Oxford University Press

In his famous but tendentious 1989 essay ‘The End of History’, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that ‘we may be witnessing ... not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history’. A similar proposition might well have been made about Australian military history. By 1989 the great era of Australian military history seemed to have passed. The centrepieces of this era were the two world wars, which were so large, bloody and traumatic that they seemed destined to dominate the subject for many decades to come. What came before – the New Zealand Wars, Sudan, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Boer War – were seen as preliminary or preparatory episodes, or, as the title of one book on Sudan put it, ‘The Rehearsal’. The conflicts that followed World War II were postscripts. The performances and sacrifices of Australians in Korea, Malaya, Borneo, and Vietnam were measured against the earlier experiences of the world wars. All of Australia’s senior commanders in Vietnam had served in World War II, while most of the younger fighters there were the sons of World War II veterans.

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Quite when the figurative usage of ‘companion’ as ‘a work of reference ... that is presented as a friend to be consulted with whenever needed’ came into fashion is uncertain. I well remember my first companion, the third edition of the invaluable Oxford Companion to English Literature, from my student days in the 1950s. Oxford University Press now has a large stable of companions – some seventy titles at last count – covering everything from Christian thought to jazz to baroque music. The latest addition to the Oxford stable is a doorstopper: The Oxford Companion to Australian Politics (OCAP). Together with its sister volume, The Oxford Companion to Australian History, first published in 1998, it should become an indispensable, if expensive, tome in the library of any thinking Australian.

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At about the time that he was preparing the final drafts of The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot was preoccupied by a separate, but no less overwhelming question: when to sell his shares in the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company. In October 1922, the month the poem was published in the periodical he edited, the Criterion, Eliot wrote to his brother, Henry: ‘For myself, the important point is that Hydraulic should rise and give me an opportunity to sell when Sterling is low: it looks as if Sterling might fall a few points before very long. Do you think that Hydraulic will continue to pay dividends for the next year or so?’

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Public debate in Australia about the United Nations is remarkably thin, and it is dominated by two familiar tribes of pundits: UN groupies and UN bashers. The groupies defend the international organisation come what may: they are suspicious about the motives of nation-states – especially the United States – and they get an attack of the vapours every time Kofi Annan appears at a lectern. UN bashers, on the other hand, never saw a Security Council resolution they liked. They scoff at the time it takes states to argue their differences, bristle at the idea of dealing with non-democracies, and propose American power as an alternative organising principle for the world. Neither group, in other words, takes a balanced or realistic view of the world body. They are so busy praising the UN or burying it that they don’t have the time (or, rather, the column inches) to analyse it.

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Self-Portrait of Percy Grainger edited by Malcolm Gillies, David Pear, and Mark Carroll & Facing Percy Grainger edited by David Pear

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October 2006, no. 285

To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s description of Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, Percy Grainger is a minstrel wrapped in a harlequin inside a jack-in-the-box. His personality, obsessions, and general eccentricities still cause one to gasp and stretch one’s eyes even almost half a century after his own hypnotic eyes closed forever. His music, too, remains quicksilver; indefinable in its eclecticism, yet the work of a sprite who was also a genius who, magpie-like, collected music from wildly different sources to stuff into the capacious if overcrowded nest that was his mind.

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Manning Clark rescued Australian history from blandness and predictability by making Australia a cockpit in which the great faiths of Europe continued their battle, with results that were distinctive. He concentrated on the great characters who were bearers of one of the faiths: Protestantism, Catholicism, or the Enlightenment.

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Modern Japanese Culture – what a seductive title! It evokes images of a fast-paced, technologically advanced nation with deep traditions reinventing itself as a post-industrial society with a rich culture. We immediately think of Kurosawa’s epic films, manga comics and anime, contemporary ceramics, video games, Issey Miyake’s extravaganzas, the sublime minimalism of Ando Tadao’s architecture, and the photography of Ishida Kiichiro, currently on display at the Museum of Sydney.

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Penal Populism and Public Opinion: Lessons from five countries by Julian V. Roberts, Loretta J. Stalans, David Indemaur, and Mike Hough

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May 2003, no. 251

Recently, New South Wales had its fifth election since 1988 in which shrill law and order promises – tougher sentencing, more police, and the like – constituted the most prominent feature of the major parties’ campaigns. During those fifteen years, NSW witnessed its biggest prison-building programme in more than a century and a rise of more than fifty per cent in its prison population. An obvious lesson is that prison-building programmes and rising criminal justice expenditures do not reduce crime or enhance feelings of public safety and confidence in legal institutions, and that those who argue otherwise are chasing phantoms. Yet the terms of political discourse around law and order seem to be impervious to the facts. What would commonly be taken as incontrovertible evidence of the failure or limits of a policy in other areas yields more of the same in relation to crime control, such is the treadmill of penal populism.

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Ever since Federation, Australians have heard of the Boer War, as they have heard of the Wars of the Roses. As to deep understanding, they have as much about the one war as about the other. As a ‘Matric’ student in 1939, I had for my Commercial Practice teacher a Boer War veteran – lean, tall, bowlegged – every schoolboy’s image of our horsemen who had taught the Empire’s enemies such a lesson in South Africa. Beguiled by eager juvenile diversionists, he would treat us to ten minutes of soldier anecdotes, straight from his saddle forty years earlier.

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Amanda Laugesen’s Convict Words is a dictionary of the characteristic or salient words of early colonial discourse, the lexis of the convict system and transportation, which survived until 1840 in New South Wales, 1852 in Van Diemen’s Land, and 1868 in Western Australia. It is not immediately clear what sort of readership is envisaged for the book. It would not occur to many people interested in Australian colonial history to address the subject through the words the actors in that history used, and the book does not directly answer most of the questions the enquirer might have in mind, unless of course it were convictism itself. As for word-buffs, the limited range of the target lexis – convict words in this narrow sense, and not necessarily Australianisms – may not have suggested itself as an engrossing topic.

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