Australian Society

Late in 1986, the Australian Bicentennial Authority took sixty celebrities off to Uluru to make the television advertisement containing the jingle ‘Celebration of a Nation’. Just as the shoot finished, a heavy storm broke, prompting the stars to run for cover. ‘Oh, darling,’ cried Jeanne Little, a popular television personality at the time. ‘The real Australia’s quite frightening, isn’t it?’

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Many people have heard of Gerald Ridsdale, defrocked Catholic priest of the diocese of Ballarat and a notorious convicted paedophile. But comparatively few people have heard of Ridsdale’s contemporary John Day. A priest in the same diocese, he too preyed upon many hundreds of children who came under his pastoral care. Ridsdale, who for a time served as Day’s curate in Sacred Heart parish, Mildura, is in prison; Day, however, officially remained a priest in good standing until his death in 1978 at the age of seventy-four. He was only temporarily removed from active ministry and never faced court for his crimes. This was not because they were never investigated, but because church and state colluded to suppress public knowledge of them.

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Bigger than Bradman and Phar Lap combined, no Australian legend has endured the ages quite like the ‘fair go’. Egalitarianism is as central to Australian identity as exceptionalism is to the United States. The promises that underpin these mythologies are as contentious as they are seductive ...

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Public Sydney: Drawing the City edited by Philip Thalis and Peter John Cantrill

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July–August 2013, no. 353

Public Sydney: Drawing the City is a large and beautiful book. Its size recalls William Hardy Wilson’s Old Colonial Architecture in New South Wales and Tasmania (1924) and other folio-sized books produced by architectauthors such as Andrea Palladio, James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, and Richard Phené Spiers. Their luxurious size was dictated by the reproduction of drawings at a scale where maximum information might be imparted – like the encyclopedic data provided by a map or an atlas, or an architect’s working drawing. The size of Public Sydney has been determined by the scale of Sydney’s plan view, and special note should be made of the book’s consistent placement of historic drawings – very carefully done – so that, at various moments, one can deduce a longitudinal account of the city’s development.

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When Paul Raphael Montford (1868–1938) settled in Melbourne in 1923, one press report claimed that he was ‘one of England’s best-known sculptors’, but despite having created works for the façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum and for Westminster Abbey, as well as numerous public sculptures in Australia, his work is not well known in either country. His reputation has always been overshadowed by his infinitely more successful and slightly older contemporary and rival, Bertram Mackennal.

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The Aborigines of Australia are among the more land-rich of colonised peoples. More than one fifth of Australia is under Aboriginal ownership, and a perpetual fund – established by Labor and fattened by Coalition and Labor governments – will add to this estate. To examine this recent change in Australian real estate as a ‘quiet revolution’ was a good choice of theme by Marcia Langton.

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How effective is a voice of reason in a climate of fear? In his introduction to this book, Professor Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University says that he is ‘incorrigibly optimistic’ about the role of education in assisting us to make wise decisions about our future. Over the past twenty years, he has written twelve books, including A Big Fix: Radical solutions for Australia’s environmental crisis (2005) and Living in the Hothouse: How global warming affects Australia (2005), forty-five book chapters, more than thirty journal articles and six hundred columns for various publications. That work has been written for the general public, not just the scientific community.

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Diaspora: The Australasian experience edited by Cynthia Vanden Driesen and Ralph Crane

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October 2006, no. 285

The third volume to be produced by the Asian Association for the Study of Australasia, Diaspora: The Australasian Experience, is a large publication with more than forty chapters. It makes an important contribution to the often willing debate about preserving Austral(as)ia’s perceived homogeneity in the face of the challenges carried in the cultural baggage of postwar arrivals from beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. Most, if not all, of the writers prefer to celebrate what Jane Mummery calls, in the opening essay, ‘the affirmation of the hyphen and hybridity’. Many other essays in the collection also demonstrate the extent to which Australian academics in the humanities and social sciences are contributing to the development and analysis of cultural connections between South Asia and Australasia.

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With the growing politics of fear focused on Islam, and the pervasive ‘Othering’ of Muslims both nationally and internationally, this book on the everyday lives, beliefs, and practices of Australian Muslims is an important social antidote. Abdullah Saeed, a leading Australian Muslim scholar of Islam, provides us with a readily accessible book that introduces the basics about the religion of Islam, and a short social and cultural history of Muslims in Australia. It explores Islamic religious organisations and leadership in Australia, the diversity of Muslim communities, common stereotypes and misunderstandings about Islam as well as the difficulties and discrimination Muslims have experienced in Australia. This is a clear, concise, culturally sensitive and diplomatic little book for a general readership.

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It’s usually said that Australians are uninterested in the metaphysical. Where in America the lines between the secular and religious are notoriously blurred, not least in their politicians or sporting heroes invoking God on almost every conceivable occasion, Australians by contrast are held to be a godless lot, their mythologies entirely secular in form and meaning. God is rarely publicly invoked, except by ministers of religion whose particular business it is duly to do so.

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