Manning Clark's public celebrity, as opposed to his reputation as a historian, was partly based on the fact that he was such an unusual historian. Most of the time he seemed more interested in literature, religion and sexuality than in history. He was more likely to talk to you about Dostoyevsky than about Australian history.
As a public speaker he understood the power of unpredictability, and his speeches often seemed to be running off the rails into some inappropriate theme, before he would find a Manning-esque way to loop back to the subject in hand.
I once saw him interviewed by ABC TV News about the political situation after Malcolm Fraser had been elected prime minister. He deplored the deep antagonism between the two main parties and compared their behavior to that of two bulls in a field that have locked horns and lost interest in all else. This (potentially salacious) rural analogy seemed to be going on for some time, when Manning abruptly concluded: "And the way this ends -- I understand -- in a field -- is with the cows realising they’ll have to look elsewhere."
Manning launched most of my poetry books in the 1970s and 1980s. His speeches were always memorable and Manningish, but only this last one in 1990 happened to be preserved, by Bill Tully who recorded it for a Canberra radio station and later gave me a copy. It starts with a few seconds of off-mike mumbling, but then Manning's voice comes through clearly.
Here it is, as text, and soon, if only I can work out how to attach it (!), as an audio-file. (The link at the bottom this page may not be working.)
It contains a characteristic detour from poetry into AFL football, when he refers to "that great half-back line of Lucas, Kingston and Tuck" --which I think had last played together 32 years earlier in 1958, and not for his own AFL team.
The third reason I think why I particularly liked it was that if you follow the advice which I think we all must follow, we must become exiles. I don't mean exiles from one's own country. But you, I understand, left your native Ararat, but unlike some very distinguished people in Australia, you were able to return to a native place without sneering at it, or mocking at the locals. I'm thinking particularly of the poem you wrote about going back into the church there.
I was hoping to meet James Manson in your words and not just on the television screen and I hope one day quite seriously that some of these Godlings. will catch your eye and you will confer on them the same immortality as you have conferred on the fish of the Barrier Reef and your old parish church in Ararat.