkably few signs of it. As I knew him, he was extremely happy and at peace with himself. In fact, that was one of the things that made him so much fun to be with.
After failing out of the rather authoritarian Austrian school system, he was bundled off to an English boarding school, at the age of 15, with absolutely no knowledge of English.
That was 1936. Three years later, with the outbreak of the War, Britain moved to intern enemy aliens. Jews in Britain were classified into two groups, depending on whether the English suspected that they might harbour sympathies for the Nazis. Dad was classified as suspect, apparently because he had continued writing to his mother in Austria after the War broke out.
As is widely known, Dad came to Australia on the ship Dunera in 1940 and then spent eight months in an internment camp at Hay in western New South Wales. As he said many times, there were a lot worse things that a young European Jew could have been doing at that time than being interned in western New South Wales.
After the authorities worked out that there were better things to do with a lot of able-bodied men than have them locked up under guard in Hay, Dad joined the Australian army and made himself useful unloading ships at Melbourne docks.
Fred was given an aptitude test in the army. The result of the test was a recommendation that he should get a job as a mechanic after the War. It is lucky for us all that he did not take this advice. Anyone who has seen my father change a light bulb would not drive a car that he had worked on as a mechanic.
Despite the results of the aptitude test, Dad was put into the Army Education Service near the end of the war. He was sent to New Guinea, but at a stop-off in Brisbane, he went to the Queensland University library to get a copy of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. He had been asked, with Kurt Baier, to review it for a Melbourne paper. The library did not have it, but the library assistant said that her cousin had a copy and that she could get it for him. The library assistant was, of course, my mother, Ann. It is funny to reflect on the fact that if The Road to Serfdom had been in the Queensland University library, their chance meeting might not have amounted to anything, and that she and Fred have Friedrich von Hayek to thank for their life together.
Mum says that meeting Dad was the best thing that ever happened to her. I have no doubt he felt the same way about meeting her. They were remarkably well-suited and had a great relationship. They were very good friends, always talking to each other about anything and everything. Mum says that Dad was always saying to her: "Look at this. This is interesting." He was interested in a lot of things and very good at making you see why they were interesting.
Mind you, to see my parents together in the cattle yards on the farm, you would have thought theirs was a marriage with a limited future. They would stand in the yards, just far enough apart that they couldn't hear each other properly, with cattle swirling about between them and making a frightful din. My parents would then shout complicated instructions at each other about which gates the cattle should be pushed through, and which animals should be cut out from the mob. And then each would bemoan the fact that the other never listened and how could anything get done if their instructions weren't followed.
For the uninitiated, it was a truly alarming spectacle.
When it was all over, they would go up to the house and be the best of friends. I am grateful to Sam Scott for reminding me of this rather unlikely, but often-repeated, ritual.
In May this year, in less-than-ideal circumstances, Mum and Dad celebrated 50 years of marriage.
I don't think it is necessary for me to say much about Dad's professional career. But it is clear enough that his interest in economics had a profound effect on me. It was, after all, the reason why I made the decision, at age 29, to give up what I had been doing for the previous decade, to return as a student to the lecture hall and the tutorial room to convert myself into an economist. Dad made economics interesting, immediate and important.
I remember myriad lunches, with guests at the farm on a Saturday or Sunday, with the conversation ricocheting around the table on some topic of economics, politics or public policy. I had to fight to get a word in, and often didn’t succeed. But I came away feeling privileged to have been part of those conversations.
When my wife, Jenny, first met Dad, almost ten years ago, I think she found him a rather intimidating presence. He asked very direct questions and had a habit of following lines of argument to their logical conclusions. But her sense of intimidation didn’t last long. She soon came to enjoy his keen, self-deprecating wit, his interesting perspectives on things, and most of all, the warmth of the friendship he offered her.
In recent weeks, many people have reminded me of the influence Fred has had on their lives. Childhood friends of my mother, for example, have reflected on the ways in which Dad broadened their political horizons, not to mention introducing them to strange foods like sweet and sour rye, liptauer and rollmops. Rollmops were never a great hit, but Dad’s interest in the world and his perspectives on it left an indelible mark.
There are also many, many examples illustrating the warmth of his personality and the infectiousness of his humour. One of his endearing qualities was the hearty laugh that would issue forth in response to jokes he approved of. In family situations, if Nick or I came up with a witticism that caught his fancy, he would say: ‘Very Good. Very Good’. That became such a well-established part of family folklore that Nick and I would try to beat him to it, or burst into gales of laughter when he used it.
He was also capable of saying extremely funny things when he was only half-concentrating on the conversation at hand. On one occasion, he was talking to Nick and I and trying to recall when something had happened. It had been a long time ago, and eventually he managed to place it in time with the immortal words: ‘One of you was born. I forget which one’.
No-one in the family ever let him forget that particular comment, but it was a measure of his ability to laugh at himself that it became part of his own repertoire.
In the final phase of his life, he was, in his own words, "on his way to oblivion." Despite this, he retained a capacity to put the parlous state of his health to one side and continue to talk and think about other things. I remember one phone conversation, when he told me about the latest disastrous diagnosis—which, of course, brought oblivion that one step closer. But he did not dwell on it for long. He wanted to talk to me about Cheryl Kernot resigning from the Democrats and joining the Labor party. And about his disgust at the editorial comment generated by her move. I remember thinking that it was a remarkable conversation under the circumstances. He was as lucid and focused as he ever was.
After Dad died, one of the things that had, inevitably, to be done was to contact a funeral director, which is not something I had done before. I found myself looking through the yellow pages in search of advertisements. I was rather taken aback to see that one of the Canberra funeral directors advertises ‘a money back guarantee’. It was not hard for me to imagine the shout of laughter that Dad would have uttered, even in his last few weeks, had he seen that ad.
I have long used Dad as a sounding board. I always wanted to know what he thought about things because he had very good judgment and he often had an angle that hadn’t occurred to me. And if he disagreed with my opinion, that was something that would give me considerable pause.
I hope I will long be able to summon him up in my thoughts to continue to use him, however imperfectly, as a sounding board.
