Good books are like recurrent dreams: haunting the reader’s waking hours by sitting, tantalisingly, on the edge of conscious thought. Take, for example, The Big Con: The story of the confidence men, David W. Maurer’s 1940 study of American grifters in the early twentieth century. Maurer’s book has dogged me ever since I revisited my old stamping ground of Berkeley, California, on the eve of Donald Trump’s unlikely ascension to the US presidency. Walking those familiar streets, talking to old friends, watching Trump’s coronation, one of the lessons of The Big Con surfaced in my mind and has done so ever since. Maurer’s rule, which he considered trite but true, was: ‘You can’t cheat an honest man.’ It was a maxim told to Maurer by the gaggle of con artists he interviewed for his linguistic and sociological study. According to the grifters, a person could only be swindled if they had ‘larceny in their veins – in other words, he must want something for nothing, or be prepared to participate in an unscrupulous deal’.

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  • Custom Article Title Joel Deane reviews 'Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy' by Jonathan Taplin
  • Contents Category Society
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Good books are like recurrent dreams: haunting the reader’s waking hours by sitting, tantalisingly, on the edge of conscious thought. Take, for example ...

  • Book Title Move Fast and Break Things
  • Book Author Jonathan Taplin
  • Book Subtitle How Facebook, Google, and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Macmillan, $39.99 pb, 286 pp, 9781509847723

Ellen van Neerven, Joel Deane, and Mike Ladd present poems about journeys, recovery, and healing, from comfort food to the experience of a stroke, within overlapping landscapes as palimpsests for their respective pathways.

Reciprocity through feeding runs through Ellen van Neerven’s first collection (Comfort Food, University of Queensland Press, $24.95 pb, 104 pp, 9780702254055) – reciprocity within and without family. Staples like bread and noodles bring joy and contact through breaking and sharing. The fibrous texture of mango cheeks paired with a found object – half a tennis ball – correlates to childhood; the softness of pumpkin scones and familial Dutch comfort food represent togetherness and belonging, expressing van Neerven’s mixed Mununjali and European heritage.

Edgier correspondences are found in the elders drying out kangaroo tails on a wire fence crossed by settler lines imposed on country. These create their own twisted hieroglyphics, and ‘out here there’s reading to be done’ in order ‘to be a piece in time / not a timeline / or a picket in a fence’. An old neighbour attracts animals, including ‘a tree snake hung with his belts’ – juxtaposed skins of the living and dead. A woman with cancer remembers ‘that day she found a snakeskin by the river / they say grief infiltrates strange locations / usually ties itself around your lungs like rubber bands’. Such lines within the body and spanning country are spun out deftly through the text.

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  • Custom Article Title Nathanael Pree reviews 'Comfort Food' by Ellen van Neerven, 'Year of the Wasp' by Joel Deane, and 'Invisible Mending' by Mike Ladd
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Book Title Comfort Food
  • Book Author Ellen van Neerven
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press, $24.95 pb, 104 pp, 9780702254055

I interviewed Lindsay Tanner once, back in 2012. Tanner was sixteen months retired from political life, and I had come seeking insight into the workings of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party and Canberra's byzantine politics. The former member for Melbourne – a unionist and Socialist Left factional player who had risen to become one of the brighter minds of his generation of Labor parliamentarians and a member of the so-called Rudd Government's 'gang of four' (together with Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan, and Julia Gillard) – invited me to his office at Lazard, a global firm peddling financial advice.

We met in a boardroom on the 33rd floor of 101 Collins Street. Tanner was as expected: a man of quiet authority with thoughtful views on the workings of Australia's economy and democracy. Although not as Olympian as Gough Whitlam in his disdain of state politics, Tanner was also, to my dismay, dismissive of Spring Street. He both impressed and annoyed me as an interviewee. Much the same could be said of his probationary novel, Comfort Zone.

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  • Custom Article Title Joel Deane reviews 'Comfort Zone' by Lindsay Tanner
  • Contents Category Fiction
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    I interviewed Lindsay Tanner once, back in 2012. Tanner was sixteen months retired from political life, and I had come seeking insight into the workings of the Victorian ...

  • Book Title Comfort Zone
  • Book Author Lindsay Tanner
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Scribe $29.99 pb, 240 pp, 9781925321029

Mark Latham – former columnist for the Australian Financial Review, former 'special correspondent' for Sixty Minutes, former federal leader of the Australian Labor Party – wasn't the only politician to keep a diary. Writing in The Latham Diaries (2005) – a book most politicians and apparatchiks approach via the index – Latham revealed that we have Stephen Loosley, the ex-heavyweight of the New South Wales right, to thank for his scabrous farewell to politics. 'When I first went to Canberra,' Latham wrote, 'I noticed that Senator Stephen Loosley took notes and kept a diary at Caucus meetings. I decided to adopt a similar practice.'

