Keeping Them Honest: The case for a genuine national integrity commission and other vital democratic reforms by Stephen Charles and Catherine Williams
One of the most important pieces of public interest journalism in recent times, and one with direct relevance to Australia, was written from a prison camp east of Moscow in 2021 by Russia’s de facto opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, incarcerated by the Putin government after its failed assassination attempt on him (Guardian, 20 August 2021). During his imprisonment, Navalny had identified a pattern in the memoirs of world leaders. Integrity was never mentioned in their accounts of ‘big agenda’ policy successes, only failures. The argument that pervasive corruption in the government of Afghanistan explained the failure of Western intervention there is one example. Navalny said the pattern invited an obvious question.
Earlier this year, Ray Hadley was interviewing Scott Morrison on 2GB when the subject turned to the internal preselection battles of the Liberal Party in New South Wales. ‘And so it’s time for those who, you know, don’t do this for a living, to really allow those who really need to get on for the sake of the Australian people here,’ Morrison declared, none too coherently.
Bedtime Story by Chloe Hooper
A father sits on a couch that is set between the beds of his young sons, who must be eased into sleep with a story. The scene is illuminated by a lamp in the shape of the globe, which is as it should be, for he shows them his world through the simple patterns of these stories: his cherishing of the natural world; his insight into happy reversals of fortune; his humour. The father’s stories are spellbinding, reassuring the children and also their mother, who tells herself that no harm can come to this man in the middle of a tale. She is reminded of the old motif from the Thousand and One Nights, where the storyteller wards off death with a gripping narration.
On Helen Garner: Writers on writers by Sean O’Beirne
Oh, how I detest tiny books – those cutesy little hardbacks that are sold next to the novelty bookmarks and greeting cards. 101 Reasons Why Dogs/Cats Are Better Than Cats/Dogs; Inspo quotes for Insta feminists; The Pocket Marcus Aurelias (for the stoic on-the-go); The Pocket Tarot (for the soothsayer on-the-go); The Tao of Something. They are the literary equivalent of supermarket checkout chocolates – sugar-fix books. Stocking stuffers. Gag gifts. Op-shop cloggers. Toilet-floor lint collectors.
Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson
Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series (1949–63) was my induction into crime reading. I was smitten with the secret society of children who set out to solve mysteries and right wrongs despite adults’ disbelief and objections. As a teen, I graduated to Agatha Christie and Arthur Upfield (in the 1970s, we were still unaware how offensive his depiction of Detective Inspector Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte was to Aboriginal Australians). Later, came writers of the hard-boiled school – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes – and others, like Georges Simenon and James Ellroy, who extended or subverted the conventions of the genre.
Australian Deserts: Ecology and landscapes by Steve Morton
Ecologist Steve Morton’s new book opens with a telling anecdote: as a young scientist in Alice Springs, he often advised visiting film crews about promising locations for their nature documentaries. When one group returned after a week in the desert, they reported back on a single hitch in an otherwise successful trip – a lack of wind-blown sand dunes. To fix this problem they cleared spinifex off a dune, creating a large expanse of bare sand, the illusion enhanced by accommodating morning winds.
Chloe Hooper is the author of The Arsonist: A mind on fire and The Tall Man: Death and life on Palm Island and two novels, A Child’s Book of True Crime and The Engagement. Her most recent book is Bedtime Story.
On the first day of March this year, Scott Morrison declared his commitment to democratic principles. ‘My government will never be backward when it comes to standing up for Australia’s national interests and standing up for liberal democracy in today’s world,’ the prime minister told reporters. ‘We can’t be absent when it comes to standing up for those important principles.’ It was a deeply hypocritical statement from a leader who has overseen raids on journalists, the prosecution of whistleblowers, and the degradation of transparency mechanisms at the heart of our democracy. Standing up for important democratic principles is just about the opposite of what the Morrison government has done, domestically at least, in recent years. The secrecy-shrouded prosecution of Bernard Collaery makes that abundantly clear.
In 1976, the Australian government signed an agreement with one of the leading universities in the world, Harvard, to fund a visiting professorial position in Australian Studies. Originally conceived by the government of Gough Whitlam, the gift of US$1 million was a token of Australian goodwill to the United States on the bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution. Its purpose was to promote increased awareness and understanding of Australia by supporting teaching, research, and publication.
Poetry and Bondage: A history and theory of lyric constraint by Andrea Brady
Andrea Brady’s monumental study of poetry and constraint focuses on ‘the ways that poets invoke bondage as metaphor while effacing the actuality of bondage’. Milton’s aspiration to deliver poetry from ‘the modern bondage of rhyming’, and Blake’s injunction that ‘poetry fetter’d, fetters the human race’, associate formal freedoms with political liberation. The modernist discovery of free verse was quickly followed by a formalist reaction in the 1940s, which was in turn displaced by renewed experimentation over the following decades.
The Party: The Communist Party of Australia from heyday to reckoning by Stuart Macintyre
Stuart Macintyre was in a league of his own as a historian of communism. That’s not just a comment on his status as a historian of the Communist Party of Australia, whose first volume, The Reds (1999), took the party from its origins in 1920 to brief illegality at the beginning of World War II, and whose second, The Party, covering the period from the 1940s to the end of the 1960s, now appears posthumously. It applies equally to his stature in the international field of the history of communism. There are plenty of Cold War histories of the communist movement, written from outside in severely judgemental mode. There are also laudatory histories, written from within. But when The Reds appeared, it was, to my knowledge, the first history of a communist party anywhere that succeeded in normalising it as a historical topic, that is, writing neither in a spirit of accusation or exculpation but with critical detachment and scrupulous regard for evidence and its contradictions.