Herbert Badgery, the aged narrator of Illywhacker, warns his readers bluntly at the outset that “lying is my main subject, my specialty, my skill. “He is assigned, by himself and others, a variety of names from his Australian vernacular: “ratbag,” “illywhacker,” and so on. Leah Goldstein explains this last term: An illywhacker is “a spieler” she says. “A trickster. A quandong. A ripperty man. A con-man.”
Herbert’s six hundred pages of anecdote, diversion, and fabrication describe a varied and colorful rascal’s life. He is at once a nest-builder who can turn scraps into houses and an itinerant who wriggles along so quickly that even a ten-year stint in jail cannot slow him down. In a typical period of his life, he says, he wandered about Victoria “writing bad cheques when I could get hold of a book, running raffles in pubs, buying stolen petrol.” Yet he is no malicious criminal and no ordinary rascal. His disdain of legal and social restraints and his fabrications are his ennobling defense against society’s large-scale, demeaning lies that win easy, infuriating acceptance. As he says, lying is his main subject.
The lie of Australian independence is for Herbert the largest of all. It fuels his disdain for others and disappoints his vision of the rich potential in Australia’s resources. He says: “I would rather fill my history with great men and women, philosophers, scientists, intellectuals, artists,...
(The entire section is 571 words.)