Ross Fitzgerald

Some locations are perfect for reading particular books; those that foster an extra connection to history as lived by the protagonists. Now that the labyrinthine corridors of Old Parliament House have been opened to all, climb the rickety staircase to the press gallery, Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt’s book in hand, to reach the cramped den of power of their vulpine subject. Among the evocatively recreated rooms and the very pipework of the building that, we learn, literally leakedthe scoops from the House of Representatives below, the cigarette-addled voice of ‘The Red Fox’ still crackles out alongside the recorded clang of typed keys. Alan Reid, journalist, author, and political communications spin doctor before the term was even invented, died the year prior to Parliament’s move up the hill. But the old building’s new title as ‘The Museum of Democracy’ fittingly stamps the need to focus attention back on one wily fox, who ran free but unelected at the heart of the democratic process, and who has until now escaped scholarly assessment.

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The intriguing story of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party began the day before the first Federal Parliament convened in Melbourne on 9 May 1901. At 11 a.m. on 8 May 1901, Labor’s twenty-two federal parliamentarians met in a stuffy basement room in Victoria’s Parliament House. This historic first Federal Caucus was chaired by Queensland Senator Anderson Dawson who from 1 to7 December 1899, as premier of Queensland, had led the first Labor government in the world.

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Partners edited by Ross Fitzgerald and Anne Henderson

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July 1999, no. 212

In Partners, the unstated question is how relationships can last if they are equal – that is if they are free as well as binding. There’s a suggestion that it was easier in the old hetero-patriarchal marriages where our parents accepted inequality and could turn to authority, within and outside the relationship, to see that it lasted. Not that most of the contributors address the question directly. But in the background, there’s the cheerful assumption that getting into partnership, not into marriage, we’re getting into equality as well – an assumption that’s not borne out by the stories we’re told in the book. Maybe we are freer (at least from outside interference) and more equal than we were; but almost every partnership here turns on, is said to turn on, unequal devotion, one partner devoted, the other devotee.

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The fascinating remembrance of the first two decades of the Communist Party of Australia is the first general history of Australian communism since Alastair Davidson’s The Communist Party of Australia: A short history appeared in 1969. Stuart Macintyre’s The Reds is both erudite and, as befits a former CPA member of Presbyterian background, is infused with moral vision.

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Remarkably to some, this cultural history of the drafting of the Australian constitution is an exciting and triumphant book. Helen Irving manages to fill in adroitly the blank pages of our constitution as a cultural artefact and to celebrate the complicated processes whereby Australia became a nation on the first day of the new century.

To actually write the framework for a nation by agreement indeed represents a concentrated act of the imagination. Moreover, it demonstrated, in the closing years of the nineteenth century, a profound optimism in this country’s future. As Irving rightly argues, the nation of Australia itself was the product not of external pressure or crisis, nor due to any religious or ethnic imperatives, but was created in a time of peace. This achievement, and the codification of our national powers and institutions, despite their obvious limitations, rightly deserves celebration.

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On the day of the last Federal election, I became engaged in an unlikely conversation with a helper for the ‘Call-to-Australia’ cause at my local polling booth. When I revealed that I had recently completed a research project on Dr H.V. Evatt, my elderly companion asserted that Evatt should not be hailed as the hero of the labour movement. Australia’s greatest politician, this former member of the Australian Labor Party informed me, was ‘Edward Granville Theodore’.

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Would it surprise you to know that a number of our well-known writers write to please themselves? Probably not. If there’s no pleasure, or challenge, or stimulus, the outcome would probably not be worth the effort. If this effort is writing, it seems especially unlikely that someone would engage in the activity without enjoying the chance to be their own audience.

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Neither a conventional biography nor an autobiography, Billy Snedden is a story told in two quite distinct and authentic voices. There is that of the late Sir Billy Snedden, Liberal Party leader from 1972 to 1975, and Dr Bernie Schedvin, lecturer in politics at La Trobe University.

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Pushed from the Wings: An entertainment by Ross Fitzgerald (illustrated by Alan Moir)

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February–March 1987, no. 88

By the time I was 35, I’d spent fifteen years as a student and teacher in universities. I was scornful of those who sneered at ‘Sheltered Workshops’ – a fashionable putdown in the early 70s; at the same time, I mocked Zelman Cowan’s observation – when playing stag at bay and asserting that he really was au fait with academia – that ‘I have spent all my adult life in universities’. But they are real places.

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The major problem with this approach to history, as Fitzgerald treads it, is that he takes the preoccupations and perspectives of the twentieth century Sunshine State and implants them in a colonial Queensland context. This achieved, Fitzgerald can point to the continuities of Queensland history. I am reminded of my dog, who buries his bones and considers himself smart when he succeeds in digging them up.

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