Melbourne University Publishing

The Atlas of Australian Birds by M. Blakers, S.J.J.F. Davies, and P.N. Reilly

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May 1985, no. 70

When I first heard of an impending Atlas of Australian Birds, my expectations were, it now seems to me, naive, showing certainly no acquaintance with the ‘birds atlas projects [which] have been developed in many other countries’ (actually, the bibliography numbers attached to this direct us to just three such projects: a use of ‘many’ learned, perhaps, from such usages as ‘this wine will improve with cellaring for many years’).

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The Truth of the Palace Letters by Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston & The Palace Letters by Jenny Hocking

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January–February 2021, no. 428

In April 2011, the landmark High Court victory of four elderly Kenyans revealed a dark episode in British colonial history. Between 1952 and 1960, barbaric practices, including forced removal and torture, were widely employed against ‘Mau Mau’ rebels, real or imagined. Upon the granting of independence in 1963, thousands of files documenting such atrocities were ‘retained’ by the British authorities, eventually coming to rest in the vast, secret Foreign and Commonwealth Office archives at Hanslope Park. Now a small portion of that archive was opened to scrutiny, and a tiny ray of light shone on one of history’s greatest cover-ups.

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One of the risks in writing about the history of Australia in world affairs is the ease with which ideas and visions can be flattened.  If you start from the premise of Australia’s small-to-middle-power standing and diminished agency among other nations, you might conclude that ideas mattered less than adroit lobbying and alliances ...

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Like many of us, I think of the book as the great vehicle for the sophisticated expression of our humanity. The world needs the book more than ever...

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Future generations of readers will invariably look back in awe at the second decade of twenty-first-century Australian politics for its ridiculous revolving door of prime ministers. Personal and journalistic accounts of this rare instability – Australia had six prime ministers between 2010 and 2018 – have certainly proved a publishing bonanza ...

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In modern Australia, politics and public policy appear to reflect a narrow range of managerial, political, and economic opinions. Even the much publicised ‘listening tours’ conducted by politicians seem designed to show that they are sensitive to community concerns, but not so sensitive as to want to change policy direction. What makes current discussion of political issues so dispiriting is that over the last three decades, economic measurements and business ideas have come to dominate public life. Citizens are now treated by the public service and their masters as ‘consumers’, former public goods such as education are now narrowly viewed as a form of economic productivity, and community service providers, such as Australia Post, are written about in the media as mere businesses ripe for privatisation. Between 2007 and 2010, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave the impression that he might become the ‘circuit breaker’: a leader whose professed faith in the potential for government intervention and community consultation might lead to a more engaged and empowered citizenry, as well as a government more in tune with the needs of the electorate.

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Gough Whitlam was fond of replying to requests for interviews from historians by saying that all the answers could be found in the archives. ‘Go to the documents, comrade’, was his refrain. However, official documents rarely tell the whole story, particularly those from the modern era, whose authors are conscious that their words could so easily be exposed to public scrutiny. In particular, they are usually bereft of the innermost thoughts and motivations of the politicians and public servants. By contrast, politicians’ diaries can be goldmines. Written contemporaneously, an unguarded diary entry can transform our understanding of people and events.

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Paul Kelly’s considerable research ability, enviable political knowledge, narrative skill, and indulgence in polemics all figure in his new book. The former qualities make it a must-read for the politically engaged; the latter is so pronounced that such readers may succumb to frustration and throw the book at the wall before reaching the valuable final chapter where at last we arrive at a coherent account of the systemic roots of ‘the Australian crisis’.

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The current issue of Meanjin is a forthright one. In her editorial, Sally Heath singles out the contributions of Marcia Langton and Darren Siwes, and with good reason: their work typifies the issue. Siwes has given the journal its cover, and his choice of image – a coin depicting an Indigenous head of state in the year 2041 – makes its point. The cornerstone of the issue is, however, ‘Reading the Constitution out Loud’, a thorough and level-headed essay by Langton on Julia Gillard’s promise to hold a referendum on the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. Langton, a member of the government’s inquiry panel, whose matter-of-fact style leads the way for the rest of theissue, asks, ‘how can we sustain the opportunity for a referendum […] in circumstances that are not riven by “dog whistle” issues in the racialist Australian politics that arise with each electoral season?’ The question cannot be ignored, nor easily answered.

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Against The Grain celebrates two iconoclastic Australian historians: Manning Clark and Brian Fitzpatrick. Comprising papers from a 2006 conference organised by two of their daughters, both distinguished academics, Against the Grain offers critical thoughts and reminiscences of family members, friends, colleagues, students and academic successors of the two men.

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