Sadly, Machine Rules is a major disappointment. Loosley is a former senator, general secretary of the New South Wales branch, and national president of the ALP. He has also spent the past twenty years as a well-connected corporate lawyer and enjoyed a close relationship with the Murdoch empire. Loosley knows how politics and power work in Canberra and Sydney, political party rooms and boardrooms, public and private. Why, then, did he put his name to such a damp squib of a book? Few secrets are revealed, fewer insights proffered, and hardly a toe is trod upon. Instead, Loosley, who retired from political life twenty years ago, trots out a conga line of stale stories, bad jokes, and platitudinous references to mates both political and corporate.

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  • Custom Article Title Joel Deane reviews 'Machine Rules' by Stephen Loosley
  • Contents Category Politics
  • Book Title Machine Rules
  • Book Author Stephen Loosley
  • Book Subtitle A Political Primer
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Melbourne University Press, $34.99 pb, 223 pp, 9780522867404

Our first 'Poem of the Week' for 2016 is 'Following the many elbows of the Yarra' by Joel Deane. ABR's Poetry Editor, Lisa Gorton, introduces Joel who then discusses and reads his poem.


Following the many elbows of the Yarra

Following the many elbows of the Yarra,
taking the racing line,
retracing the route to the Toorak school that did not teach,
            but bequeathed a tie,
I was blinded by the nostalgia of a life half lived,
and did not see the vixen spirit herself across the road
just in time to feel the bite of my tyres.
There was no time to brake.
My foot was half on, half off, the accelerator when
I felt the shock of her through my steering wheel,
             heard her cry.
I could have kept driving into the night—
the road was dead, the streets asleep—
but could not forget that time when,
coming down Brown Mountain in a Toyota,
I killed a goanna and kept going,
lacked the decency to drag the carcass off the road,
and how I carried that sin in my glove compartment still.
             I stopped.
Stepped out into the early morning,
the air cold enough to turn breathe to steam,
and stood by the taillights of my old 318,
watched the fox lie in the glare of a street light,
half a world away from her natural home,
and felt something close to pity.
Waited until a fleeting shadow—at first an eclipse—
grew smaller, darker, then manifested as a wedge-tailed eagle
that landed on the double-white line without a sound,
wing tips sweeping the leaves from the blue-black road.
The eagle was telling me she was watching me
watch the fox, so, now I knew I had no choice.
             I had to act.
I left my car behind,
purring its soft red cloud of carcinogens,
and heard my boots strike the bitumen
as I drew close enough to see my animus
reflected in her animal eye.
The vixen was breathing—more like panting—
and unable to move more than her head.
Without thinking,
I reached down to touch her burnt orange fur,
but she had seen enough of my kind
on her backyard travels
and, throwing her head up, caught my thumb
             in the trap of her razor teeth
What happened next surprised us all.
Without speaking, I took off my old school tie
to bind my bleeding hand,
walked back to the car, popped the boot
and came back to the fox with the wheel jack
swinging low from my good hand,
then let that hand rise and fall
beneath the shadow of the street light,
and listened to the sound of steel splintering bone
while the eagle—with a sweep of mighty wings—
lifted herself from the road to seek solace in the sky.

Joel Deane is a speechwriter, novelist, and poet. He has worked in Australia and the United States as a journalist and political staffer – covering the 2000 Democratic National Convention, serving as principal speechwriter to Labor Premiers Steve Bracks and John Brumby, and lecturing widely on politics and public language. In 2009, he was a finalist for the Melbourne Prize for Literature Best Writing Award. His new non-fiction book, Catch and Kill: The Politics of Power, will be published by the University of Queensland Press in July 2015.

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  • Custom Article Title Poem of the Week - Joel Deane reads 'Following the many elbows of the Yarra'
  • Contents Category Poem
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Our first 'Poem of the Week' for 2016 is 'Following the many elbows of the Yarra' by Joel Deane. ABR's Poetry Editor, Lisa Gorton, introduces Joel who then discusses and reads his poem.

Monday, 30 November 2015 12:30

Letters to the Editor - December 2015


Tim Colebatch's review of my book Catch and Kill: The Politics of Power (November 2015) quotes a comment I made to The Age about not wanting to write 'one of those batshit boring books' about politics. For the record, I was not referring to his biography of Rupert Hamer, which I read and admired. The batshit boring books shall remain nameless. As shall their publisher.

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  • Custom Article Title Letters to the Editor - December 2015
  • Contents Category Letters

Since 1980, Victoria has become a natural Labor state. It has seen twenty-three federal and state elections in that time, and Labor has won seventeen of them. The Coalition has won just three state elections in thirty-five years, and a majority of Victoria's seats at just three of the last thirteen federal elections.

