There is a constant stream of conflict in Frank Hardy’s part history, part fiction ‘Power Without Glory’. This is a story of a man, John West, and of a town turning into a city, a colony turning into a state and a nation. He is an everyman, more Victorian than Australia, he rebuts the ideals that are often misrepresented in the history of the colonial period: this is not the man of the bush, this is not the bronzed Aussie or even the tragi-hero of the ANZAC. Hardy’s Australia is no white mans utopia. Instead the conflict that appeals is seen in every facet of social and cultural life.
He would confess only trivial transgressions: impure thoughts, swearing,missing Mass and eating meat on Friday. He never confessed of his bribery, his violence, or his business trickery; somehow he could not view these things as sins.
Beginning in the depression of the 1890’s, the immediate impression of West is one of mere circumstances. He needs a way to make money, having been laid off from the shoe factory. Sometimes Hardy goes into such detail about the inner workings of the first tote that the human element is lost. The mood of the clear and reflective prose matches the historical or social situation. With the improvements in the economy, with the easing of strikes and social unease, West’s plans for wealth, influence and to place enough space between himself and poverty is told without arrogance.
The controversial background to Hardy’s publication could hide the quality of the story. You can find plenty of information on the basis of Hardy’s characters elsewhere. Instead, look into the story. The use of ‘real’ characters as the models for fiction allows Hardy space for the irony surrounding the last colonial period and the historical events that are the backdrop to the West character. European Australia was founded with crime and conflict, with men that revered crime and conflict. The conflict between the classes- something often glossed over in the myth making of an egalitarian Australia- is matched between the political and religious conflict. West wants to consolidate his influence. The Labor party is his machine, the Catholic church, when needed is respected. This is central to the saga: the conflict is personal, about class, religious and political. In the turbulence comes a man made to weld influence.
Power becomes more mighty and satisfying when exercised by remote control. He did not want glory, he wanted power- power without glory.
Like Australian history, West is a contradiction. A family man, a recruit for World War One who never fires a weapon and is never fired upon, a man who makes money from the poor, a man in mansion. He is at once a family man and a manipulator. The ultimate irony being that his children regress from the family business and regret his actions. Many of us, having gained from the original illegal dispossession of the land have much to learn from Hardy’s historical saga.