Gordon Barton reviews

Book of the week – The Week (Magazine) 13/3/ 2009
Sam Everingham pulls off a rare feat in this biography of maverick Australian entrepreneur Gordon Barton, said Brian Johns in Spectrum – that of “dealing with politics, business and intellectual life with authority”. He also tells a tale of thrilling achievement and unnecessary failure …. Thanks be to Everingham for putting together “this epic tale of rise and fall while many of the players were still alive to speak”. Barton’s trajectory touched a phenomenal list of Australia’s cultural and political high-flyers, and this biography is “rich in first-hand anecdote”.

It’s easy to forget Barton’s extraordinary role in catalysing social change in Australia, said Richard Thwaites in The Canberra Times. The Australia Party was an effective third force in Australian national politics, breaking the two-party political cartel. Without it, Whitlam may not have risen to power in 1972. The entrepreneur also bankrolled the Sunday Observer, then the Sunday Review, then the Nation

Barton is certainly a dream subject for any biographer, said Terry Oberg in The Courier-Mail. But an ambiguous nature makes it hard to get his measure. Was he a visionary genius struck down by bad luck, or a reckless madman drunk on early success? His later business forays into Europe were disastrous and he had a tendency to make mammoth investments based on gut instinct. His bravery in standing up for his political beliefs masked a recklessness that by the end of the 1980s had cost him his fortune, health and most of his friends. The last third of the book, which chronicles the superstar entrepreneur’s slow decay is almost painful to read”. This is a compelling account of a life fraught with incident and contradiction.

He won some and he lost some – brilliantly

reviewed by Brian Johns, Sydney Morning Herald; 14/02/2009  

A man who loved politics, women and risk, Gordon Barton said what he thought when the president came to town.

“Sam Everingham’s fine biography successfully achieves that rare feat of dealing with politics, business and intellectual life with authority. It tells of thrilling achievement and unnecessary failure …

…. (Barton) said: “The thing I enjoy most about it [money] is I don’t have to think about it when I want it and I like not having to count it. I like to live without any thought to the cost of what I spend money on.”He engaged in the conspicuous consumption with which we are all too familiar – harbourside mansions, London townhouses, country estates. The story now was the story then – reckless banks meeting reckless borrowers; company executives thrashing around trapped in nets of their own making. To his bewilderment, this was the story of Barton’s own demise. Colleagues were inclined to put the extravagances down to his use of drugs and his sexual promiscuity. Everingham deals with Barton’s attitude to women, marriage and sex directly but well this side of voyeurism or sensationalism. Barton’s earlier contact with the libertarians known as the Sydney Push, as Everingham puts it succinctly, convinced him there was “no need to make your bed too early in life”. In 1974, admitting to relationships with “a large number of women”, Barton told the University of Sydney’s student newspaper Honi Soit writer Malcolm Turnbull: “I am not willing to make any compromises in the way in which I organise my private life.”

 A True Maverick

reviewed by Richard Allsop, The Spectator 27/5/ 2009

Gordon Barton’s fascinating life helps tell the Australian story, says Richard Allsop

If any one life story can tell the tale of social and economic change in Australia in the second half of the 20th century, it would be Gordon Barton’s.

Yet when he died aged 75 in April 2005, it took a while for anyone to notice. Proof of the obscurity into which Barton had faded is the fact that it was not until several months after his death that Melbourne writer Sam Everingham first heard of him. Intrigued by what he heard, Everingham decided to write a biography of Barton, the recently published Gordon Barton: Australia’s Maverick Entrepreneur, thereby progressing from complete ignorance of a subject to published biographer in three years, which must surely be some sort of record.

I have something of an advantage here, because I first heard about Barton when I was four years old. That was back in 1967, the year my father was the comparative non-entity on the ticket of the fledgling Australian Reform Movement (subsequently the Australia Party) put together to contest the half-Senate election in NSW…..

The fact that a copy of one of the ARM campaign advertisements, containing a picture of my father, is reproduced in Everingham’s book earned it a tick from me before I even started reading. Fortunately, it deserves ticks on other grounds too, chiefly for weaving Barton’s different simultaneous activities into a coherent narrative……

If anyone thinks running a major freight transport business and founding a political party were enough excitement for one lifetime, they have not read the Barton biography. Included in his curriculum vitae were building Australia’s first legal casino, at Wrest Point in Hobart, running Angus & Robertson booksellers and publishers, publishing the influential Nation Review and starting Melbourne’s first Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Observer….

Maverick’ is an overused word, but its use in Everingham’s title is certainly justified. Barton was a restless personality, always full of ideas and always challenging authority. The fact that he lived in Indonesia until the age of nine, and then lived most of his later life in Europe, may indicate a lack of deep Australian roots, an impression perhaps reinforced by his faded fame. Yet, while he was here, he certainly stirred the place up which, on balance, was probably a good thing.


Endlessly Seeking Gordon,

Reviewed by John Izzard, Quadrant (Magazine) June 2009

Sam Everingham’s book on the life of Gordon Barton is a uniquely bi-polar sort of romp through the life andtimes of what the author well describes as “Asutralia maverick entrepreneur”. Its bi-polar in the sense that the reader is never quite sure which siude of Barton’s brain (or personality) is being discussed, examined, exposed or on-sold….. A chilling paragraph is the description on Barton arguing with a manager of his trucking business about how to lift profits. Like a Roman centurion, he asked for the payroll journal and simply ordered every tenth man to be sacked. In another paragraph we find Barton fitting phony fuel tanks and filing them with water and fiding lead in the body work, so he can register a four-ton truck as weighing eight and a half tomes –thereby allowing an illegal overload of four and a half tons. To the book’s author this is “lateral thinking at its best”.

…Gordon Barton collected companies and dubious business deals the way Imelda Marcos collected shoes. It just never stops and you begin to marvel at Sam Everingham’s attempt to unravel the various Gordon Bartons that he encountered along the way….

…. At the end of Sam Everingham’s book you are no closer to the enigma of Gordon Barton, a man consumed by his fantasies of wealth creation, social justice and sharp practice (his) than you were at the beginning. Everingham’s research has been extensive. His step-by-step journey of Gordon Page Barton, from rags to riches and back again, is very exhausting … but you wouldn’t’ miss it for quids.’ 

The rise and fall of an enterprising anti-establishment buccaneer

Reviewed by RICHARD THWAITES Canberra Times 07/03/2009 

‘….Everingham is to be thanked for putting together this epic tale of rise and fall while many of the players were still alive to speak. The biography is rich in first-hand anecdote. Barton’s trajectory touched a phenomenal list of those who were to play creative and influential roles in developing the Australia of today. His obvious flaws were inseparable from his capacity to energise others and to catalyse significant change in an Australia otherwise far too inclined to doze in the sunshine.’


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