governor general john kerr the dismissal
John Kerr (Image: National Archives of Australia)

Someday I will tell you about my past involvements in both sides, Sir John Kerr writes of left and right politics in one of his absurd, toe-curling letters to a Buckingham Palace private secretary who could not care less.

It was a strange place for a strange man to wind up. From the start, he had been seen by his friends as a man who might do great things. John Robert Kerr had been born in Balmain, his father a worker and radical unionist at the Eveleigh railways works (now a failed arts venue -- symbolism will never be far away in this story).

He gained a scholarship to Fort Street High, the Sydney selective high school, and then another one to Sydney University in 1932, having topped the year. There he impressed everyone with his intellect, his drive, his force of character. He was the man who had read everything, particularly in sociology and history; Marx, Lenin, Nietzsche, Spengler, Sorel, Hegel, Pareto, the works.