Nadia Wheatley

Radicals: Remembering the Sixties by Meredith Burgmann and Nadia Wheatley

by
July 2021, no. 433

Now in their early seventies, and friends since their late-night meeting over the metaphysical poets and the leftover toast, Burgmann and Wheatley have collaborated on a collection of twenty portraits or profiles of Australian contemporaries who, like them, came of age in the late 1960s and took part in activities and demonstrations against whatever they found most oppressive. Much of this oppression was personified, directly or indirectly, in the figure of Robert Menzies, whose second stint as prime minister of Australia ran from 1949 to 1966. Burgmann and Wheatley make this point in their Introduction: ‘For a twenty-year-old Australian today, who has lived through seven Prime Ministers, it would be impossible to imagine how stultifying it was to grow up under a single one – and a patriarchal, conservative one at that.’

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When John Norman Wheatley met Nina Watkin in Germany in 1946, he would have regarded her as a lesser being on all fronts: woman to his man, forty to his forty-eight, Australian to his English, nurse to his doctor. They met as fellow employees of the United Nations Relief and ...

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‘AT NIGHT,’ wrote Charmian Clift one summer in the late 1950s on the Greek island of Hydra where she lived with her husband and children, where the harbour village had been invaded by summer tourists, where teams of local Greek matrons invaded the kitchen in relays to monitor the foreign woman’s housework and mothering techniques ...

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It is the often hapless task of the reviewer to draw together observations on the aspirations and creations of up to six people into a seamless and riveting piece of critical prose. Sometimes it is just not possible, as is the case here, when all these three books have in common is that they are picture books, and will probably be found somewhere near each other in a bookshop or library.

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‘Years ago we threw the old didacticism (dowdy morality) out of the window; it has come back in at the door wearing modern dress (smart values) and we do not even recognise it.’ John Rowe Townsend’s words, from more than a quarter of a century ago, retain a fresh ring of truthfulness. I recalled them after reading The Girl with No Name (Puffin, $8.95 pb), Pat Lowe’s first novel for children.

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We are having a Sunday picnic. It is not a cosmopolitan affair, with pâté and brie and champagne, nor even a dinky-di one, with sausages and sauce and tinnies. Simply an impromptu, let’s-get-out-of-the­house event: a jar of peanut butter, a jar of honey, a tub of marge, half a loaf of Friday’s bread and a packet of jubes.

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