It is a stunning reversal of roles. For its first ninety years, Labor was camped almost permanently on the outer of Victorian politics, while the Liberals or Country Party occupied the government benches. Menzies, Bolte, Hamer, Fraser: the Liberal party was a broad church, but a successful one, which took care of the political middle ground while Labor focused more on internal and union warfare than on winning government. It is very different now. Since the long Liberal rule in Victoria ended in 1982, Labor in every state has been in government most of the time, and the Coalition in opposition. In Victoria, the last Coalition government survived just one term. Its Labor predecessor lasted for three terms and then suddenly lost power when everyone, including the Liberals, assumed it would win a fourth.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Tim Colebatch reviews 'Catch and Kill' by Joel Deane
  • Contents Category Politics
  • Book Title Catch and Kill
  • Book Author Joel Deane
  • Book Subtitle The Politics of Power
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press, $32.95 pb, 368 pp, 9780702249808

I was working as a technology journalist in San Francisco when Steve Jobs made his messianic return to Apple. It was September 1997, the height of the dotcom boom. In the city, the old industrial tracts between Market Street and China Basin were being transformed by start-ups. People were living on free pizza and hoping to strike it rich with stock options in an initial public offering. Cupertino, the spiritual home of Apple, was almost an hour away from the action of the SoMa (south of Market) area, renamed ‘Multimedia Gulch’ by some marketing shonk trying to ape the brand recognition of Silicon Valley.

Jobs’s return to Apple was big news. After all, the man was a living legend in the world of personal computing. Still, few techies thought much would change once the smoke cleared. Sure, Apple was a much-loved part of tech history – for example, the basement of one colleague’s Bay Area house was an unofficial museum containing working versions of every Apple product ever sold. Jobs had turned a small investment in an animation studio called Pixar into a $5 billion dollar windfall. But as Apple hadn’t been on the cutting edge since the release of the Apple II in 1977, it was bound to follow Atari into Silicon Valley’s bone-yard.

People were right to be sceptical. But we were wrong. Jobs – the man who had been thrown out of Apple in 1985 – didn’t just save Apple: he turned a company that was a whisper away from folding into the most valuable company on the planet. Four years after the death of Jobs, Apple has gone from strength to strength; even beating the odds and succeeding where other US tech companies have failed: China.

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  • Custom Article Title Joel Deane reviews 'Becoming Steve Jobs' by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli
  • Contents Category Media
  • Book Title Becoming Steve Jobs
  • Book Author Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli
  • Book Subtitle How a reckless upstart became a visionary leader
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Hachette, $35 pb, 455 pp, 9781444761993

‘My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.’ With those opening words in The Sportswriter (1986), Richard Ford introduced one of American literature’s more unlikely protagonists. In his fictional début, Bascombe is a former short story writer-turned-journalist, aged in his thirties, navigating suburban life in Haddam, New Jersey, after the death of a son and the breakdown of a marriage.

‘Why did I quit writing?’ Bascombe asks in The Sportswriter.

Was it just that things did not come easily enough? Or that I couldn’t translate my personal recognitions into the ambiguous stuff of complex literature? Or that I had nothing to write about, no more discoveries up my sleeve or the pizazz to write the more extensive work? And my answer is: there are those reasons and at least twenty better ones … One thing certain is that I had somehow lost my sense of anticipation at age twenty-five. Anticipation is the sweet pain to know whatever’s next – a must for any real writer.

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  • Custom Article Title Joel Deane reviews 'Let Me Be Frank With You' by Richard Ford
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title Let Me Be Frank With You
  • Book Author Richard Ford
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Bloomsbury Publishing, $29.99 pb, 256 pp, 9781408853498
Monday, 25 August 2014 12:17

The making of a new Labor martyr

Gough Whitlam may not have been one of the Australian Labor Party’s greatest prime ministers, but, since his defenestration by Governor-General John Kerr in 1975, he has been embraced as one of the ALP’s great martyrs. Kerr’s dismissal of the Whitlam Government galvanised the Labor movement. To Labor eyes, Kerr was Pontius Pilate and Whitlam the slain Messiah. New followers – many of them, like Whitlam, university-educated progressives – joined the ALP. New ideas were aired through policy think-tanks such as the Labor Resource Centre, headed by Jenny Macklin, a future federal deputy leader. Out of that angst and rage, a new ALP was forged. Labor was no longer a troglodyte party ruled by factional warlords and sectarian hatreds. It was a modern progressive movement hell-bent on winning and wielding power. After all, as Whitlam famously said to an ALP State Conference in Melbourne in 1967, ‘Only the impotent are pure.’

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  • Custom Article Title Joel Deane reviews two books on Julia Gillard
  • Contents Category Politics
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    Joel Deane reviews two new titles on Julia Gillard and speculates whether she, like Gough Whitlam before her, has been typecast as martyr.

  • Book Title GRAVITY
  • Book Author Mary Delahunty
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Hardie Grant Books, $29.95 pb, 270 pp, 9781742707631
  • Book Author 2 Troy Bramston
  • Biblio 2 Penguin, $9.99 pb, 165 pp, 9780143571797
  • Book Cover 2 Small Book Cover 2 Small
  • Author Type 2 Author
  • Book Cover 2 Book Cover 2
  • Book Cover 2 Path /images/September_2014/Rudd%20Gillard%20-%20colour.jpg
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