Melbourne University Press

Australian conservatism, for all its political dominance, is little understood and has been studied by surprisingly few scholars. The very industrious and perceptive Peter van Onselen is almost single-handedly determined to correct this imbalance. He has brought together a timely collection of essays on the Liberal Party and its future, coinciding with yet another term in unaccustomed opposition, an experience invariably chastising for the conservatives. The immediate predecessors to the modern-day Liberal Party on the non-Labor side of politics disintegrated on losing office, and the Liberal Party’s own spells in opposition have been periods of both blood-letting and soul searching. There is a happy focus (for the Liberal Party, at least) on the latter in this necessarily mixed bag.

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John Kinsella’s new memoir, Fast, Loose Beginnings, may have been published by the august publishing house of Melbourne University Publishing, but it is nevertheless a garage-band of a book. It is, as its title signals, both fast and loose. Its rhythms aren’t always graceful, and its timbres aren’t always smooth. You can almost hear the hum of the amplifiers. The poet Jaya Savige, in his review of the book for the Sydney Morning Herald, commented on the book’s lack of polish.

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In the winter issue of Meanjin, some of Australia’s best writers, including Sophie Cunningham, Lucy Treloar, and Jennifer Mills, grapple with the climate emergency and our relationship to place in these days of coronavirus and the summer that was.

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Neal Blewett reviews three books on Kevin Rudd

Neal Blewett
Friday, 10 July 2020

The political assassination of Kevin Rudd will fascinate for a long time to come. As with Duncan’s murder in Shakespeare’s play it was done, as Lady Macbeth cautioned, under ‘the blanket of the dark’, literally the night of 23–24 June 2010. The assassins heeded Macbeth’s advice: ‘if it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.’ And as in Macbeth, the assassins were in the shadow of the throne. Even the old king approved: Bob Hawke, himself deposed in 1991, recognised at last that the removal of a Labor prime minister is sometimes necessary.

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During the lead-up to the 2008 United States presidential election, I found myself waiting for a train at the Princeton railway station with nothing to read. I picked up a copy of the student newspaper. Much of it was standard Bush bashing, intermingled with unrealistic expectations of what Obama might achieve. But one sentence in an editorial caught my eye: ‘It is time to end amateur hour at the White House.’ One of the great failings of George W. Bush’s presidency was the neglect of expert advice on the complex issues that faced America during his two terms. Ideology, prejudice and vested interests trumped properly informed judgements based on good research.

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Even the cover design of Sheila Fitzpatrick’s memoir gave me something to ponder. The title, which signals the father–daughter story, is linked with an engaging seaside photograph of the two of them. The father’s swimming trunks and the daughter’s bathing cap have an authentic 1940s look. Add to that a bland subtitle, Memories of an Australian Childhood, and the tough confrontations of the text may come as a surprise.

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Needless to say, yet needing to be said, Australia’s twenty-third prime minister, R.J.L. Hawke, emerges from this interesting, sometimes engrossing yet disconcerting book smelling like roses. When MUP decided to publish, it must have seemed like a good idea. Deployed on television, Bob and Blanche were a marketing dream. But the result has a fatal flaw; it neither enlarges Hawke as a political leader nor advances d’Alpuget as a writer.

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From the very beginning of The Rearrangement the reader is involved in themes which will play repeatedly through the poems: learning, knowledge and memory, and the way in which these work to satisfy, or frustrate, a metaphysical sense of order, even truth. 

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John Curtin and James Scullin occupy very different places in whatever collective memory Australians have of their prime ministers. On the occasions that rankings of prime ministers have been published, Curtin invariably appears at or near the top. When researchers at Monash University in 2010 produced such a ranking based on a survey of historians and political scientists, Curtin led the pack, with Scullin rated above only Joseph Cook, Arthur Fadden, and Billy McMahon. Admittedly, this ranking was produced before anyone had ever thought of awarding an Australian knighthood to Prince Philip, but the point is clear enough: Curtin rates and Scullin does not.

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The title of Ken Inglis’s book is a poignant irony, reflecting the transience of history itself. For its publication coincided exactly with the death of the Commission, and the birth of the Corporation, and with hindsight one can say that it should have been called That was the ABC, thus creating a pleasant symmetry with That Was the Week That Was. But Inglis did his best to defeat time by bringing the history up to the federal election of 5 March 1983, edging his way as near as possible to the date he would like to have reached.

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