One doesn't get any choice about who one’s father is. But I have been extraordinarily lucky. He has had a profoundly positive impact on my life. His humanity, common-sense, boldness in expressing his views, lack of fear of being proved wrong and downright decency are all qualities that made him a great role-model.
I will count myself very fortunate if my two year old son Angus thinks of me in forty years time with the same fondness and respect that I have for Dad.
I will never forget him.
Thank you David. When you talk about people and the things you have heard about them, you are never really sure they are true but I had actually heard about the stockyard problems and I am sure Fred said to me something like ‘the woman’s impossible; if she had her way none of the cattle would leave the farm. She keeps saying to me "not that one; that one’s got a nice mother"’. So, although I wasn’t actually there, I do understand.
Fred was very important at Monash University. He was a Professor there, in Agricultural Economics, and then he was invited I think, or applied, and became Professor of Economics at the Australian National University. Peter Karmel has known Fred for a long time. Peter Karmel was Vice Chancellor at the Australian National University. I would like to ask Peter Karmel to speak a few words.
The generation of economists to which Fred and I belong, graduates of the 1940s, were brought up on a diet of Keynes' General Theory and Pigou's Economics of Welfare.
We were all Keynesians then, though now the limitations of Keynesian prescriptions in the late 20th Century world are recognised by most of us. What is sometimes forgotten is the influence that welfare economics had on us. Pigou's Economics of Welfare, first published in 1920, begins with the words:
When a man (sic) sets out upon any course of inquiry, the object of his search may be either light or fruit—either knowledge for its own sake or knowledge for the sake of good things to which it leads... there will, I think, be general agreement that in sciences of human society... it is the promise of fruit and not of light that chiefly merits our regard... If it were not for the hope that a scientific study of men's actions may lead... to practical results in social improvement, not a few students of these actions would regard the time devoted to their study as time misspent. That is true of all social sciences but especially true of economics.
Pigou then went on to assert that economic welfare is the subject matter of economic science and to clarify the relationship between social welfare and economic welfare and between economic welfare and what we now call GDP, with particular regard to the distribution of income.
I am starting my tribute to Fred in this way because I am sure that Fred conceived of economics essentially in its fruit bearing persona. Fred's career in economics was largely at the applied end of the spectrum, especially to do with issues of economic policy. He applied the reasoning of rational economics to policy problems but had regard to all the consequences of given prescriptions, especially those that impacted on the distribution of income and the welfare of individual members of society. He recognised competing social objectives and, while acknowledging the power of markets to achieve efficient outcomes, did not elevate this one aspect of sensible policy making above all the other, often competing, objectives of economic policy.
This characteristic of Fred, which made him in his later years an elder statesman of Australia's economic policy, was manifested in the range of issues he offered policy advice on in recent years—clearly beyond the narrowly economic. For example, for the Commonwealth he advised on housing policy, customs legislation, pensions, tourism research. For the ACT, on education policy and economic priorities.
The Gruens and the Karmels both returned to Canberra in 1972. Before then I knew Fred, but not well. After 1972 Lena and I began to see something of Fred and Ann. From 1982 when I joined the ANU we saw more of each other and I began a professional association with Fred which persisted after retirement from the University. Fred's main contribution to the ANU was as Head of Economics in RSSS from 1972--86. He was responsible for revitalising economics in the RSSS and he built up a department of world class economists.
As Bob Gregory will readily tell you, Fred's great strength was to have the good sense to appoint people like Bob himself and Bruce Chapman!
Fred's interests had both academic and policy orientations and he was responsible for the creation of the Centre for Economic Policy Research of which he was himself Executive Director from 1980-86. His policy interests culminated in 1984 in his securing the participation of the Brookings Institution in a major survey of the Australian economy.
Fred's policy for the RSSS economics program was to recruit bright young academics and foster their development, rather than appoint senior academics of established distinction. For these people he was an ideal boss, easy to talk to, and able to disagree with without any bad feelings or tension.
Within the broader ANU Fred played an important role as member of the University's Investment Advisory Committee, a body which over the past 15 years or so has made a great contribution to the University's portfolio of assets.
Beyond the University Fred served with distinction as President of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in the 1970s (he had become a Fellow in 1970) and as President of the Economics Society of ANZ in the 1980s. I shall always remember Fred as a distinguished colleague and a good friend; handsome, youthful looking, a mischievous smile in his eyes, and above all concerned about justice and equity. His friends, his colleagues, his discipline and his University have profited from his life. In their loss Ann, David and Nick can feel proud he was theirs.
Thank you Peter.
One special feature of Fred was not only was he important at the Australian National University when he was employed by the University that is, before the age of 65, but after his retirement he stayed there in the Economics Department and in Political Science for some time and for the ten years after that he was a very, very important member of the Economics Department. So the sort of values that Peter was emphasising were values which didn’t stop at retirement. They were values which were able to be seen by all the visitors and the young people who came to the Department afterwards and I, myself, used to look at Fred and say, ‘Well, If I can age like that after retirement I will be in good shape’ and I’m sorry to say that I am asking that question more and more often now. But Fred did handle the years after 65 extremely well.
Now we are going to turn to another aspect of his life, his early life and Margaret Weeden who is a relative and a close friend is going to talk about that. And there is that puzzle that David talked about earlier when Fred said he didn’t have a happy childhood and he felt lonely as a child. And people who say that usually have obvious problems as an adult and I never saw them either. I never saw them.. So Margaret will talk about Fred when he was younger.
First of all, I want to thank Ann, David and Nick very much for providing me with this opportunity to say something about Fred, and to pay a tribute to someone who has played such an important role in what amounts to half my life.
My first, very brief, memory of Fred dates back to a brief episode in a garden in Vienna in the early 1920s. I should explain that I myself was born in London, a couple of years before the outbreak of what was then called the ‘Kaiser’s War’—though it was to become—in England— ‘The Great War’, and then World War I, after Hitler’s War.
By the time that war ended, I was just six years old. By that time, I had become vaguely aware that my parents had not been born in England, but in somewhere called ‘Austria’! I was also aware that Austria was considered slightly less ‘awful’ than Germany, because it had not actually ‘started’ the war and was different from Germany.
