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Robert Holden, Crackpots, Ratbags and Rebels: A Swag of Aussie Eccentrics.

Robert Holden, Crackpots, Ratbags and Rebels: A swag of Aussie eccentrics, ABC Books, Sydney, 2005, 240 pp; ISBN 0 73331 541 0.

Perhaps this book's original projected title 'From Queer to Eternity' would have been a more resonant choice of title. Nevertheless Crackpots, Ratbags and Rebels is a most entertaining overview of some of Australia's most famous and not so famous eccentrics. Since Keith Dunstan's 1979 book Ratbags, no overview of Australian ratbaggery has been published, so in some ways such a study is overdue. Naturally Holden has brought his own definition of eccentric to this book, though it would be hard to take exception to the fact that in some way, large or small, all the characters who populate these pages deserve to be there. Though I was mildly taken aback to see the late Professor Manning Clark included!

Those covered include Billy Blue, Sir Henry Browne Hayes, Lola Montez, Alfred Deakin, Rosa Praed, Bee, Bea or Beatrice Miles, William Chidley, Arthur Stace (the Eternity man), Percy Grainger, Manning Clark, Olive Pink, Louis de Rougemont, Dulcie Deamer, Eve Langley, Rosaleen Norton and a host of other minor, lesser known eccentrics. As Holden reminds us, the origin of the word eccentric is from the Latin ex centrum meaning deviating from the centre and without doubt all the characters in this book are deviants.

Crackpots, Ratbags and Rebels is replete with little known facts and stories and it is obvious that the author has had a great deal of fun researching the book. Who, for example, knows that Rayner Hoff, the sculptor of Hyde Park Anzac Memorial fame, may have provided inspiration to the young Rosaleen Norton, the infamous 'witch' of Kings Cross? or that Daisy Bates was briefly married to 'Breaker' Morant? or that Percy Grainger was a regular scrounger at local council cleanups for material to construct his bizarre musical instruments?

In a final flight of fancy, at the end of the book Holden fantasises on various eccentrics meeting each other across the generations and plumps for his favourite: a mythical meeting between Percy Grainger, the self-confessed flagellate and Lola Montez of whip wielding fame! A charming flight of fancy to end this most stimulating and well-written book. It is obvious that Holden is a craftsman of words and it is doubly clear that each word is weighed and carefully chosen. I am sure Robert would have been sorry to say goodbye to this bevy of personalities when he completed this work.

Alan Ventress

Vice President RAHS
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ventress, Alan
Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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