UNSW Publishing

This book hit a nerve. It’s not that Terri Janke sets out to confront her readers; if anything, she is at pains to convey goodwill. Janke, who is of Meriam and Wuthathi heritage, writes to build bridges and, above all, to give useful advice. But beneath this is a profound challenge for those who write and create: that is, to rethink how we know.

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Australian Sikhs delivering free meals to fellow citizens in need has been a heart-warming news story against a backdrop of doom and gloom this year as bushfires then the coronavirus laid waste to life as we know it. Public housing tenants in lockdown, international students stranded without support, and bush-dwellers who lost everything in the fires are among those who benefited from their kindness and competence.

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The Great War: Aftermath and commemoration edited by Carolyn Holbrook and Keir Reeves

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April 2020, no. 420

The centenary of World War I offered a significant opportunity to reflect on the experience and legacy of one of the world’s most devastating conflicts. In Australia such reflection was, on the whole, disappointingly one-dimensional: a four-year nationalistic and sanitised ‘memory orgy’ (to use Joan Beaumont’s wonderful phrase). It did, however, galvanise historians to produce important new studies of the war and to tackle long-standing questions about Australians’ attachment to Anzac. Many of those historians, established and early career, feature in The Great War: Aftermath and commemoration.

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To complement our ‘Books of the Year’ feature, which appeared in the December 2018 issue, we invited some senior publishers to nominate their favourite books of 2018 – all published by other companies.

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Australian Poetry since 1788 edited by Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray

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December 2011–January 2012, no. 337

Stumbling round the house absent-mindedly or in the off-hours, I wonder where the economy-sized fish tank came from; or the dictionary of some unexpectedly eloquent Oceanian language; or the errant slab of copper sulphate (did some friend or enemy leave it?). Then I remember that it’s the new Australian poetry anthology I am reviewing, the thick end of 1100 large pages – is it the format called royal? or republican?! – and I am in for another round of sleeplessness. It is even possible that, in the United States, I have read and written about the book mostly on Australian time.

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Gordon Kerry’s New Classical Music is a valuable addition to the small body of literature about Australian composers. The author sets out by placing his project in the context of several important earlier books on the subject, notably Roger Covell’s Australia’s Music: Themes of a New Society (1967) and the Frank Calloway–David Tunley collection of essays, Australian Composition in the Twentieth Century (1978). Kerry’s project is rather different from either of these, however; where Covell was consciously writing history (and perhaps deliberately shaping it at the same time), and where Calloway and Tunley commissioned independent articles on major composers, Kerry attempts something much more elusive – a more or less synchronic survey of the entire field in the last thirty years.

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The SBS Story: The challenge of cultural diversity by Ien Ang, Gay Hawkins and Lamia Dabboussy

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February 2009, no. 308

Movie Of The Week. The MacNeil–Lehrer Newshour. Helen Vatsikopoulos. Andrea Stretton. Tales From a Suitcase. Pria Viswalingam. Italian Serie A Football. Annette Sun Wah. These are just a few examples of SBS programs and personalities that helped me – and no doubt many others – negotiate the fetid swamp that was Australian television in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, the swamp is a lot bigger and the stench even worse, but does SBS still provide an effective alternative?

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Regardless of debates over Australian cultural identity, the flag and a potential republic, the ‘Green and Gold’ colours of our national sporting teams are recognised worldwide. The Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), from which these colours are derived, was first proposed as a national flower in the 1880s during the prelude to Federation. However, it was not until the 1988 Bicentenary Celebrations that it was formally declared as Australia’s floral emblem. Why was the wattle chosen for this honour over its main competitor, the spectacular red waratah? And what was the significance of using wattle as a symbol of national unity and mourning in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings?

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Alexander Downer, when asked on the ABC in February 2003 about the legality of military measures against Iraq, was keen to emphasise Australia’s fidelity to international law: ‘We’ve reached a point where you either take international law seriously and ensure that Iraq does comply with international law or else you abandon the whole concept, at least in this case, of trying to enforce international law.’ But only a month after these comments, the federal government demonstrated its commitment to ‘enforcing’ international law by participating in an invasion characterised as illegal by the preponderance of states and international lawyers.

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Australia’s Democracy by John Hirst & The Citizens’ Bargain edited by James Walter and Margaret Macleod

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December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

John Hirst faced a challenging task when he set out to write Australia’s Democracy: A short history. In a single monograph, he has traced the story of political rights and practices of citizenship, assessed within a context of social change. Not only does such writing place considerable demands on a historian’s range, but any prominent historian who attempts a short history attracts the sharp attention of all stakeholders. In Hirst’s case, his position as chair of the Commonwealth Government’s Civics Education Group has contributed further to his high profile in recent discussion on the need for citizenship training. Australia’s Democracy was funded by the Department of Education, Science and Training, and made available to schools for the ‘Discovering Democracy’ programme. Few historians write while carrying so much responsibility towards their prospective readership.

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