Geoffrey Blainey

Somebody recently told me that Geoffrey Blainey wrote much of the text of this history of Victoria while travelling in aircraft. If true, Blainey has an enviable knack of finding seats with elbow room, but otherwise there’s no reason to complain. Sir Charles Oman, the great military historian of the Napoleonic wars, was said to have drafted one book during a summer spent waiting for connecting trains at French railway stations. Those fortunate enough to possess a lot of intellectual capital should make the most of it. In the central four chapters of social history, perhaps the most satisfactory part of this book, Blainey cites his evidence as ‘the accumulation of years of casual reading of old newspapers, looking at historic sites and talking with old people’. Disarmingly, he adds: ‘Most of the explanations of why change came are probably my own’.

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Australian war historians usually find their theme in the army. Mike Carlton, a well-known journalist, thinks it is time to praise the Australian warship Perth and its men: ‘They were the flower of Australia’s greatest generation. No other has been so tested.’

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Paul Tilley classes the Treasury, now housed in Canberra, as ‘one of Australia’s great enduring institutions’. It began humbly in 1901, in a smallish stone building that still stands at the corner of Collins and Spring Streets in Melbourne. That handsome structure appears to be just about the correct size for its initial staff of five. Just across the street stands a statue of Sir William Clarke, a rich pastoralist of that era who, had he sold some of his properties and sheep, might easily have paid for all the salary cheques signed by the nation’s Treasury in its first weeks.

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Beverley Kingston reviews 'A History of Victoria' by Geoffrey Blainey

Beverly Kingston
Thursday, 19 September 2019

An earlier version of this history of Victoria first appeared in 1984 as Our Side of the Country. Though for the past sixteen years Sydney-born politicians Paul Keating and John Howard have usurped Victoria’s former almost constant ‘top position’ in Canberra, the possessive pride reflected in that early title still runs through this modern version ...

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Unlike an autobiography, which tends to be time-bound and inclusive, the memoir can wander at will in the writer’s past, searching out and shaping an idea of self. Although Geoffrey Blainey’s memoir, Before I Forget, is restricted to the first forty years of his life, its skilfully chosen episodes suggest much more ...

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Australian football has lost its magic, a unique quality existing in the 1950s, and even as late as the 1970s. It derived from the fixed positions that players adopted and from their physical diversity. In their competing forms, they became metaphysical constructs – good versus evil, beauty versus ugliness, benign innocence versus malevolent experience – constructs limited only by the human imagination ...

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General ‘Pompey’ Elliott was a famous Australian in 1918, half forgotten seventy years later, and is now a national military hero. This Anzac Day he stood high. On French soil he was praised by France’s prime minister, Édouard Philippe, in one of the most mesmerising and sensitive speeches ever offered by a European leader to Australian ears ...

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Keith Waller was one of the top ambassadors in a period when Australia urgently needed them. During the Cold War, he served in Moscow and then Washington, where a skilled resident diplomat could be more important than a visiting prime minister ...

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For maybe one century the subject called Economics was monarch of the social sciences. Then the Western world was poorer than it is now, and many economists promised to find a pathway towards the abolition of hunger and unemployment. They also hoped to abolish war: the eager ideologies of free trade were believed by their disciples to be long-term recipes for intern ...

The seminar, as far as I can remember, took place in what was then the Melbourne Teachers’ College on Grattan Street. The late-afternoon sunlight slanting through ornate ...

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