Who’s who?

I am reading a book on Australian history, and one passage is about Harold Holt, the prime minister of Australia from 1966 to 1967. In one of the more bizarre incidents of Australian history, he disappeared and presumably drowned while swimming at a remote surf beach near Melbourne (though alternative suggestions exist). The book says that his memorial service “drew a crowd of foreign dignitaries such as had not before assembled at an Australian ceremony”, including “the president of the United States … the prime minister of Britain, Harold Wilson … the heir to the British throne, the young Prince Charles … the presidents of the Philippines, South Korea and South Vietnam and the young prime minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore”.

Especially when writing for an unknown and presumably diverse readership, we can give someone’s title, or name, or both.*) 21st-century readers may need to be reminded who the British and Singaporean prime ministers at the time were, but probably don’t need to be reminded that Prince Charles was the heir to the throne (and still is!). The four presidents are not named, though US president Lyndon Johnson was named on the previous page (Holt famously promised that he was “all the way with LBJ”). The other three were Ferdinand Marcos, Park Chung Hee and Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. I had to look up when Marcos came to power, I knew Park was president then and I didn’t know anything about the presidents of South Vietnam, but the fact that his name was Nguyen isn’t surprising. Because of my direct involvement with South Korea, I know at least something about most of the presidents. I could name Quezon, Marcos, Aquino and Duterte of the Philippines and I couldn’t even name the current president of Vietnam. (It is always good to be able to give examples from students’ home countries.)

I can’t find any other references to Marcos’s, Park’s and Nguyen’s visit to Australia, but Park, his wife and daughter Park Geun-Hye (then 16) visited in September 1968. Note that by 1967, international communications and travel had developed to the point where international dignitaries could visit Australia within five days (he disappeared on 17 December and his memorial service was on the 22nd).

Holt was from south-eastern suburban Melbourne, and his electorate included the suburb where our grandparents lived and our mother grew up (none of them mentioned having met him at any local event). Either obliviously or with some Australian sense of humour, whoever made the decision decided that a swimming pool should be named after a prime minister who drowned. Our grandparents and/or parents took us there occasionally.

* PS: this is something I think about when I wrote posts for this blog. Some of you know more or less about Australia, South Korea, linguistics and/or other subjects I write about, some are long-term readers and others have come here as a once-off after an online search. If you know who or what or where someone, something or some place is, you can can always search online.

PPS: I knew I’d posted about the Korea Herald online over-explaining things for its readership who are almost certainly at least moderately familiar with South Korea.

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One thought on “Who’s who?

  1. This practice remnds me of something one can observe frequently on news interviews, where the interviewee mentions someone by a single name and the interviewer quickly interjects with the full name and title of the person being referenced, so that the audience is sure to know who is being referred to. Sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes not, but it’s good to know the interviewer is making the effort.

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