By 1919 my father had decided that living conditions in England had become too unpleasant: there were still food shortages and other problems. He sold our house; my older brother, Herbert, 11 years older than me, went out to South Africa to farm. (He was tragically killed in a motor accident some six years later.)
George, a year younger, had just won a scholarship to Oxford, and was off to University College, from where he was to be called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn some years later.
After some months in Switzerland—not relevant to this story but where my mother and I learnt to ski and to skate—the family took the long train journey to Vienna in the Spring of 1920.
At the station we were met by what seemed to me a huge crowd of relatives! I was quite shocked when a small girl—as it turned out, a year younger than myself—went shyly up to my Mother, curtsied and—taking Mother’s hand—said ‘Grüss Gott’! It was the curtesy that shook me! (Though it was just a little one. Later I learnt that these little curtsies were called ‘ein knix’ and were a normal form of greeting for a little girl to an adult, or even for an older girl when being introduced.)
This one turned out to be my cousin Lucy, known as ‘Mäni’ because—as a small child she had mispronounced the word ‘Mädi’—short for ‘little girl’—one of the ways in which the Viennese used to address a child, and probably still do.
I was to spend a couple of months with her and her parents, my Onkel Ernst and Tante Marta, at their villa outside Vienna, near a village called Traiskirchen. It was not until many years later that I discovered that was an industrial town, because Ernst and Marta Rink’s villa was situated in a large garden, partly flowers, but also full of fruit trees, bushes full of delicious raspberries, apple trees and pear trees, to all of which Mäni and I had full access.
In addition there was a huge field of sweet corn in a neighbouring field and we were free to pick any of the ripening juicy cobs.
Admittedly, there was a very noisy factory at the bottom of the garden, but it was supposed to be out of bounds for us. At times, grey ghost-like figures would appear outside the factory for a smoke or a break, but they were some distance away and meant nothing to me until later years, when I realised that the reason they seemed to be ‘grey all over’ was because they were covered in metal dust from the factory which produced bronze and silver powders for industrial use.
Lucy had an older brother—Paul, some eleven years older than myself, so very remote. There were also two younger children: Anni, aged 15 months (who still lives in New York), and Arnold, then only very recently arrived, who still lives in Milan and has kept in touch with Fred: they had both been brought to Australia on the Dunera, though Arnold was to leave fairly soon to join some family members in South America before returning to Europe later with his wife Ada, to live in Milan.
Fred and Arnold remained in close touch as long as Fred was alive.
By the time Onkel Ernst and family returned to Vienna at the end of the summer holidays, I had picked up enough German to be sent to school, though I suspect I missed the beginning of the school year. In addition, I managed to make myself immediately extremely unpopular by boasting that ‘We’ had ‘won the war!
To begin with, however, I was to join my Mother at Tante Ella’s flat in the Tulpengasse No.3 in Inner Vienna. Her husband, Onkel Teddy, a very overweight gentleman who chainsmoked cigars, did not survive for very long.
Tante Ella’s flat could put up Mother and me—though my father found somewhere else to live when I arrived—because their two daughters—Lilly and Marianne—had already both left home: Lilly had gone to Mannheim in Germany with her composer husband, Ernst Toch. Marianne had married Willy Grün and was soon to expect young Fred—at first called ‘Heinz’ later to be changed to ‘Fritz’ and finally to Fred, after he was sent to school in England.
I always thought Marianne very beautiful. Willy was a handsome man: Fred had a good inheritance in looks!
Tante Ella was a very feisty lady. Indeed, many decades later, I think possibly already in her eighties, she came out on a visit to Australia to visit her grandson Fred. (Some of you, gathered here today, may remember her visit.)
My only recollection of Fred during the four years we then spent in Vienna was of a large family gathering at which somebody unfortunately stepped backwards onto little ‘Fritzi’s’ toe, which of course provoked an uproar. I attributed that to the fact as I seemed to have observed during the couple of years we had then been in Vienna, that Viennese children always cried!
In 1925, after spending four years in Vienna, my parents decided to take me back to England before I forgot my English. Consequently, my next news of Fred, at a time when communications were not what they are many decades later—was when he was sent to boarding school in England after Hitler took over.
Several autobiographies I have read recently, in the 1990s, show me that ours was not the only family to try to conceal their Jewish origins. However, it is still a matter of great shame to me that my parents, my brother George, and of course, myself, did nothing to help young Fred adjust to his new surroundings.
So it is with all the greater sense of gratitude that I put on record that Fred never held a grudge against me; that he brought Ann with him to visit me on their honeymoon, when I was working in Paris after the Second World War; and—especially—that he made me so welcome when I arrived in Australia in 1953 to marry an Australian whom I had met at a UNESCO conference.
At no time in the 40-odd years that I have now lived in Australia did Fred ever make any reference to what I now consider was the shocking way in which he was treated—perhaps I should say ‘neglected’—by my family during the few years he was to spend in England before he was deported on the Dunera.
Instead, Fred has always been more like a brother to me. I am only too aware of the great debt I owe to him for his unfailing kindness, his readiness over many decades to help me with advice or information. He was always courteous, charming, helpful, smiling.
Let me finish by saying that it will be a privilege for me at any time to try and repay a little of the debt of gratitude I owe to Fred by any help I might be able to give to Ann, and to David and Nick and their children.
It is a long way from Vienna to just outside Hall. And it is a long way to try to reconcile the sort of things Fred said about his childhood and the sort of man I knew. Fred, for example, was not a big eater or drinker to my knowledge but the two stories that he told me about life before he came to Australia, both revolved around that. One of the things he said was that in Vienna polite little boys do not eat cake until they have refused it three times. And he said he starved for at least six months in England before he learnt that after being offered cake once, you never got offered it twice! The other story he told me was about the Dunera and he said, a little boastfully—well he didn’t put it in a boastful way, but he said ‘Like all young men I was always hungry, so what I did on the Dunera was I made sure I worked in the kitchen and that way you got to eat first!’. So Henry Lippmann, who was on the Dunera with Fred, is going to say a few words.
