Bob Carr is probably the most “unconventional, original
political leader” in Australia,
wrote Bernard Lagan in The Bulletin in 2002.
“Maybe the wackiest, probably the funniest, possibly the most diligent,
certainly the most widely read.” The son of a train driver, Robert John Carr was
born in Matraville NSW in 1947 and educated at the University
of New South Wales, graduating with
a Bachelor of Arts majoring in history.

He entered the NSW Legislative Assembly as ALP MP
for Maroubra in 1983, becoming Opposition Leader after Labor’s 1988 defeat.
After losing a tight election to Nick Greiner’s coalition government in 1991,
he became premier in a comfortable victory in 1995, winning comfortably
again in 1999 and 2003. Before his entry into politics, he was a journalist for
the AM program, ABC Radio and later wrote for The Bulletin.

“Books, knowledge, learning,” have taken Carr on his journey,
says Lagan, again in The Bulletin. They’ve “fed and made him” leading him out of Matraville to University,
to journalism and eventually to politics. They
were even how he met his wife, Helena, when he swam up to the pretty
Malaysian-born economics student 32 years ago and asked the name of the book
she was reading beside a pool in Tahiti.

His love of books is evidenced in his collection of speeches
and writing, Thoughtlines,
in which he analyses Marcel Proust’s epic In Search of Lost Time, recounts his
political inspiration and previews his own unfinished novel Titanic Forces. This is
the work not only of “a sharp brain, but of an enthusiasm that has kept its
youth,” says Peter Pierce
in The Sydney Morning Herald – enthusiasm for the Labor Party, for political
action and for Australia.

In politics, Carr has displayed a breadth of vision on issues
ranging from social justice, to heroin injecting rooms,
to the environment. In 2000, when the Southern Forest Agreement was pushed
through, the avid bushwalker declared the huge conservation win (that
would create a 350km corridor of national parks) was the reason “why I am in politics.” The
Carr Government also supported the Kyoto

He is also known to admire his predecessor Neville Wran – who he
displaced as the longest continuously serving premier in NSW history in
May this year – for his
decision to walk out of the job while his government was still in
office, says Lagan
thus avoiding “the very trying experience” of defeat.

Read More:Bob Carr: The Reluctant Leader, biography by Marilyn Dodkin (University of New South Wales Press, 2003) – based on Carr’s private
diaries; Bob Carr – A Self-Made Man, biography by Andrew West and Rachel Morris (Harper Collins, 2003); Bob Carr in conversation with Tom Stoppard at the 2004 Sydney Festival.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey