Writers are role models for the creative citizen 

Dr David Headon was a guest speaker at the recent Creative Citizenship symposium held in Alice Springs

Five Australian writers best exemplify the notion of the socially committed citizen, literary lecturer and cultural commentator Dr David Headon told the Creative Citizenship symposium.

Dr Headon selected Patrick White, Dorothy Green, Bruce Dawe, Judith Wright and Kevin Gilbert as writers who truly deserved the accolade of the creative citizen.

“All share an acute sense of social responsibility as a prerequisite to their art and maintained a combative stance in their writing, some of them becoming even more politically radical later in life,” he said.

“They variously redefined the courage, wisdom, resilience and vision needed to become the truly creative citizen,” he said.

All lived into the 1990s (poet Bruce Dawe is still living) to become role models for social and political involvement in a post-modern, post September 11 world, he suggested.

“At a time of conspicuous social disengagement we need more than ever to draw lessons and derive inspiration from these major cultural figures, all of whom took their citizenship very seriously.

“Sadly, for the time being at least, their determination to lead by example with their searching, socially committed art has been lost by an Australian community apparently preoccupied with terror, taxes and the circuses of reality television.”

Dr Headon said that Patrick White, as Australia’s most famous international novelist, was an example of the reclusive writer who was finally forced to ‘come out’ as an activist in the latter part of his career.

White was over 60 when dragged into the public realm of concerned citizen over issues such as conservation in his Sydney suburb, homosexuality, Indigenous rights and nuclear proliferation.

“He consciously and carefully chose to reinvent himself as a discomfiting prophet in the 1970s and 80s.”

Dr Headon quotes Dorothy Green on White: “As novelist and citizen White is the voice of our country’s conscience. He begs us to search our heart.”

Continued Dr Headon: “He does that in works that trenchantly critique Australian values in a world gone commercial—to what White called ‘gone to money and concrete’.”

Salvation, concludes Dr Headon, lies in the quiet resolve and moral register of the ordinary citizen, steeled like White himself, to make a difference.