Australian Catholic Historical Society Inc. Newsletter November 2022
Tony Abbott and the Time of Revolution, Gerard Charles Wilson, Canberra, Melbourne, 2019. Revised 2021
Once described as the ‘political-love child’ of Bronwyn Bishop and John Howard, Australia’s 28th prime minister, Tony Abbott has played a decisive and, at times, divisive role in our national politics. Gerard Charles Wilson’s political biography of Abbott’s childhood and formative years, through to the end of his tertiary studies, provides a new perspective on this idiosyncratic conservative politician, whose career in federal parliament spanned a quarter of a century and left an indelible mark on the modus operandi of the Liberal Party of Australia.
Wilson has sought to penetrate the psyche of the leading political figure through a comprehensive discussion of the social, political, and religious milestones of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s of which the author was also able to draw from personal experiences attending some of the same educational institutions and having a similar cultural upbringing. It is interesting to see how the rich academic environment of Sydney University allowed for the very different intellectual development of Abbott and his contemporaries, for example Malcolm Turnbull.
Abbott entered university from a contrasting background to figures such as Turnbull. His spiritual and intellectual formation during his childhood on the North Shore in Killara and education at St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point, and St Ignatius’ College, Riverview, provided a strong Catholic, and particularly Jesuit, framework on the role of Christianity in society. While the book covers several decades it focuses on the significant political and social change that occurred globally in the 1970s through the lens of Australia, tertiary education and particularly of the Catholic middle-class as experienced by Abbott. Abbott is quoted as saying that he was inculcated with the Jesuit philosophy of being ‘men for others’ and this led him to pursue public life, as it did many other Riverview students, such as Barnaby Joyce, Chief Justice Tom Bathurst and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.
It was this Jesuit motto that led Abbott toward the National Civic Council which was founded in the 1950s by Catholic layman and intellectual B. A. Santamaria. In conjunction with his political activism on campus as a member of the Student Representative Council and residence at St John College, the NCC and the SRC both formed Abbott for his future political life as a member of the Australian conservatives. Arguably, Abbott has become renowned for his role as a cultural warrior prepared to defend the place of Christianity at the centre of the in the public square.
For those seeking to better understand the complex nuances of Australia’s federal politics, particularly within the context of the national Liberal Party, this political biography illuminates the intellectual and social formation of Tony Abbott, and those alongside him, who were formed in these influential Catholic and social institutions of the twentieth century.