I don’t want to tell you a lot about the Dunera. but it was on the Dunera that Fred became one of our mates and we became mates of his. And Fred was a good mate. On this occasion where you tell anecdotes of Fred’s life I haven’t got the details ready. I didn’t feel that at this meeting you would be prepared to tell all the details and I would have said perhaps more. I want to confine myself to a few remarks briefly because I feel the Dunera was the not main part of his life and is not the most important thing, and his life was his academic study, his family and all that. Nevertheless, I owe Fred to say this much.
Fred was conscious of his immigrant history and he was a loyal supporter of his Dunera shipmates. He was a keynote speaker at the 50th Anniversary function that commemorated the Dunera boys’ arrival in Australia. The Dunera people took special pride in Fred’s achievements and in his prominence in public affairs. Fred was one of those exceptional men whose presence alone uplifted the image of the whole group and we owe Fred a lot of thanks for that. I would like to offer our sincere sympathy to Ann and to the whole family. Sadly I say ‘Farewell to Fred’.
Fred told me that on the Dunera once that the most dangerous time he had was when one of the guards got extremely drunk and collapsed, passed out and dropped his rifle on the floor. Fred had feelings of public service even in those days, Peter, so Fred and his friends picked up the guard and the rifle and marched off to the bridge. And Fred said only a young and very stupid person would do that because he ran the risk of being shot on the grounds that this was a mutiny about to take place. But all that happened—to go back to the food—was that he was put on bread and water for some time.
Bruce Chapman has known Fred for quite some time. They worked very, very closely together at ANU.
I am honoured to be asked to share with you some of what I know and feel about Fred.
About ten years ago when Fred retired, the Centre for Economic Policy Research convened a conference in his honour. At the time it was a warm celebration of his contribution, and John Quiggin was moved to write a song for the occasion.
In part the song said:
I was lost in the Coombs, in a maze of empty rooms
When I came across a fine and stately ruin
I took a look to see, and it was a shock to me
When I realised that I’d stumbled on Fred Gruen.
He stands out by a mile, for grace and charm and style
Whether speaking or writing or reviewing
But if your theory’s wonky, or your arguments are shonky
You’ll rue the day you ran across Fred Gruen.
In eight short lines John Quiggin captured the professional essence of Fred.
In my view, Fred was the best sort of economist: committed to the notion that markets deliver efficiency, but at the same time Fred had a consummate feel for the needs of the disadvantaged.
In Alfred Marshall’s terms, he had the right combination —a warm heart, and a cool head.
His sense of the importance of equality shows in the subjects he chose to research, among them unemployment and income distribution. But there was more than just his research which showed his concern for equality.
Glenn Withers tells of the time at Monash University in the late 1960s when several honours students who were working as research assistants were not permitted in the staff tea room. At this silliness Fred and several other Professors refused to partake of tea until the students were allowed in.
Glenn has referred to him as ‘Fearless Freddy’ because of this.
‘Fearless Freddy’ is a label that has meaning in other contexts. He was always ready to proffer an opinion, and to not be concerned about what others may think of him as a result.
Sometimes his opinions were not always correct, and this was something he was happy to acknowledge.
On this topic he told me the following tale about his time at the University of Chicago in the 1950s.
Theodore Schultz and others were working up the notion that skills development was like investment in plant and machinery, an intellectual revolution that eventually transformed labour economics and resulted in the awarding of several Nobel prizes, one of which went to Schultz.
Without a hint of embarrassment Fred told me that at the time he told Schultz that "this human capital stuff wouldn’t really go anywhere and that he shouldn’t waste his time on it".
The point of relating this incident is to highlight the most important professional and personal thing about Fred.
It was that he had an extraordinary security.
This security gave him a down-to-earth quality that made him completely trustworthy and, I might say, a joy to be with.
Fred’s directness had other dimensions, one of which concerned his vigorous editing of the CEPR’s discussion paper series.
I remember the first DP that I submitted—somewhat nervously, for I was new at the game—for his approval. It came back with only one comment, written in his distinctive large blue biro scrawl. It read: ‘Your English is bloody horrible!’.
I guess he thought that if he had to learn English at age 15, I should have to learn it too at age 30-something.
Fred’s honesty and directness meant other things. With him there was no manipulation, no cunning, no alternative agenda. You knew what he was about, because he told you.
But with all that, there was an old-style gentlemanliness about him. An American visitor to the University of Adelaide in the early 1980s gave a seminar at the ANU at my urging.
When he returned he said in the tea room that he’d been very impressed with somebody he referred to not by name, but as a ‘Viennese gentleman’. Of course, everybody at the Economics Department at the University of Adelaide knew that he was talking about Fred.
Some of the great male economists achieve their status and success from single-minded dedication to their craft. Which in some cases means neglect of family.
Fred wasn’t like this. I had the rare opportunity on occasion to get a glimmer of his life outside economics, and what a balanced and rich life it seemed to be, with family placed firmly at the top.
He wasn’t a proud man, but there were definitely touches of pride when he talked about David’s very successful move from physics to economics, and from there to become one of the Reserve Bank’s most valued analysts.
Similarly there is no doubting his admiration, if somewhat bemusement, in reporting to me Nick’s appointment as a Senior Economic advisor to the then Treasurer John Dawkins.
When imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, none of us should be surprised that both his sons eventually chose to be research-oriented economists with a focus on policy issues.
Fred could not have achieved half of what he did without unambiguous emotional and practical support from his wife Ann.
To understand his respect for his marriage one only has to read his autobiography.
To see it and feel it one only had to see them together.
Fred’s commitment to family, and them to him, undoubtedly contributed to his great professional success.
Fred loved humour. He told me a few gems, usually one-liners, sometimes self-deprecating, mostly aimed against hypocrisy and pomposity. Let me share some of them with you.
He asked me once what was the difference between an economist and a psychiatrist. It was, he said, that a psychiatrist can only ruin one person at a time.
This joke, of course, gets back to Fred’s essential social concern for the disadvantaged, and his understanding of what a terrible thing bad economic policy can be for people.
On another occasion Fred sought to improve my English—once again—by defining some terms. I was talking in some undisciplined way about optimism, when Fred proffered the following.
An optimist, he said, was nothing more than an ignorant pessimist.
I remember a debate conducted in the letters column of the Financial Review a few years back which involved me, Fred, and Des Moore, previously from the Australian Treasury.
