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National Biography Award Winner

Truganini: Journey through the apocalypse follows the life of the strong Nuenonne woman who lived through the dramatic upheavals of invasion and dispossession and became known around the world as the so-called ‘last Tasmanian’. But the figure at the heart of this book is George Augustus Robinson, the self-styled missionary and chronicler who was charged with ‘conciliating’ with the Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples. It is primarily through his journals that historians are able to glimpse and piece together the world fractured by European arrival.

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Billy McMahon, Australia’s twentieth prime minister, held the post for less than two years (March 1971–December 1972). In surveys of both public esteem and professional opinion, he is generally ranked as our least accomplished prime minister. He is also, until now, the only prime minister for whom there has been no ...

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Behrouz Boochani describes being smashed into the sea by the boulder-like weight of an overpacked, splintering boat transporting asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia. The wreck’s ‘slashed carcass’ gashes the flailing survivors and the bodies of those who have died, and Boochani settles under a wave ...

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There has been an argument going on in the Liberal Party about the nature of the Menzies heritage – was Robert Menzies, the founder of the modern party, a liberal or a conservative? Notably absent from this discussion has been the national figure who was the first leader of a united anti-Labor party and who also happens to have been a father of Federation, Alfred ...

Many public figures are fated to be remembered for a single incident rather than a lifetime's work (think of Gough Whitlam's ad-libbing outside Parliament house, or his nemesis's trousers, forever lost in Memphis). Often, almost perversely, it is one event that stays in the mind. For Keith Murdoch (1885–1952), that phenomenon was the so-called 'Gallipoli letter' o ...

Mannix by Brenda Niall

April 2015, no. 370

With her long-awaited life of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, Brenda Niall, one of Australia’s leading biographers, has conquered a subject that for decades she regarded as compelling yet ‘intractable’. ‘As a presence (I wouldn’t claim such a remote and magisterial being as a neighbour) Daniel Mannix was part of my childhood,’ Niall recalls. She grew up in the ...

Now and again it is good to remind ourselves that literary history (and I think the history of the other arts) is strewn with the names of those who had great stature in their own time and are now largely forgotten, and with the names of others for whom the reverse is true. William Blake, short of money, went to work for the much more admired poet William Hayley. These days, the name ‘William Hayley’ will only conjure up ‘Rock Around the Clock’. Even Samuel Johnson, perhaps the greatest of all literary critics, thought Abraham Cowley ‘undoubtedly the best’ of the Metaphysical poets, and it took three hundred years for John Donne’s reputation to be firmly established.

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How lucky we were! My ‘baby boomer’ generation in Melbourne grew up on stories of the second Frank Thring (1926–94), which competed in outrageousness with the anecdotes we heard of Barry Humphries; and throughout the 1960s we had the opportunity – more so in the case of Thring, who had now settled back in Melbourne as a regular performer on stage and television, as Humphries began his lifelong commute to London – to catch both of these not-so-sacred monsters in the flesh and on their own home turf. (As I asked of the females of this species in a previous article in ABR – ‘Mordant Mots’, September 2007 – what is it about Melbourne that has produced such bizarre and brilliant creatures?)

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Long hair flowing around his face, he grasps his sword firmly in one hand, the regimental banner held high in the other as he strides purposefully onto the bridge, leading his men to victory. It is one of the most familiar portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte, immortalised by the painter Antoine-Jean Gros: an image of courage, of leadership, of calm determination. And it is not quite what happened. The attack on the bridge at Arcola was a dismal failure and ended in an ignominious withdrawal, in the course of which the diminutive Bonaparte fell into a ditch and nearly drowned. It was hardly the stuff of heroic legend. 

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East of Time by Jacob G. Rosenberg

September 2005, no. 274

Most of a lifetime ago, I read of an exhibit at the Bell Telephone headquarters. It consisted of a box from which, at the turning of a switch, a hand emerged. The hand turned off the switch and returned to its box. If this struck me as sinister, it was because the gambit seemed emblematic of human perversity – of a proneness to self-annulment ...

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