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One Day Hill

The Fight by Martin Flanagan and Tom Uren

May 2007, no. 291

Tom Uren was a prisoner of war on the Burma Railway during World War II, a professional boxer in his youth and one of the dominant voices of the Australian left for much of the second half of the twentieth century. Martin Flanagan offers a wide-ranging reflection on Uren’s life, drawing on his experience growing up in the working-class Sydney suburb of Balmain to his days as minister for urban and regional development in Gough Whitlam’s government. In doing so, The Fight conveys the resilient and visionary spirit that was central to Uren’s character. But Flanagan’s stated purpose is much more than biographical; his aim is to show the need in contemporary Australian society for the passion and vision Uren displayed throughout his life.

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This book is a double-barrelled memoir, its two authors providing, at heart, a first- and second-generation account of the Burma Railway and its resonances down their line. It’s arc is wider though, and it’s preoccupations more universal, than a simple family history, if there is such a thing. Arch Flanagan, the patriarch and veteran, contributes five pieces, two of memoir, two short stories and an obituary. Martin, son and searcher, intersects these texts with a narrative of his own, alternately probing the spaces and interrogating the players of this history.

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