Robert Manne

Born 31 October 1947. Attended Camberwell High School 1960-65

Robert Manne, writer and social critic, came to Camberwell High from Canterbury State School. In 1965, the year in which he was co-editor of Prospice and top Humanities student school, Robert, matriculated with Exhibitions (first place in Victoria) in both British History and European History. He also won a General Exhibition.

Robert took an active part in school life, particularly during 1964 and 1965. He campaigned vigorously for an extension of extra-curricular activities at Camberwell High beyond the already well-established music and sporting traditions. Despite what he saw as defeatism and cynicism amongst his fellow senior students, Robert and about a dozen of his Friends wanted a Students’ Representative Council (SRC) formed to centralise student opinion and to channel suggestions to the staff, but not to replace the prefect system. He was responsible for an extensive questionnaire survey of 6th Form opinion in term 2 1965 in which he concluded, ruefully, ‘the statistics reflect predictably the attitudes of middle class suburban Camberwell’. In ‘Obituary to an Idea” (Prospice, 1965), he admitted defeat confessing that the SRC idea had ‘died a rather pathetic death’.

Robert then became a student at the University of Melbourne from where he graduated BA (Hons) in 1979, with First Class Honours in History, and was awarded a Shell Scholarship. In 1972 he completed a B.Phil at Oxford University and in 1975 was appointed Lecturer in Politics at Latrobe University. Since 1983 he has been Senior Lecturer in Politics and in 1985 was awarded the George Watson Prize for the best political essay that year, entitled ‘The Life and Times of Wilfred Burchett’, and published in Quadrant.

Although Robert was left-wing in his student days, he has since become one of Australia’s leading conservative social thinkers and admits that his views are ‘unfashionable’ (The Age, 12 January 1991). His move to the right came when he resigned from the Melbourne University Labour Club after a fellow committee member displayed a portrait of the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, in the Cafeteria. In 1977 he founded the Indo-Chinese Refugee Association and was its Victorian President for two years. His most recent political activity, in 1988-9, was to oppose the Federal Government’s retrospective war crimes legislation—the War Crimes (Amendment) Bill.

Robert was the Melbourne Herald weekly columnist on politics and society (1987-9) and is currently editor of Quadrant, for which he has written an estimated 50 articles since 1975. Other publications have appeared in Australian Society, Politics, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Journal of Contemporary History and European Studies Review.

He is the author of three books: The New Conservatism in Australia (Oxford, 1982) The Petrov Affair: Politics and Influence (Pergamon, 1987) and Agent of Influence: The Life and Times of Wilfred Burchett (Mackenzie Institute, Toronto, 1989). In 1988 Robert Manne won the Washington National Intelligence Study Center’s prize for the year’s best book in the field of intelligence by a non-American author.