Federation Press

Although a few can pull it off, most judges have the good sense not to attempt an autobiography. Judges’ personalities are not usually of such outstanding interest, and their lives generally do not so engage with the world, as to generate the stuff from which autobiographies worth publishing are made. The reserve which the judicial experience inculcates, and the general inability to expose judicial life in prose that does not condemn the reader to death by suffocation, are additional inhibitors. Even those tragics who think that the judiciary occupies a place of mystical significance use the autobiographies of their colleagues as a cure for insomnia.

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Gough Whitlam’s famous words during his impromptu speech after the Dismissal in 1975 remain a potent symbol of the excitements and turbulence of the Whitlam era. As Troy Bramston’s collection of ALP speeches since 1891 reminds us, political speeches can capture a national mood or sentiment at a particular time in history. Indeed, a carefully crafted set of words can become a treasured part of our national self-image. They can also boost or destroy a politician’s reputation. In an age when the media has become uncritically obsessed with gaffes, Twitter banalities, polls, and sound bites, it is worth remembering that a good speech can elevate the national conversation and appeal to our better instincts.

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Over the last few years, issues associated with underdevelopment in Aboriginal Australia have been widely canvassed in the mainstream press, led by the likes of Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, and Peter Sutton. This new edited volume adopts a somewhat different approach to Aboriginal development, focusing on Indigenous involvement in natural resource management around Australia.

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There are only seven High Court judges. Since Federation there have been just fifty-six of them (or fifty-five if we discount Justice Piddington, who never sat during his four weeks on the court). High Court judges are rare creatures, and as a rule they are publicly noticed far less than the importance of their work might suggest.

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A couple of anniversaries explain the occasion of this collection: one hundred and fifty years of responsible government in New South Wales, and the bicentenary of Lachlan Macquarie’s arrival as the governor who, Brian Fletcher argues, has had the most ‘persistent hold over public consciousness’ in reflecting the ambiguities of a convict colony. The volume is framed by Rod Cavalier’s foreword, which encourages a sequential reading of these thirty-seven essays, each part-biographical study of a governor and part-analysis of the evolving office. Such a course, Cavalier suggests, will show the position to be no sinecure but a ‘constant’ in the flux of politics. Even so, as civics tests regularly show, it is a position in need of rehabilitation if it is to rise above being a misunderstood curiosity.

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The cover design for this book features a painting by Indigenous artist Johnny Bulun Bulun. It is an appropriate choice, given that it was this artist who in 1988 spearheaded the first major action in an Australian court against the unauthorised reproduction of Aboriginal works for commercial purposes, and in so doing set a precedent in establishing the existence of copyright in Aboriginal art. The case concerned the use of works of art on T-shirts. It was followed by one against the Reserve Bank of Australia, which had reproduced an Aboriginal image on the bicentennial $10 note without permission, and the famous ‘carpets case’ against a company that imported carpets made in Vietnam that contained some well-known Aboriginal artworks in their design.

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The Wran Era edited by Troy Bramston

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April 2007, no. 290

Neville Wran was nothing if not sartorial. He represented the new generation of politicians – dapper, immaculately tailored, effortlessly elegant – and stood out from his Labor colleagues in their crumpled suits and gaudy ties. His dress sense was not merely a matter of personal taste but also a political statement. He once appeared on the podium of a Labor party conference perspiring uncomfortably in the glare of the arc lights. A colleague leaned over and urged him to take off his jacket. Wran retorted, ‘What! And look like a Labor politician.’ It was classic Nev.

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The Victorian Premiers 1856–2006 edited by Paul Strangio and Brian Costar

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February 2007, no. 288

Gough Whitlam was sometimes naughty. Descending in a crowded lift from a conference attended by a number of state parliamentary delegates, he looked down on his fellow passengers and growled ‘pissant state politicians’. It was the sort of remark he liked to get off his chest. In a more deliberative mood, Whitlam, in his 1957 Chifley Memorial Lecture, wrote of state parliamentarians in the following terms: ‘Much can be achieved by Labor members of the state parliaments in effectuating Labor’s aims of more effective powers for the national parliament and for local government. Their role is to bring about their own dissolution.’ These remarks reflect a widespread dissatisfaction with Australia’s ‘colonial’ constitution and with the division of powers between the three tiers of government. The Whitlam government favoured increased powers and responsibilities for both Canberra and local government.

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