Not For The Faint Hearted: A Personal Reflection on Life, Politics and Purpfose 1957-2007

By Kevin Rudd

  • Pan Macmillan Australia 2017
  • ISBN:   9781743534830
  • RRP $44.99 (hb)

Reviewed by Malcolm Kerr

Do we need to read about Kevin Rudd?

The title of Kevin Rudd’s book should be a warning to would-be readers. This is volume one of Rudd’s autobiography. It takes us from his birth to his election as Prime Minister in 2007. Volume two is nearing completion.

Whether Rudd is larger than life is arguable. It is indisputable that volume one is a very large book. In fact, when volume two is released Rudd will still be a relatively young man with more adventures ahead.

Rudd was born in 1957 to a poor Queensland farming family. His father was a Country Party member but his mother supported the Democratic Labor Party, formed after the Labor split.

There was no risk of Rudd being a dual citizen.

An ancestor, Thomas Rudd, came out on the First Fleet as a convict. Like Kevin Rudd, Thomas Rudd made a comeback.

Thomas Rudd, after serving his sentence, returned to England only once again to offend, be convicted and transported back to Sydney. Happily, he ultimately became Thomas Rudd “Esquire” and attained middle class respectability. It would be nearly two centuries later before a Rudd family member would better his upward social mobility.

Rudd’s childhood was marked by poverty, serious illness as well as a distant and angry father. Much of his anger was expressed by abusing Rudd’s mother. Rudd has never forgiven his father for the misery he caused his family. In spite of these challenging circumstances, his mother’s love and sacrifice inspired him to work hard for a better life.

School work was a joy to Rudd. However, his enthusiasm for sport was not accompanied by ability. It was at school he discovered a love of drama. Obviously a love that would never leave him, given his propensity to create it throughout his public life.

During high school, Rudd was attracted to the Labor Party after learning of then opposition leader Gough Whitlam’s visit to China. That visit and Mao’s Little Red Book were the beginning of a deep interest in all things Chinese.

To his credit, Rudd did not enter politics through the familiar ALP pathways as a political staffer or union official. After leaving high school he took a number of menial jobs, even enduring a period of unemployment. This qualified him to be a community delegate to a National Youth Conference on Employment convened by the Fraser government.

Following the conference, there was a visit to the Lodge and a meeting with Malcolm Fraser. Thirty years later, Rudd was to return to live in the Lodge.

Rudd became a Christian in his teens. He gives a thoughtful account of his conversion and the nature of his faith. Although, as the rest of the book makes clear, it would be unwise for enemies such as Mark Latham to hold their breath waiting for him to practise forgiveness.

Rudd attended the Australian National University studying Chinese civilisation and learning Mandarin. There he met the love of his life, his now wife Therese Rein.

After university, Rudd became a junior Australian diplomat in Sweden and then China. He left the Diplomatic Service to stand for the Queensland federal seat of Griffith. Having lost, he became the Director General of the Cabinet Office in the Queensland government of Wayne Goss. He recontested and won Griffith in the 1998 election.

Rudd’s relationship with the Australian Labor Party is not one of the great love stories of the century. The then National Secretary of the party, Gary Gray, together with staff, cheered long, loud and publicly when he lost in 1996, so Rudd recalls. He describes the Labor Party as “a perverse beast standing for some of the noble aspirations of humankind while happily cannibalising its own”.

The book tells of Rudd’s life in parliament and his eventual seizure of the party leadership from Kim Beazley. This was made possible by an alliance with the Left’s Julia Gillard, who then became his deputy.

Rudd writes well, and at times with a wry humour. The book is enlivened by a number of acute pen portraits of colleagues and opponents.

Do we need to read about Kevin Rudd? Well, for those interested in federal politics, it provides a wealth of detail while remaining entertaining. It is an insider’s account, which provides access to the internal workings of the Labor Party and its ascent to power in 2007.

Those interested in the science of elections will find the chapter on the 2007 election especially interesting. It was a brilliant campaign. However, readers will be surprised to learn that Rudd came close to vetoing the “Kevin ‘07” slogan. He told National Secretary Tim Gartrell, “I lived in China. I know what the cult of personality looks like. I don’t like it.”

In volume one, Julia Gillard remains the loyal, helpful deputy. Although Beazley had warned Rudd she was “toxic”; no doubt in volume two the “real Julia” will emerge.

Finally, Rudd may have underestimated the appeal of his 674-page book. Given its weight and size, its title is fair warning to the faint hearted.

Malcolm Kerr OAM was a Sydney barrister before becoming the Liberal Party Member for the NSW seat of Cronulla 1984-2011.