Black Inc

In the current fad for omnibus histories of absolutely everything, designed to replace ancient metaphysics, perhaps, or answer some marketing brainwave, no one has succeeded in quite the way Christine Kenneally has. She approaches her task with a very specific enquiry: what is the interplay between genetics and human history? Searching for an answer, she uncovers worlds within worlds.

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The Best 100 Poems of Gwen Harwood by Gwen Harwood, edited by John Harwood

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December 2014, no. 367

In ‘Late Works’, the last poem in Black Inc.’s new selection of Gwen Harwood’s poetry, a dying poet, determined to pen her ‘late great’ poems, calls from her hospital bed for paper. The nurse, misunderstanding, brings toilet paper, much to the poet’s chagrin. It is a typical Harwood inversion ...

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Whether you love or hate lawyer–activist Noel Pearson’s ideas, you have to admire his chutzpah, his willingness to put his ideas out there for public discussion and debate, even if his own dogmatism sometimes limits his diplomatic engagements ...

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I dealt with China for most of the ten years I worked for the British Foreign Office from 1998. The one conclusion I drew from my experience over those years was that it didn’t take much to stumble into complexity. Britain and China have a vast historic hinterland. In 1839, British forces inflicted the first Opium War on China, and British politicians enforced the unequal treaties which ushered in what some Chinese call to this day ‘the century of humiliation’. In the hundred years that followed, Britain continued meddling and became involved in issues from Tibet to Hong Kong, building up a fund of resentment on the Chinese side that continues to pay back returns to the current day.

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Erik Jensen, a young journalist who now edits the Saturday Paper, has written an unusual memoir of his four years shadowing an artist – a difficult artist, it must be said (putting it euphemistically). Any new memoirist like Jensen will be interrogated umpteen times about his motivation. Such is the fascination with biography – fascination mixed with ambivalence – he will be asked about catharsis, whether the exercise was improving, enlightening, transmogrifying. In Tardises and tents the memoirist will become adept at distilling his intentions, whether they be financial or fraternal, vengeful or venerative. In Jensen’s case, this curiosity is likely to be magnified because of his intimacy with his subject and the marked decadence of the setting. This biographer’s rationale is as intriguing as that of his beleaguered subject.

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Speaking about the process of painstakingly researching the ‘terrible mistakes’ made on climate policy by the Rudd and Gillard governments over the six years of their existence, Philip Chubb told an audience at the Wheeler Centre that he ‘almost exhausted [himself] with gloom’. Indeed, this important book, which covers the Icarian trajectory of climate policy through Labor’s years in power, is hardly cheerful. Rather, Chubb hopes that the documentation and analysis of the many poor decisions will help legislators to overcome the challenges of implementing significant but controversial reforms in the future.

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Do the ends always justify the means? And if the boats really have stopped coming, should we see the death of Reza Berati and the suffering of thousands as the collateral damage of a successful policy?

Paul Toohey’s panoramic sweep of this human, ethical, and political terrain begins with a visit to Cisarua, a small resort town in the mountains south of Jakarta that has become a major centre for people seeking asylum in Australia. Some are awaiting the outcome of formal applications for refugee status. Others are preparing to risk a boat. It is July 2013, two months before the federal election. Toohey spends time getting to know people, listening to tales of their journeys and, later in the essay, talking to survivors plucked from the ocean after a boat is lost at sea. If for no other reason, Toohey’s essay should be read for this; as a powerful, necessary reminder that ‘asylum seekers’ have stories, loves, fears, names, and faces.

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The Best Australian Poems 2013 edited by Lisa Gorton & Now You Shall Know by Hunter Writers Centre

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February 2014, no. 358

The end of the year tends to bring a small and exquisitely formed avalanche of Australian poetry, including Best Poems from Black Inc., Best Poetry from the University of Queensland Press, and the Newcastle Poetry Prize anthology. Sadly UQP gave up the ghost with its annual after 2009 ...

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Tim Bowden, ABC journalist and historian, hosted a television program called BackChat between 1987 and 1994. Viewers could write in with their comments on Aunty’s offerings. One correspondent criticised the Rob Sitch-inspired spoof of the commercial current affairs programs, Frontline ...

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Church leaders have rarely become national public figures, let alone objects of political contention, in Australia. Since Federation, the number who could be so described can be counted on fewer than the fingers of one hand. There is Ernest Burgmann, the Anglican prelate who earned the sobriquet ‘the red bishop’ for his espousal of left-wing causes during the Depression. Much better known is Daniel Mannix, the long-serving Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, whose interventions in controversies ranging from conscription campaigns during World War I to Cold War agitation over communist influence in the Labor movement implicated him in two of the ALP’s great splits. And now there is George Pell, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, a cardinal and a man who is capable, as Mannix was, of arousing both hero worship and intense fear and loathing.

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