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Anne Partlon

Perth by David Whish-Wilson

February 2014, no. 358

Once regarded as a provincial backwater, Perth has been transformed by the latest mineral resources boom into the nation’s fastest-growing city. The world’s most isolated capital, it is also one of the most outward-looking: a land of ‘porous boundaries’ and endless possibilities, where time and distance are illusory, and the collective gaze of its citizens has, from the first, been resolutely fixed upon the future; and yet it remains a site of ‘great contradictions’. ‘Spacious yet claustrophobic’, open but secretive, it is a place where Georgian buildings sit alongside glass towers; where nostalgia for a ‘vanished frontier’ infects the prevailing mood of optimism; and where, in winter, even the iconic Swan River flows in two directions at once, the rainwater from the Darling Scarp washing seawards above the salty incoming tide beneath. Faced with these competing views, author David Whish-Wilson goes in search of the essential Perth and finds a people and a place shaped by ancient and modern forces.

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Between European settlement in 1829 and the 1900 federal referendum, the legislation regulating matrimony in the infant Swan River colony changed eight times. Now, in this intelligent dissection of marriage and divorce laws in colonial Western Australia, historian Penelope Hetherington examines the political, religious, and social forces that effected change, redefined gender relations, and led to a gradual recognition of the rights of women.

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