Peter Beilharz

Empire is everywhere. You can see it in the shanty towns of São Paulo and on the coffee tables of the well-heeled in Boston and Sydney. It made us, in its British form, in the antipodes via the expeditions of Cook and Banks, and all that followed. Now it dominates our newspapers and television screens in the form of war.

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Why bother reading Who’s Who in Australia? Obviously, it’s a tool, a standard reference, a source of information, a biographical detail, a register – a social register – a place to find an address, or to wonder who’s in, who’s out, who calls the shots. It is also a social symbol in its own right. To read it, to browse or peruse it, is to receive some sense of its own significance and pertinence in Australian social life.

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Why do we read what we read? Bookshelves groan with biography, travel, social theory far left corner, cultural studies creeping up the front, Baudrillard in the back door and out the front. Some people’s books get featured in the weekend papers, others go straight into the back of the car and the second-hand shops. Love, sweat and tears … what’s it all for?

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