Allen & Unwin

It’s the voice, isn’t it, of a master, so unmistakably in command of a music that is inseparable from the personal modesty that is its signature, which belies all grandeur and refuses to take credit for the gift but has it nonetheless in abundance. When Craig Sherborne read the last poem in this Selected Poems ...

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Owen Graves, by occupation a house wrecker and by nature a collector, is summoned to the world’s tallest building by the president of Chicago’s First Equitable Insurance Company...

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I recently went back to New England. It is a long drive from Melbourne, but as I passed through Coonabarabran and Tamworth and began the ascent up the Moonbi Ranges, my gaze responded to the strange and familiar landscape. I periodically wound down the car window to smell the air – crisp but still warm for autumn. I grew up in a few different New England towns – Inverell, Glen Innes, Armidale – so I am familiar with the territory covered in the fascinating essays in High Lean Country. The high elevation of the Tableland makes the winters cold, summers mild. The dramatic landscape is dotted with granite mounds and monoliths. It is edged to the east by the escarpment and the gorge country of Judith Wright’s poems.

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John Hirst faced a challenging task when he set out to write Australia’s Democracy: A short history. In a single monograph, he has traced the story of political rights and practices of citizenship, assessed within a context of social change. Not only does such writing place considerable demands on a historian’s range, but any prominent historian who attempts a short history attracts the sharp attention of all stakeholders. In Hirst’s case, his position as chair of the Commonwealth Government’s Civics Education Group has contributed further to his high profile in recent discussion on the need for citizenship training. Australia’s Democracy was funded by the Department of Education, Science and Training, and made available to schools for the ‘Discovering Democracy’ programme. Few historians write while carrying so much responsibility towards their prospective readership.

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Paul Kelly is the most influential Australian political journalist of the past twenty-five years. There was a time when Kelly was merely the most perceptive chronicler of the nation’s political life, a worthy successor to Alan Reid. With the publication of his most celebrated book, The End of Certainty, he became something rather different: a highly significant player on the national stage. The End of Certainty told the story of party politics in the 1980s. More importantly, it insinuated a powerful argument in favour of the dismantling of the distinctive interventionist economic arrangements that had been established after Federation: protectionism, centralised industrial arbitration and financial regulation.

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In his third novel, Steven Carroll continues to work on those questions, obsessions, scenes and images that preoccupy him as a writer – the characters and personalities of women, and in particular that figure of a sexually charged and sophisticated young woman so disturbing to Helen Garner in The First Stone; the language of infatuation; the placement of characters in their particular city; mismatched lovers as the centre of a love story; and a certain trick Carroll has of overlaying the inner lives of characters with the narrative of events in the story being told. It is as though his characters swim, groggily, up out of their fantasies into the harsh, ironic events that have been provoked by their inner dreams. Life in his novels operates as a merciless commentary on the evasions and hubris of each character's consciousness.

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A nation at war is a less than gripping tide, although it is suggestively ambiguous. Australia was at war in Vietnam for most of the decade covered in Peter Edwards’s book. In senses chiefly, but not wholly, metaphorical, it was also a society ‘at war’, divided over conscription and the commitment of troops to Vietnam. The excellent cover photograph illuminates the latter implication of Edwards’s title, as well as the importance of media coverage of both overseas conflict and domestic protest against it. A newsreel photographer looks back into another camera, and away from the policeman who is struggling to shift an inert demonstrator.

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Richard Hall reviews 'Political Lives' edited by Judith Brett

Richard Hall
Saturday, 01 November 1997

The photo is opposite page eighty. I suspect from the faint fluff in the hair that it’s late 1972. It was taken in the office by a photographer from the Australian News and Information Bureau, a group who were not your art-portrait photographers. The sitting would have been over in a minute; the subject didn’t spend time posing.

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‘Ken Wark,’ says Linda Jaivin on this jacket, ‘makes postmodernism sexy.’ First cabbages, now postmodernism! Where can she take us from here? The trouble is I don’t believe her. Now that’s too easy a write-off. I’m not instinctually warm to The Virtual Republic, and I think Linda Jaivin’s line is a more than normally meretricious blurb, but Wark’s enterprise is essentially a request for conversation and why not accede to that. Still I want to protest even as I converse. The book is an olive branch masquerading as a polemic. Or, like Lindsay’s parrot who was a swagman, is it the other way round?

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A phrase like ‘And God so loved the world, she …’ has a radical impact on that most deeply ingrained convention; the contract underlying and validating much of Western culture that the logos is masculine and the power behind the logos is designated, generically, as ‘he’. Our culture is patriarchal; patriarchal power derives from God and that power is symbolically inscribed in language.

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