Bill Leadbetter: Friend of Katharine and the Arts
Bill Leadbetter is a local WA politician, teacher and an official 'Friend of Katharine'. I spoke to Bill recently about his interest in supporting the KSP Writers’ Centre, why he’s so passionate about the arts, and how Ancient History plays an important role in his creative writing.
We are happy to note that you recently became a member of the KSP Writers’ Centre. What motivated you to join?
‘I like to write. I have written creatively, principally because I had to, ever since I was a child. I have also written academic works, political commentary and speeches. I cannot imagine a life in which I was not writing something. I am a member of the Australian Writers' Guild and the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA) and when I found the KSP Writers' Centre in my own back yard, I was rather excited. Three visits connected with the election campaign only confirmed that sense of excitement. Joining seemed the logical thing to do!’
What activities, events or services offered by KSP most interest you?
‘I like the idea of the differing writers' groups. I am looking to create time in my slander to become a regular participant in one or more. Writing is a solitary activity, but it is best shared within a supportive community of writers. My model for such things is the Inklings, the group that coalesced around C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien in Oxford. Whenever I am in Oxford, I make a pilgrimage to The Eagle and Child, the pub where they met most frequently.’
Does the KSP Writers’ Centre hold any personal or cultural significance for you? Were you aware of the history of Katharine’s Place before joining?
‘I knew of Hugo Throssell and of Katharine herself and her involvement with the Communist Party. I also knew of the story of Throssell’s suicide. I was not aware until my first visit of how direct and long Prichard’s association with the house was. Nor did I know much about the history of the property itself.’
Bill Leadbetter, former Candidate for Hasluck and a member of the Friends of Katharine group
In addition to joining the Centre, you have kindly begun making significant monthly donations to support the non-profit KSP Foundation, which means you are now an official ‘Friend of Katharine’. What does this association mean to you?
‘I think that if you can help financially, you should and I am in the fortunate position of being able to do this. During the election campaign, I became aware of the situation of the KSP Centre. I resolved that if I couldn't help by winning and influencing government policy, then I would do so personally.’
Where did your interest in creative writing originate from?
‘This is a bit like asking where my interest in breathing came from. I grew up in a house full of books. My mother was an English teacher and my father was an autodidact history buff. We were all reading something. I began writing poems and stories when I was in primary school and received good encouragement at secondary school. At university, I wrote a lot of poetry, some of which was published then my creativity was channelled into my academic writing. All of these means that writing happened to me as an entirely natural product of who I am.’
We understand you’ve had several non-fiction works published. Are you working on a creative writing project at the moment? Are you planning to focus on writing fiction or non-fiction in the future?
‘I have two different larger scale projects on the go. One is a novel, which is about two-thirds finished. The other is a work of more popular history on ancient Rome. I also have an idea for a play up my sleeve which I am working on at the moment. I don't have a plan to focus on one style or another as I want to go where the ideas lead. I suppose one thing that I would note, which emerges from my own academic field, is that I find classical antiquity a rich source of inspiration as well as fascination.’
You recently ran a campaign as the Candidate for Hasluck with the Australian Labor Party. How do you find time to write with your busy political career?
‘As the campaign wore on, I found less and less time to reflect creatively. As a result, I decreasingly wrote for my benefit and wrote an increasing number of political documents, which are much less interesting and much more ephemeral.’
Funding for the local and national writing sector has suffered massive losses in the past year. Do you see this changing in the future? What do you think is the value of artistic pursuits such as writing?
‘It is difficult for me to make meaningful commentary here without sounding political, but I will try nevertheless. I have been disappointed by the disproportionate degree to which cultural and social justice organisations have had to bear the brunt of funding cuts. They are often required to do so, even though the actual savings are nugatory, because they are soft targets. Large and powerful mining companies for example, receive an annual rebate on diesel fuel worth about $3 billion. If one touches that, the business sector will scream blue murder about jobs, profitability, and share prices. So it is easier for the government to find savings by squeezing cultural organisations. I would like to see a different approach. I do not see government expenditure on such things as a cost, but as an investment in the cultural capital of the nation. The creative arts are fundamental expressions of our shared humanity and always have been. They are the most powerful mirror that we can hold up to ourselves. Up until recently, writers and other artists were either independently wealthy or enjoyed the support of patrons. Since the establishment of the ABC, the government has acted as patron and entrepreneur. Right now, however, the government has been pervaded by a philistine and cynical spirit in which arts funding can be easily dismissed as an extravagance when we have so many other demands upon the public purse. I hope that governments in future will see this as folly and develop a more sympathetic approach.’
What books, genres or authors do you most enjoy reading, and why?
‘I am a reader of eclectic tastes. I try and alternate fiction with non-fiction, which is almost invariably history. I have just tracked down and read Evelyn Waugh’s delicious novel Helena, which is about Constantine's mother. I do have a fondness for historical novels and I loved the Robert Harris trilogy of Cicero novels. I have also just read Gregory of Nyssa's biography of his sister, Saint Macrina and I am reading about the theatre of Plautus for a book chapter that I am working on. I also drive a lot so I listen to books on CD from time to time. Right now, it is Richard Fidler’s book on Byzantium, Ghost Empire. Otherwise I love poetry, theology, pulp fiction (I grew up reading H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard and I have yet to set them aside), and Silver Age Marvel comics. This may mean that I am a nerd.’
When you’re not being a politician and an established author, how do you spend your free time?
‘I cannot live without music. I am listening to Handel's Solomon at the moment and I’m a compulsive listener of ABC-FM. If you asked me to list favourite composers and pieces, it would be a very long list. I also love cooking and am the principal cook in our household. I inherited a passion for cryptic crosswords from my father, which explains why I do two or three per day. Otherwise, I am an active member of the Anglican Church, serving as a Lay Canon and Treasurer of St George's Cathedral and member of the Diocesan Council. I still teach and lecture largely on demand these days. Life's pretty full!’