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HarperCollins

A Tuesday Thing by Kate Shayler & God's Callgirl by Carla van Raay

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August 2004, no. 263

Accounts of past child abuse and the inability or unwillingness of those in positions of authority to confront its reality are amongst the hottest of topics in today’s media. Generally, the story is about the perpetrators and their punishments, or about the impact of disclosures on church leaders forced to retire because of their negligent or political mishandling of cases brought to their attention. But what about the victims? Rules of privacy generally mean that we never learn at firsthand what it must be like to live with the knowledge of a childhood tainted by sexual abuse on the part of some adult with authority. Still less are we likely to know what that knowledge must be like when the abuser was also a much-loved family relation, such as, or especially, a father. For that reason, memoirs such as these are valuable in that they initiate the reader into the long-lasting effects of abuse with graphic emotional immediacy.

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The Anglican Church worldwide is currently facing the gravest threat ever to its international unity. Where the vitriolic debates over the ordination of women failed to shatter the Anglican Communion, the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the US in late 2003 may well succeed. Conservative bishops have demanded that the American Episcopal (Anglican) Church’s leaders be disciplined. If the Archbishop of Canterbury does not oblige once an international report has been tabled later this year, the break-up of the Anglican Communion is highly probable.

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Blindside by J.R. Carroll & Degrees of Connection by Jon Clearly

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May 2004, no. 261

Crime fiction offers various pleasures but rarely those of innovation, and that is the case with these three very different books from three veterans of the genre – familiar pleasures. Degrees of Connection is a police procedural featuring a series character; Earthly Delights is an amateur sleuth cosy in which Greenwood breaks away from her series character, Phryne Fisher; and Blindside is a hardboiled who’s-got-the-loot thriller in which the police and the criminals are morally indistinguishable and largely interchangeable. Each solves some crime problems, of course; each devotes considerable time and energy to documenting their home city: Sydney, Melbourne and environs. And each uses films and film viewing as a lingua franca, a cultural currency exchanged among its characters (and readers).

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As Eric Hobsbawn points out in his autobiography, Interesting Times: A Twentieth Century Life (2002), ‘the world needs historians more than ever, especially skeptical ones’. History, however, is not a popular subject in today’s schools. Three of these four books make attempts, variously successful, to engage young readers in a sense of the past. The other is a bizarre compilation of odd details, and could be considered an account of the history of certain sciences; it almost fits into the historical ambit.

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The Haha Man by Sandy McCutcheon

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April 2004, no. 260

It’s not racism that makes my mother – once a poor girl from the Welsh valleys – side with the Howard government on the refugee issue: it’s an instinctive territorial defensiveness that can be easily exploited by emotive phrases: illegals, queue jumpers, people smugglers. She’s not alone, if her friends, other relatively prosperous, tax-paying senior Australian citizens, are anything to go by; but it’s not a hardline position. All it might take to soften their attitude is a copy of The Haha Man by Sandy McCutcheon, a rollicking good read that highlights the refugee plight without a whiff of the lecture hall.

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This book is as beguilingly English as a Fortnum & Mason picnic hamper. Peter Stothard (a former editor of The Times and current editor of the Times Literary Supplement) spent a month inside 10 Downing Street reporting in intimate detail the comings and goings there during the critical days before and after the Coalition of the Willing began its assault on Iraq on March 20 this year. He evokes a life-size doll’s house from which a war is being waged by perplexed adults in suits and jeans, who pick spasmodically at substandard food, fantasise about fitness régimes and support spectacularly unsuccessful soccer teams. The man in charge lives in a flat above this strange enterprise with the rest of his family.

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What Australia Means to Me by Bob Carr & Bob Carr by Andrew West and Rachel Morris

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November 2003, no. 256

Not since Henry Parkes has New South Wales had such a literary-minded premier as Bob Carr. Parkes published his own poems and wrote two earnest volumes of autobiography. Carr, so far, has tried his hand at a novel, a memoir and a diary, as well as writing lots of occasional pieces. Carr, like Parkes, was a journalist before becoming a professional politician. Parkes, too, dragged himself from humble beginnings to a position where he could use official letterhead to arrange meetings with those he admired. Carr has sought out writers such as Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal to autograph his copies of their books and to join him at dinner. Once established, Parkes’s main aim was to stay in power. It was his only source of income, so his manipulation of factions, policies and the electorate all focused on that end. Graham Freudenberg has said of Carr: ‘Labor politics is central to Bob’s identity … if you took the politics away from Bob there would be nothing much left.’ But unlike Carr, Parkes did not have the option of moving to federal politics (he died before 1901). After Federation, NSW politics was stripped of talent as its leaders, including Edmund Barton, William Lyne and George Reid, made the move. Reid, a long-serving and highly effective NSW premier, is one of only two state premiers ever to have succeeded in becoming prime minister, the other being Joe Lyons.

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Franca by Franca Arena & Speaking for Myself Again by Cheryl Kernot

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September 2002, no. 244

If Cheryl Kernot writes another book – and if Speaking for Myself Again is anything to go by, you had better hope she doesn’t – her publishers should at the very least make sure the punctuation police do their job. It appears they didn’t even show up to the scene of the accident this time. Exclamation marks are strewn throughout the work. Each time Kernot wants to bitterly labour a point, up pops an exclamation mark, as if she’s hitting the keyboard and cursing, ‘Take that you bastards’. Thus we get: ‘And some people can be so rude!’; ‘Women have sustained me!’; ‘I could write a whole book on my experiences with the media. Perhaps I will!’; and ‘Opinion rules!’ In a teen diary, that’s fine, but not in a book by a former senior federal parliamentarian.

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Joseph Benedict Chifley enjoys a special place in the Australian pantheon – an icon of decencies almost extinct. Born in 1885, Chifley was raised in Bathurst, where he joined the NSW Railways in 1903. One of the youngest-ever first-class locomotive drivers at the age of twenty seven, Chifley was among those who struck for six weeks in 1917 against new management practices in the railways. They lost. He was demoted to fireman, and his union, the Federated Engine-drivers and Firemen’s Association of Australasia, deregistered. He was soon restored to engineman.

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Best of Friends by Suzy Baldwin & Friends and Enemies by Dorothy Rowe

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May 2001, no. 230

A collection of interviews with women about friendship? Well, we are all experts on the topic, and all have stories to tell. The women interviewed by Suzy Baldwin for this collection all speak fluently on the topic of friendships present and past: with women, sexual and not; with men, gay and straight; and with their partners, mothers, sisters, brothers, and children. Baldwin’s elegant introductory essay begins and ends autobiographically, but also ranges historically and philosophically amongst a number of writers about friendship, male and female, asking what is specific to women’s friendships.

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