Des Moore suggested that some evidence I was using to support the notion that the Accord had reduced strikes was based on econometrics and thus it couldn’t be trusted ‘because econometrics can be used to prove anything’. In the same letter he used econometric evidence from a different source to support his case that the Accord didn’t matter.
Picking up on this inconsistency with some enthusiasm Fred wrote in response: ‘Really Des, your ideological slip is showing!’.
On what we all do at the Institute of Advanced Studies Fred offered the following:
‘Plagiarism is copying the work of another academics. Research, on the other hand, is copying the work of lots of academics.’
Fred could laugh at and with the profession, and he could also cope with its challenges.
In the mid-1970s a lot of what Fred’s generation thought they knew about economics seemed to collapse.
Most of this group believed profoundly in the Keynesian notion that there was a clear trade-off between inflation and unemployment, and that the role of government was simply to choose between these evils and to come up with the appropriate combination through the use of fiscal and monetary policy.
But in the mid-1970s, all around the world, there was the emergence of both inflation and unemployment. This caused many economists to despair, to reject economics, to lick their wounds, and to shake their heads in confusion and frustration.
Not Fred. As Cathy Baird and I wrote in a testimonial on Fred’s retirement, ‘Fred did not throw up his hands in horror at the experiences of the seventies, nor did he seek refuge in the dank corridors of nihilism [we really liked that phrase]. Instead he kept his feet on the ground and now sees stagflation in a positive light: for him it promoted the importance of wages for macro-analysis, a development which has been leading to a more informed synthesis.’
Why didn’t Fred chose to ‘seek refuge in the dank corridors of nihilism’ [there’s that phrase again!] when the essential economic paradigm was collapsing around him?
I think it must be that what might look like a calamity to some, can look like a passing incident to others.
After all, imagine that at age 15 your father was bankrupt, that your parents separated, with your father dying soon after, and that you had to leave your country of birth and go somewhere where you didn’t speak the language.
Imagine that while you were still in your teens, your mother is murdered for political reasons, and that you are shipped to an unknown and totally alien country and placed in a detention camp near a place called Hay in Western NSW.
That you don’t know anyone within 10,000 miles, that you are alone and incarcerated in a foreign country where the authorities treat you with suspicion and reserve.
The mere collapse of a paradigm of economic thinking doesn’t seem so important after all, when all this has happened to you.
Fred’s story is remarkable. Not only did he survive all this, but he became one of this nation’s most influential figures, important analysts, and significant policy contributors.
In short, Fred Gruen’s achievements, seen in the context of his background, can only be described as extraordinary. And on top of this he was a genuinely nice fellow.
Max Corden said to me recently that there are three types of people. (being a theorist, of course, means that he was simplifying a bit). The three types are:
People who are nice naturally, people who can be nice if they try, and people who are never nice.
Max thought that he came in category 2, but that Fred was in category 1. What I think he meant was that Fred had the right combinations of personality traits.
There was humility, but there wasn’t deference
There was confidence, but there wasn’t arrogance
There was honesty, but there wasn’t insensitivity
And there was charm, but there wasn’t flattery
In short, a very special person who lived a remarkable life, full of early adversity, but with eventual extraordinary personal and professional success.
Fred showed us how to live.
And by the way he dealt with his cancer, with strength, acceptance and ultimately with dignity, he also showed us how to die.
Thank you Bruce
Some people look very different from different angles and I think one of the special things about Fred that we have heard today is that all the speakers are saying very similar things. The importance of economics, the importance of policy, the goodness of the man, the openness of the person. And the importance of the family. And the economics and the family and all those values come together in the two boys. It is not only that they are economists but that both of them are very very committed to economic policy and both of them are not narrow economists but are pushing as hard as they can against the frontiers in important policy issues. And so I now ask Nick, the second child, to talk about Fred, his father.
‘Tis the gift to be simple,
‘Tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
But when we find ourselves in the place just right
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
I hope that everyone here can appreciate the relevance of these words from the well-known Shaker song to my father’s life. Their relevance in death can only be a matter of speculation.
My father’s life is a story of bad luck and bad fortune turned to good.
In early 1946, no one would have predicted the success and the happiness that was to come. As Dad put it in his autobiographical sketch, his childhood was a rather lonely and unhappy one.
Who can say when he felt loneliest? Was it when he arrived at Dover in 1936, an adolescent refugee, or was it as he suggested to me, about a year later when he was summoned to his headmaster’s office and told that his father Willi had died of cancer?
The other great horror was the fate of his mother’s Mariana. Lily, her elder sister, commented to an oral historian in 1978 "I was rebellious against the way I was treated as a child. . . . Mariana was very charming and cheerful and the other way around. My sister was a very beautiful girl. Once her example was put up before me; I was told, ‘Look how friendly she is, look how everybody likes her,’ and so on." Mariana was taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp and survived there for several years. She was moved elsewhere in the dying days of the war. We believe - though we do not know - that she perished in Auschwitz.
If one wanted to be rhetorical one might say that Dad’s luck changed one day in 1940 on his journey between the old and new worlds. He was locked in the hold of the Dunera. It was hit by a German torpedo. But it didn’t go off.
It was in Australia that, so it seems, he came down where he ought to be. Again and again he found himself in the place just right. In his eventual choice of country, in his choice of spouse and his choice of the discipline he would pursue - his life’s work.
Internment was difficult. While, looking back, he would have none of the idea that the Dunera was a scandal - or stronger still, some kind of atrocity - he did quote from George Rapp’s despairing poem which was penned in the camp.
Have you heard my story most brave
of the thousand dead men without grave
in that wonderful town
with the moon upside down
and the wires in need of a shave?
Each man is a corpse, as he sits
decaying and doubting his wits
whilst far, far away,
where the night is the day
his world is breaking to bits. . . .
In retrospect Dad always regarded himself as lucky to be gazing at the upside down sky over Hay rather than in the front line in Europe.
Dad had the great good fortune to meet my mother. He had the looks and charm to successfully court her, and she had the guts to marry him. I think it is probably hard to overestimate what strength of character it took. A Jewish refugee was not quite what my mothers parents - particularly her father - had in mind for her.
Indeed when my parents’ engagement was announced, my mother was staying with her aunt in Melbourne and was asked to leave.
