Manning Clark never claimed to be the definitive historian. His six-volume History of Australia draws its authority and popularity as much from the author’s ability to interpret events and provide them with an emotional, political and human context as it does from the mere recounting of historic detail.

Clark’s history is no dull record of names set against action, set against dates; it is the narrative of a forming nation.

So while the controversy sparked by biographer Mark McKenna’s revelation of Clark’s imperfect recollections of the 1938 Kristallnacht will confirm in some the deep sense that Clark was flawed, emotive and capable of manipulating facts to suit a broader agenda, it will confirm for others that the important story is the broad sweep of history in which events deprived of context and consequence tell only a fraction of the full story.

”I saw the fruits of evil, of human evil on the streets,” Clark said in 1987. His recall was accurate, even if he wasn’t there to see it first hand.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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