Paul Begley

In 1968 or ’69, I was assigned for third or fourth year English tutorials to a visiting professor, Ernst De Chickera. From memory, I think Ernst was Sri Lankan, had come from the University of Singapore, and was likely an associate of DJ Enright.

At one tutorial, by way of indirect reprimand after looking at our modest efforts at writing about and discussing Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra, Ernst advised us that we were not doing the right thing by ourselves by being dutiful. “As a university student”, he said, “your primary obligation is to be irresponsible. You have the rest of your lives to be responsible if you choose to be so, but this is the time for irresponsibility. Use that time well.”

Just prior to hearing the professor’s words of wisdom, as they were, I recall participating as a non-speaker at one of the anti-imperialist lunch meetings on the lawns of Glenn College. Our self-appointed leaders spoke through megaphones, and I seem to recall they spoke from the Glenn balcony over the other side of the moat. One radical proposition they advanced caused some murmuring among us thronging masses, so they called for a division on the lawns in place of the usual show of hands. A good deal of shuffling ensued after which the nays could be seen to be in a considerable majority of roughly 3 to 1. Undeterred, our masters with the megaphones declared that ‘yays’ had won the vote and moved to the next matter. Our only protest at the flagrant calling of the numbers was expressed in open laughter and shaking of amused heads.

I wondered later in hindsight whether our leaders had been given advice by Ernst De Chickera, but decided they didn’t need it. They had learnt that lesson well before I did. When I heard the media spokesman of the new president of the United States calling the numbers at the Donald Trump inauguration of 20 January 2017 as the largest ever to witness an inauguration, I straight away remembered that day at La Trobe, and also wondered what advice Trump might ever have been given as a young man that would lead him to embark upon such an effortlessly falsifiable degree of self-delusion.