Pluto Press

There has been a concerted effort in the academy over three decades to argue that Aboriginal women were not oppressed by their men. How many times have I read of the autonomy women secured by being the chief food-gatherers, both for themselves and the men? On this basis the peasants in medieval Europe were the equal of their lords. Louis Nowra’s essay on the violence of Aboriginal men to their women is not the first to break the taboo over this subject; it may be, however, that his gruesome accounts will send the taboo into its death throes. He begins with an Aboriginal man boasting of rape, and proceeds through gang rape to sticks being used to enlarge vaginas.

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A reviewer’s summary of this book’s first theme could be accused of political prejudice. That is one good reason for preferring its author’s summary:

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As bookshops and bestseller lists fill up with new biographies about celebrities, criminals, tycoons, and sporting heroes, Pluto Press has come out with the story of a small, fat, generally unheard-of priest, Monsignor Martinho da Costa Lopes. Unlike the mega-books it fails completely to surprise us with the sexual preferences of the famous or inform us how to make a million dollars over lunch. Its subject, Dom Martinho, is free of such ordeals as poorly executed facelifts, nosy tax officers or greedy agents. His main concerns are cruder – how to stay alive and to help others stay alive when faced with the brutality of an oppressive, harsh regime.

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McKenzie Wark had the good fortune to ensconce himself in media studies just when those who once would have busied themselves with Stendhal or John Tranter began to envy his terrain. And his various journalistic gigs, notably his column for The Australian Higher Education Supplement, give him the advantage over other academics of being able to cobble together a book every year or two. Or, as he puts it, ‘Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace is a book that was written in its own peculiar way, as a series of experiments with fitting events and ideas together, conducted in public, through a wide variety of print and electronic media.’

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The cover story of the first issue of The Australian’s new coloured magazine was of five people who had made a million dollars in their twenties. These young people’s achievements were presented for us to admire and to envy. Nowhere in the interviews with them was it suggested that people might be motivated by different values from the ones that drive these lives.

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‘There are not many Australian academics whose conversation shows awareness of the main intellectual dilemmas of the age. (These are nobody’s specialty.)’ So wrote Donald Horne in The Lucky Country, yet Horne, variously academic, editor, journalist, writer, administrator, and Chair of the Australia Council, in his writing himself might be seen as a happy exception to his rule. His latest book, The Public Culture: The triumph of industrialism, continues in the tradition he established previously not only of demonstrating an awareness of intellectual and political dilemmas, but of making these the chief focus of his scholarship.

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