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Angela Woollacott

Every biographer has a relationship with their subject, even if they have passed away. A real advantage for biographers of the dead is that the subject cannot say what they think about the book. The relationship between Margaret Simons and Penny Wong was fraught. That this mattered is evident from the opening sentence: ‘Penny Wong did not want this book to be written.’ Simons, a journalist, biographer, and associate professor at Monash University, uses her preface to complain about how difficult it was researching the book without Wong’s assistance and against her will. 

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Don Dunstan tended to divide those around him, even his parents. His father, Viv, moved from Adelaide to become a company man in Fiji. Peter Kearsley, a contemporary of Don’s who later became chief justice of Fiji, said Viv was ‘a fair dinkum sort of chap’, ‘the sort who would have been an office bearer in a bowling club’. His mother, according to Kearsley ...


Dear Editor,

As President of the Australian Historical Association, on 2 March I sent the following letter to the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia, (and copied it to the Hon. Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition; Senator the Hon. Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts; and the Hon. Mark Dreyfus QC, MP, Shadow Minister for ...

Free settlement in Australia from 1788 to the 1850s is an old and favourite topic for historians in this country. It has engaged historical imagination for nearly two centuries, starting with William Charles Wentworth’s A Statistical, Historical, and Political Description of the Colony ...

Annette Kellerman, described by Angela Woollacott as ‘swimmer, diver, vaudeville performer, lecturer, writer and a silent-film star’, has been rediscovered in recent years. In 1994 Sydney’s Marrickville Council renamed its Enmore Park Swimming Pool, upgrading it from a humble pool to the Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre, in honour of the international celebrity, who briefly lived in the neighbourhood as a small child. A 2003 documentary by Michael Cordell celebrated ‘The Original Mermaid’. Now Woollacott presents her, in the company of two other performers, as creating ‘newly modern, racially ambiguous Australian femininities’. Her sisters in racial ambiguity are none other than film star Merle Oberon, whose claim to have been born in Tasmania began to be debunked not long after her death in 1979 (hence the inverted commas necessary for ‘Australian’ in the subtitle), and Rose Quong, performer and writer, whose fascinating story will be unknown to most of us, and is the real discovery of this book.

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