“He’s actually really good at switching off!” So went the protestations of Hugh Evans’ disarmingly sweet girlfriend at the drinks and nibbles following last night’s Sir Keith Murdoch Oration at Melbourne’s State Library.
Having delivered a confident speech about the “audacity of youth”, outlining big ideas for a poverty-free, sustainable and peaceful future, few people in the room had doubts about the former Young Australian of the Year and Oaktree founder’s motivations. The real question, as Rob Hudson, Parliamentary Secretary for the Arts described it, was: “Didn’t he ever just sit in a North Melbourne terrace house and listen to Nick Cave records”?
The bi-annual Keith Murdoch oration took place at the Library’s Village Roadshow Theaterette last night, and is one of the Library’s numerous tributes to a most significant benefactor. The Dame (Elisabeth Murdoch) herself was present, accompanied by an assortment of other Murdochs. Also in attendance: Former Premier and Library Board of Victoria member, John Cain, Nancye Cain, Former Arts Minister, Mary Delahunty, a spectrum of suits and, like, six “youth” not including Hugh Evans.
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After a litany of polite beginnings — there’s still something jarring about philanthropy in an Australian accent — and a YouTube reel introducing Hugh’s significant achievements, he took the stand. Ever humble, Evans revealed his four point plan, outlined in his most recent book The Future By Us: global education and “The Australia Degree”, peacemaking and trade relations in Asia, sustainable industries and his personal raison d’etre: the eradication of extreme poverty.
It was hard to ignore the “Obama-ness” of it. Deferring to the Oration’s namesake, Hugh informed the crowd how Keith Murdoch reported British incompetences during the First World War — something Hugh attributed to the “audacity of youth” (sound familiar?). He also quoted Lincoln and told parables about work he’d been doing in AIDS-effected areas in Africa. He also quoted Obama directly twice during the speech, clearly leveraging on the President’s global youth following as an example of the kind of fervour he believes will change the world.
Following the speech, guests were ushered to the Library’s Cowen Gallery for some pretty swish drinks, nibbles and chitchat.
Up close, devastatingly, Evans was likable. When asked what practical steps could be taken to overcome the ever-powerful coal lobby, Evans suggested some form of lynch mob against Andrew Bolt. When asked whether he had any plans to change the Labor party from within (Rudd has been his mentor for four years), he abrubtly stated he didn’t care about the Labor party. “I care about the issues” he said.
Ultimately, it seemed, a lot was attributable to his Anglican background — World Vision’s Tim Costello has also mentored Evans. He’s clever, earnest and dead keen, and sadly for we cynics, Hugh Evans isn’t much to scoff at.