But notwithstanding Dad’s exotic and lowly social status, Granny - mum’s mother - made up her own mind. After a little time with Dad she said to my mother, "I think you’ve picked a winner dear."
And so she had. And so had Dad. To borrow one of Manning Clark’s expressions, my mother worked a great miracle inside him.
Dad cultivated an interest in higher education at Hay. And he was always grateful to Miss Margaret Holmes who helped him and many others study while in the army.
Like so many others of the same generation who are feted today, my father was part of the long post war boom in higher education. He was part of a generation which was confident about its role in rebuilding and modernising society after the devastation of the greatest war in history, which, if it had not consumed their life, had certainly consumed their youth.
Dad liked the idea of economics because he was an idealist. After the depair of the depression and the horror of the war to which it contributed, Dad believed – like many of the time – that social science could help build a better world. I think it seemed to Dad that economics was the social science which could most directly and most obviously be capable of making a contribution to peoples lives. But I think he thought that it suited his talents. It had some of the rigour of science, but it dealt directly with political and social questions about how our lives together should be organised.
Dad had a great spread of talents and, as Keynes observed, it is this breadth of talent, rather than genius at any one skill which is the key to good economics.
The study of economics does not seem to require any specialised gifts of an unusually high order. Is it not, intellectually regarded, a very easy subject compared with the higher branches of philosophy and pure science? Yet good, or even competent, economists are the rarest of birds. An easy subject at which very few excel! The paradox finds its explanation, perhaps, in that the master-economists must poses a rare combination of gifts. He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together. He must be a mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher - in some degree. He must use symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must lie outside his ken. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician. (In Moggeridge, p. 424).
There was another quality which Dad had which was essential to many of his best contributions to economics and public policy. As so many of those who dealt with him rapidly came to appreciate, he was a very nice man.
About ten years ago when I was reading a book on the lives of the composers. I came upon this passage.
[H]e must have been a very nice man to know. A person of singularly sweet, kind disposition, he made virtually no enemies. . . . He was even-tempered, industrious, generous, had a good sense of humour . . . enjoyed good health except for some eye trouble and rheumatism . . .. He [had] good common sense. He had integrity and intellectual honesty - the kind of honesty that could allow him to say, when Mozart’s name came up "My friends often flatter me about my talent, but he was far above me". He liked to dress well.
The description was of the composer Hayden. It could equally be of Dad. People liked him easily and quickly and this meant that Dad was a good leader. People respected him for his knowledge, and his intelligence, and also for his essential modesty. Dad was not pompous. Like the composer Hayden, he didn’t have tickets on himself. But peoples instinctive liking for him, and respect for his talents and good judgement meant that he could be extremely persuasive. As I understand it, it was he who first proposed the 25 per cent tariff cut and he was instrumental in persuading a range of agonisers – or in arranging for others to persuade agonisers – of the merits of his proposal. Even more impressively, Dad was able to lead an extremely heterogeneous group of people to unanimously support the inclusion of the family home in Assets testing for welfare benefits.
Dad’s good judgement and good leadership extended also to his professional colleagues. He was fond of saying that there were a lot of people who were extremely clever but had no bloody sense. (It has to be said that he was in a profession in which it is hard not to notice this phenomenon.) And his greatest contribution to economics and public policy might well be a roll call of the people in his Department who he either hired himself, or who were hired by those he hired. I need only mention some of their names. Bob Gregory, Bruce Chapman, John Quiggin, Adrian Pagan and Steve Dowrick to name just a few.
The 25 per cent tariff cut was a good illustration of Dad’s qualities. Some such as Alf Rattigan agonised about whether or not it fitted a particular institutional model of tariff reform towards which he had striven for nearly a decade. Others who might have been expected to support the move - like senior Treasury officials - opposed the idea, again because it was unusual. It was not their idea. My father was prepared to improvise because he knew that the tariff cut offered an unusually good combination of short and long term benefits, and, at the time it was proposed, comparatively few costs. He was a man of broad talents who understood the issues, and had the courage and the imagination to seize the day - as he put it later, to whisper into the ear of the prince!
Coming down in the discipline of economics Dad came down where he ought to be. And where he ought to be became - by chance of history - a more and more important place to be.
Ironically, as the inadequacies of the discipline of economics were exposed, economics became more and more influential! As politicians, bureaucrats and the populace at large became progressively more anxious about how to restore their lost prosperity, economics became the premier social science - an increasingly indispensible gateway to policy influence.
History - and happenstance - treated my father well after the war in other ways as well. In being what Phillip Adams once called our ‘Dunera Boy extraordinaire’, my father participated in an event which was the ‘Gallipoli’ of early post-war multiculturalism - a defining and mythic event in Australia’s history.
The Dunera’s inmates could never have known as they lived through their voyage and their detention in Australia, the significance which would be made of it looking back. Yet in the days after my father’s death, all of those who contacted me to help them writing his obituary asked "he was on that boat - the Dunera - wasn’t he"? A gardener who read his obituary in The Age said to me that he didn’t know I was the son of a Dunera boy.
A collection of middle European refugees (with a disproportionate representation of egg heads) sitting behind barbed wire in the middle of the Hay plain, entertaining themselves with sports, study, music making, theatre and concerts.
Of course there were plenty of similar camps and there were plenty of migrant experiences, just as there were plenty of Australian battles in World War One other than Gallipoli. But as time passed, the Dunera internees worked their way into the popular Australian imagination.
These were some of the changes in circumstances which changed Dad’s life. But there was also some alchemy at work inside him. I don’t think anyone can really say quite what it was - not even him. Perhaps particularly not him. I think the main thing he did was really quite old fashioned - indeed unfashionable by today’s standards.
I think my father achieved the happiness and success he did because he did not try to ‘work through’ or to make sense of his worst experiences. Indeed much greater minds and spirits than my father have tried to make sense of the Holocaust. But it cannot be done.
So my father did something else. He tried to forget about the worst of the past. He never tried to deny or conceal it. But he tried to focus on more productive things. Perhaps that is where he got some of his great enthusiasm for so many of the things going on in the world, from architecture, to philosophy to politics, world history and world affairs.
