Don Watson

In the frantic days after the recent US presidential election, Donald Trump’s team – led by his attorney Rudy Giuliani – held a media conference in a suburban Philadelphia carpark. The establishment that formed the backdrop to this unusual performance is called Four Seasons Total Landscaping. Neighbouring businesses included a crematorium and an adult entertainment store (soon translated on social media into a ‘dildo shop’). At the time of writing, the explanation for how this had happened is still not forthcoming, but most commentators assumed a mix-up with one of the city’s major hotels, also called Four Seasons.

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In The Bush (2014), Don Watson explored notions of what that most variegated of terms, ‘the bush’, meant to earlier generations, including his own family. In ...

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Though I doubt a critic ever improved a writer's work, a good one makes a difference to a culture. They are rare and valuable. Bad critics are worse than bad writers, but I know from trying years ago that they have an equally good excuse. It is for this reason that I have avoided answering the question.

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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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Don Watson sits low in his chair, shy and silent when faced with a group of university administrators gathered to hear him talk about management speak – those weasel words that Watson has hunted down with grim enthusiasm. He speaks hesitantly at first, struggling to recall examples of misleading expression, evasive phrases, dishonest communication. Soon the rhythm quickens. There is indignation now in the voice, derision anew at the decay of public language. The speaker rocks forward, ranging more widely as he explains the link between thought and expression. Jargon hides intentions. Clichés abandon serious engagement with an issue. This is not the pedant’s obsession with grammar, but anger when the contest of ideas is undermined by impenetrable language.

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Travel in America is a journey crowded with literary acquaintances. For centuries visitors have striven to make sense of the United States, drawn by its energy, admiring or disturbed by its civic culture. Charles Dickens visited twice, in 1841 and 1867, capturing his observations in American Notes (1842) ...

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What is it about Paul Keating that so fascinated his retainers? Six years ago, John Edwards wrote a massive biography-cum-memoir taking Keating’s story to 1993. Now Don Watson has produced an even heftier tome. Narrower in chronological span – 1992 to 1996 – Watson is broader in his interests, more personal, more passionate ...

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Geoffrey Blainey must be Australia’s bestselling historian by a very long way. His audience is far wider than Manning Clark’s for instance: and far less critical. Clark is periodically savaged by packs so frenzied they often seem unable to recognise the nature of the quarry. The difference of course is a matter of both style and substance. Clark, as an early critic once said, is ‘full of great oaths and bearded like the pard’, and he has not changed his fundamental spots. Blainey’s picture is inserted in the barren landscape on the front cover of this book, all warm and friendly; not a Jeremiah, but a kindly tribal elder who will unravel your historical landscape sotto voce, and with perfect equanimity. You can step into your past with Geoffrey Blainey and know you’ll be safe. He’s just about the friendliest historian imaginable.

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