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Frank Bongiorno

Frank Bongiorno

Frank Bongiorno is Professor of History at the Australian National University and is President of the Australian Historical Association. His recent publications include Dreamers and Schemers: A political history of Australia (La Trobe University Press, 2022) and The Eighties: The decade that transformed Australia (Black Inc., 2015) and he is co-editor, with Benjamin T. Jones and John Uhr, of Elections Matter: Ten federal elections that shaped Australia (Monash University Publishing, 2018). The second and updated edition of A Little History of the Australian Labor Party, written with Nick Dyrenfurth, is published by UNSW Press on 1 May 2024.

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'Factory 19' by Dennis Glover

January–February 2021, no. 428 17 December 2020
In the mid-1990s, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade paid me to research the year 1948. Although a little narrowly conceived for my liking, it wasn’t a bad job for a recently graduated PhD in history. I lasted a year. Most days I would head to the National Archives of Australia, then nestled among the panel beaters and porn shops of a Canberra industrial estate. My task was to work thro ... (read more)

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'Watsonia: A writing life' by Don Watson

December 2020, no. 427 25 November 2020
In the frantic days after the recent US presidential election, Donald Trump’s team – led by his attorney Rudy Giuliani – held a media conference in a suburban Philadelphia carpark. The establishment that formed the backdrop to this unusual performance is called Four Seasons Total Landscaping. Neighbouring businesses included a crematorium and an adult entertainment store (soon translated on ... (read more)

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'Becoming John Curtin and James Scullin: The making of the modern Labor Party' by Liam Byrne

June–July 2020, no. 422 26 May 2020
John Curtin and James Scullin occupy very different places in whatever collective memory Australians have of their prime ministers. On the occasions that rankings of prime ministers have been published, Curtin invariably appears at or near the top. When researchers at Monash University in 2010 produced such a ranking based on a survey of historians and political scientists, Curtin led the pack, wi ... (read more)

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia got compulsory voting' by Judith Brett

May 2019, no. 411 18 April 2019
In July 1924, a Tasmanian senator from the conservative Nationalist Party, Herbert Payne, introduced a bill to bring about compulsory voting in Australian national elections. His proposal aroused little discussion. Debate in both the Senate and the House of Representatives – where another forgotten politician, Edward Mann, saw the measure through – was brief. Few spoke in opposition. The House ... (read more)

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'City Life: The new urban Australia' by Seamus O’Hanlon

October 2018, no. 405 25 September 2018
Afew years ago, while taking a tram through Melbourne’s inner-northern suburbs, I decided to visit the Northcote factory – an industrial laundry – where my father worked as a storeman between 1973 and 1982. Or rather, I thought I’d check to see whether the business was still there, for I hadn’t been anywhere near the place in the more than thirty years since his death. ... (read more)

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'The Pivot of Power: Australian prime ministers and political leadership 1949–2016' by Paul Strangio, Paul ‘t Hart, and James Walter

January–February 2018, no. 398 19 December 2017
Has the Australian prime minister’s job become impossible? The authors of The Pivot of Power: Australian prime ministers and political leadership 1949–2016 ask this question at the very end of their book. They conclude on an almost utopian note, one rather out of keeping with the otherwise judicious tone maintained over 300 pages: ‘a new dawn will arrive’. Sadly, the optimism of Paul Stra ... (read more)

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'The Dismissal Dossier: Everything you were never meant to know about November 1975' by Jenny Hocking

December 2017, no. 397 23 November 2017
Paul Keating claims that he wanted to arrest John Kerr. There were perhaps two points at which Kerr might justly have been taken into custody. There was the critical moment just after he handed Gough Whitlam the letter sacking him. Margaret Whitlam wondered why her husband had not simply slapped Kerr across the face ‘and told him to pull himself together’. But if you are one of the dwindling b ... (read more)

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'Fear of Abandonment: Australia in the world since 1942' by Allan Gyngell

May 2017, no. 391 27 April 2017
In 2004 the Indonesian foreign minister, Nur Hassan Wirajuda, learned that Australia had established a 1000-mile maritime exclusion zone as part of its asylum-seeker policy. It had not consulted Jakarta. ‘You are blessed with a country that is rich in ideas and initiatives, declared Wirajuda. ‘Unfortunately, we seem to be on the receiving end of most of them.’ Allan Gyngell’s new history ... (read more)

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'Battleground' by Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen

March 2016, no. 379 23 February 2016
The Abbott era already seems a far-off time of jihad on the ABC and the Human Rights Commission, death cults, three-word slogans, celebratory cigars, royal knighthoods, raw onions, and helicopter jaunts. To be reminded of it is to relive the 'tawdry nightmare – a male buddy film of singular fatuousness', to borrow Pankaj Mishra's dismissal of the West's post-Cold War political élite. Mishra cou ... (read more)

Frank Bongiorno reviews 'Trendyville' by Renate Howe, David Nichols, and Graeme Davison

June-July 2015, no. 372 29 May 2015
In the Melbourne suburb where I spent my childhood, a café was a place where ethnic men played cards and backgammon, puffed on cigarettes, and looked up from time to time to watch through the window the passing parade on the footpath outside. Now, when I return to Northcote, I am often served in hip cafés by boyish men with Ned Kelly beards and stylishly informal young women who call me ‘mate ... (read more)
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