Australia’s narcissist expat show-off industry has been productive of late, with both Robert Hughes and Clive James recently releasing memoirs.

Hughes got in first with an extract of his memoir, Things I Didn’t Know, published by The Times in August under the heading “The Curse of Free Love”. It painted a vivid picture of his open first marriage to Danne Patricia Emerson and concluded:

She died in Australia in 2003, at 60, of a brain tumour. She was enormously fat from the aftermath of a prolonged cocaine addiction from which her lesbian girlfriend had struggled, on the whole successfully, to free her…

I do not miss Danne at all.

Although nasty, Hughes’ pained and often bewildered descriptions of his failing free-love relationship in the swinging sixties seemed to provide a convincing account of a moment in history. But can we trust him as a narrator?

Like his colleague James, Hughes now stands accused of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. In today’s Financial Review (print only), Gerard Windsor takes him to task thus:

Inaccuracies there were, by the bucketful. Hughes is of the “never let the facts get in the way of a good story school”. I was always fond of his mention of the superannuated shark surviving in the upper reaches of the Lane Cove River which got away with “the left leg and scrotum of a Mudgee grazier’s son”. But the shark and the body parts… have not survived into the 2006 rendering of his life. Other fantasies have taken their place.

Pointing out inaccuracies can be a petty exercise, but in the case of Hughes, and particularly of Things I Didn’t Know, their pervasiveness is significant.

Windsor goes on to list the alleged inventions and exaggerations in excruciating detail. If Windsor is right it’s yet another reminder that if you read something which seems too fantastic to be true that’s because it probably is. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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