He was gregarious in his interests in others also. But, for someone with his early experiences, he was blessed by not being an introspective man and his bridge to others was often through common public events.
When I visited him in his last days of consciousness in John James Hospital, he was engaging several nurses who had either returned from, or were soon to depart for, far flung locations.
One nurse was soon to go to Kenya. Dad filled her in on the state of civil unrest there as it unfolded. He continued to engage another who had recently returned from the Middle East on what life was really like in Bahrain and what sort of constitution they had. Dad took considerable care to pronounce Bahrain in a way which served to indicate its exotic location outside of Australia, although I must admit it left me wondering that Bahrain was so near Vienna.
Dad combined a civility which, one might speculate, he brought with him from Austria, with an Australian unpretentiousness and straightforwardness. I think when I was young I thought that the expression ‘g’day’ was particularly my father’s. He certainly took to it with great gusto.
A episode which illustrates these things and his great sense of humour occurred one day in 1967. We were being entertained for lunch by a rather straight laced American economist in the Mid-West of America. He introduced lunch in a way which he thought appropriate but which we found intensely embarrassing.
He said that although we might not have voted for Harold Holt, he wanted us to know that he was extending the hand of American friendship and condolence to us in our national grief. My father showed the depth of his assimilation into Australian culture by defusing the situation. "Yes Ken. It is sad. But that’s the good thing about living in Australia. Its a small country. And when something like that happens, we all just move up one!"
But Dad’s sense of humour was at its greatest as an appreciator. He had an infectious and hearty laugh. So much so that, if I intended to watch "Yes Minister" or "Faulty Towers", I would make the trek out to the farm so that I could increase my enjoyment many-fold by watching the program with one eye, and Dad with the other. There were times when I honestly thought he might do himself an injury.
My father was a great charmer. His charm came from his natural extroversion, and uncomplicated buoyancy of mood, his sense of fun, enjoyment of teasing, his modesty and appreciative sense of humour.
I remember skiing holidays with Dad. In the space of a week an entire chalet full of the most unlikely people (of a range of backgrounds, temperaments and ideological dispositions sometimes sympathetic but often odious) would all succumb to his charm. They would want to sit at his table and enjoy the high of talking with him, being teased by him, flirting with him and debating him.
He was a man who inspired admiration and indeed devotion from many. Bruce Chapman lectured me for about an our one night at a party on what a marvelous man Dad was.
I remember one surreal moment about six months later when Bruce and I met quite by chance each refueling our cars in the wee hours after Saturday night - like two strangers in an Edward Hopper painting under the anonymous glare of the fluorescent lights at the Shell garage in Manuka. As Bruce got back into his car, he yelled at me over the roofs of our respective cars - and a propos of absolutely nothing - "I still envy you your father".
Dad was affectionately famous - perhaps more within his family than anywhere else - for his vagueness at certain times. When engaged in routine social interactions Dad sometimes allowed himself the luxury of thinking of things other than what he was talking about. This could generate comic effects - with occasional lapses into complete anarchy.
One of the gravest of these occasions was in 1967 in Raleigh North Carolina when family friends Fred and June Schönbach were visiting us for lunch, having traveled down from Washington. The night before, Dad had fought one of his many fights with David and I about when we would get undressed and go to bed. This must have drifted into his consciousness during a lull in the conversation when, in the presence of Mum, David, myself and Fred Schönbach, Dad listlessly turned to June Schönbach and said "Let’s get undressed".
I presume that, like us, June imagined that she had misheard him. Indeed, not an eyelid was batted. But subsequent family post-mortem revealed that we had all heard the same thing. And the moment passed - fairly or otherwise - into family mythology.
Since then Dad has suggested to at least one other unsuspecting person that they get undressed - apparently seeking to induce them to open a gate in front of the car. Dad has also on at least one occasion left workmen wondering quite what they were being taken for when he said something about them getting into their pajamas.
I mention Dad’s occasional vagueness, not just because it formed part of a family mythology which was too much fun for his two sons not to inflict on an occasionally protesting but generally accepting father.
I mention it also because of the contrast it made with situations where his interest was aroused particularly as a professional and an academic. When he was in a seminar, he was not on automatic pilot. He was intensely engaged probing for weaknesses and searching for insights. In debate and discussion in a professional context, Dad was the model of the scholar he aspired to be. At the same time aggressive, scrupulous and gracious.
About a week before Dad lost consciousness, I managed to get him a program enabling him to play bridge against a computer. I had keeping my eye open for this for literally years. I brought it to him in the hospital. He was weak from the cancer, from malnutrition and analgesics. He was also unfamiliar with my portable computer. Accordingly I sat next to him on the bed and operated the game for him.
Dad’s demeanor took on an intensity not seen for some time. He became quite agitated and indignant if I made foolish moves which he would have avoided. "Take that trick back" he ordered me.
But I was yet to learn how to take tricks back on the new program. So he scoffed "Well if you play a trick like that you can’t call it my hand".
Like Dad, I hadn’t played bridge for at least one decade - possibly two. So when I saw a hand with at least three cards in each suit and 17 points in high cards, I suggested an opening bid of one no trump. Dad despaired. "Darling, you can’t bid one no-trump with no club-cover."
He was equally sharp, and funny as well when mum remarked about one of his impossible relatives - no longer with us - "She’s her own worst enemy". Dad responded "Not while I’m around".
It would be quite wrong, and self indulgent to paint Dad as ‘haunted’ by his past. But of course it was always there. I remember sometime, probably about a decade ago when I visited Dad in his corner office just before his retirement. Asked how he was he said something like "Oh . . . a bit depressed". Not a remarkable comment but it upset me quite a lot.
When I reflected on it, I realised that, in all the time I had known my father, I could not remember him saying he was depressed or sad. His focus on the positive was not false or forced. And no doubt he felt the demands of parental obligation. One does not want to project sadness towards one’s children. It was also because he was part of a whole generation which lacked the obsessive introspection of later generations.
But I think there is more to it than that.
I think Dad largely trained himself out of the luxury of being depressed and of being sad. There is a literature growing up in Australia - and I imagine elsewhere - of children of Holocaust survivors. Mark Raphael Baker and Romona Koval have each published books on this subject and the story is the same.
None of the holocaust survivors have ‘come to terms’ with what happened. They have found ways of living on after the experience, but they do so mostly by trying to forget, by focusing on other things. In today’s psycho-babble, Holocaust survivors have been unable to grieve adequately for their past losses. But their grief cannot really be confronted, because if acknowledged it would have no limit. It would be bottomless.
Dad was not a Holocaust survivor in the literal sense, but he was touched by the infinite malevolence of the Holocaust in the most direct way.
Certainly in my family, my mother has shed many more tears over the holocaust than my father. Her sympathy for him was perhaps a luxury he felt unable to allow himself. I don’t know how often it broke through into Dad’s consciousness: I suspect, with the possible exception of the last year or so, not all that often.
But sometimes it did. I remember just once when I was about eight or nine, watching a documentary on World War II with David, Mum and Dad in the rumpus room in Harkaway. I doubt if I said anything, but my recollection is that I was mesmerised by the audacity of Hitler and the Germans in just the same way I was attracted to the swashbuckling of Hannibal and Alexander when I learned of them. But as the credits of the program rolled up the screen, my vague musings were torn asunder by my father’s uncontrollable sobbing.
And then three nights after Dad’s huge abdominal operation, I was with him until well into the morning hours. He was hooked up to a vast array of life support systems and was clearly fretting in his drug induced slumber. When he awoke, I asked him what his nightmares were about and he shook his head lightly and said "Ghastly, ghastly". For some reason I wanted to know and I pressed him. He said "Shindler’s List".
But most of the time his focus on the positive and the outward did not fail him.
Mark Raphael Baker writes about his parents (both Holocaust survivors) quoting a Yiddish lullaby his parents sing to their numerous grandchildren as they ruminate upon what their lives might have been had the holocaust not intervened to diminish them:
Sleep now child, my pretty one,
Close your dark eyes.
A little boy who has all his teeth
Still needs his mother to sing him to sleep? . . .
A little boy who will become a great scholar
And a successful businessman as well.
A little boy who’ll grow to be a bridegroom
Has soaked his bed as if he’s in a pool.
So hush-a-bye my clever little bridegroom
Meanwhile you lie wet in your cradle
Your mother will shed many a tear
Before you grow up to be a man.
And their son sings to them:
Sleep my dear parents but do not dream.
Tomorrow your children will shed your tears
Tuck in your memories in bed and say good night.
It is so sad that Dad has gone: That we’ll never be able to speak to him again. That we’ll never be able to tell him things we know he’ll find funny and be rewarded with his laughter. I’ll never be able to enjoy an episode of "Faulty Towers" or "Yes Minister" in quite the way I did when I made the trek out to Hall.
Dad leaves a gaping and incomprehensible hole in the lives of those who loved him. Like any person who has made the journey of life successfully, there is, nor will there ever be anyone quite like him. He was singularly himself. To invoke a cliche, we will not look upon his like again. And so we are filled with grief.
One last story which sums up a lot. After Dad had gone through two harrowing months of chemotherapy, he gave up Taxol and Carboplatin and was due to start on Methotrexate in a few weeks time. Mum had briefly been in bad health herself and so her friends Margie and Juddy were staying with us on the farm. I had come up from Melbourne. The house being over full, I was sleeping in the study. Dad was enjoying a stint of good health which had stretched for a month or so, and so he was showing some of his natural buoyancy.
The atmosphere had some of the crowded, festive atmosphere of an extended family turn at a holiday beach house as we crowded around the kitchen table. And it reminded me of the skiing holidays. At lunch time Hillary Webster arrived, ebullient as usual, like a benign whirlwind. She greeted each one of us heartily and gave us all hugs before turning to Dad who was sitting looking rather frail in his chair. She gave him a very special hug, and said with great emphasis. "And how are you, you lovely man." For the next twenty minutes or so, everyone, including Dad joined in the hilarity of various people, including him, modelling the truly ridiculous wig he had reluctantly agreed to purchase as a result of losing his hair.
So let me close this service by saying thanks Dad. Thanks for everything. Thanks for your fun, your laughter, your affection. Thanks for believing in what you did and living the way you did. Thanks for keeping despair at bay, and living with the cancer that came stalking you for as long as you could bear it.
And thank you to those who have come today.
To end this service I thought the best music to celebrate his life was music which he himself loved, and which captures his ebullient civility. The Blue Danube.
Farewell to a lovely man.
Postcript: A great deal of effort was expended to ensure that the song ‘Tis the gift to be simple’ could be played over the University House public address system - so much effort in fact, that no backup means of playing the recording was brought to the service. The rendition was the title track of Yvonne Kenny’s ‘Simple Gifts’ which I had given Dad as a birthday present a few years before. Dad loved it so much that it almost displaced Strauss waltzes on his car cassette on his many trips between the office and the farm in his car.
As might have been predicted, there was a technical problem and the track could not be played. Having quoted some hundreds of dollars to do the service, the sound engineer, got word to me of the complete failure of the system some three minutes before his services were required! To my extreme chagrin, the best I could do was read the text of the song to the audience. The next morning an uncanny re-run of the scene I sketched at the end of my speech was played out before my eyes. Mum, Margie and Juddy were all there along with others around a crowded kitchen table. And then Hilary Webster arrived. Quite agitated, she exclaimed "Were you listening to ABC FM". None of us had. But that morning they had played Yvonne Kenny’s rendition of ‘Tis the gift to be simple’. NG
Ann and the two boys—we all think that Fred was special. We all think that Fred put his mark upon us and that Fred will be with us until our turn comes.
I thank the boys for telling us about the family. Apart from the cattle, Fred didn’t talk to me much about his family. I always saw the optimism. Always. When he told me about the cancer, I had been through difficult times and I wanted to talk about it. But Fred was just like you said. He would talk about it for forty seconds, and move on to something else. Something boring, like economics or economic policy. He really was extraordinary in that positiveness and that something—I used the word role model earlier—that something which you know if we could all capture that in our lives, our lives would be so much easier for us.
So we will now go to the garden. Have something to eat, something to drink. Mix with Fred’s friends and think good thoughts.
Thank you very much.