Since its publication in 1998, Raimond Gaita’s memoir, Romulus, My Father, has received international acclaim and has established itself as one of the classics of autobiographical writing in Australia. One reason for this is the fact that the book can be read as an account of
the way the key ideas in Gaita’s philosophy, especially his moral philosophy, developed in and through the central relationships of his childhood and adolescence which was spent in the 1950s and 1960s near the small township of Baringhup in central Victoria – the relationships with his father and mother and his father’s friend, Hora, with the animals with whom he and his father shared their lives, and with the countryside around Baringhup, with its ‘rounded hills’ and its ‘granite boulders as rounded as the hills on which they lie’ (Gaita 1998: 12). It was from the conversations between Hora and his father, for example,
that Gaita learnt ‘the connection between individuality and character and the connection between these and the possibility of “having something to say”, of seeing another person as being fully and distinctively another perspective on the world’ (Gaita 1998: 73). From his experiences in the countryside, with their ‘primitive hills’ and the
surfaces of the unsealed roads ‘looking as though they had been especially dusted to match the high summer-coloured grasses’, he gained a sense of the ‘transcendent natural beauty’ of the world (Gaita 1998: 61, 62). From his father, Romulus, he learnt the value of human work and the
intrinsic value of the honesty associated with it. Romulus was a practical genius with metals who worked ‘at great speed, able to cut steel by sight to within a millimetre, yet everything was perfectly made’ (Gaita 1998: 98). If there was a fault in his work, even if it was a fault in the materials or the fault of one of his workmen, Romulus ‘took immediate and full responsibility’. Yet he did not do so for utilitarian reasons:
He accepted responsibility because he believed that it was the duty of an honest person to do so. It was inconceivable to him that he should do so, because … it would rebound on him if he did not – as inconceivable as that he should be truthful for similar reasons. He regarded such
prudential justiﬁcations – that honesty pays, for example – as shabby. The refusal of such justiﬁcations was for him and Hora the mark of our humanity.