Neal Blewett

Bob Ellis is the quintessential Labour groupie, and Goodbye Babylon the latest instalment in the saga of his love affair with the ALP, which began with The Things We Did Last Summer, a slim and evocative volume, published twenty years ago. By contrast, Goodbye Babylon is a fat book; rather like Ellis himself, it is sprawling, dishevelled, undisciplined but likeable, witty, and gregarious. His prose, though prone to excess, can be rich and compelling.

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Edward Gough Whitlam bestrode the Australian political stage like a colossus for over a generation: first as federal Opposition leader, then as prime minister, and finally as martyr. A legend in his own lifetime, this last role threatens to turn him into myth. More books have been written on aspects of his short and turbulent government than on any other in Australian history. There are already three biographies: a competent quickie by journalist Laurie Oakes in 1976; an eloquent political biography by his speechwriter Graham Freudenberg in 1977; and a psychobiography by the political scientist James Walter in 1980, which depicts Whitlam in terms of a particular personality type – the grandiose narcissist.

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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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As W.H. Auden observed more than forty years ago: ‘To the man-in-the-street, who, I’m sorry to say, / Is a keen observer of life, / The word ‘Intellectual’ suggests straight away / A man who’s untrue to his wife.’ Perhaps such popular attitudes explain why intellectuals as politicians are rare in the bear pit of modern Australian parliaments ...

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Neal Blewett reviews 'A Thinking Reed' by Barry Jones

Neal Blewett
Thursday, 08 August 2019

Gough Whitlam is idolised, Bob Hawke respected, and Paul Keating admired, but Barry Jones is undoubtedly the most loved by the Labor party rank and file, a lovability which puzzled many of his colleagues in the Hawke government (1983–91). Insofar as they recognised it, they qualified it – labelling him ‘a loveable eccentric’ – a characterisation of ...

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Although you might not guess it from media comment, The Latham Diaries (MUP, $39.95 hb, 429 pp, 0522852157) is the most important book yet published on Labor’s wilderness years. It provides a pungent characterisation of Labor’s post-1996 history; conveys a profound understanding of the challenges facing a social democratic party in contemporary Australia ... 

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What is it about Paul Keating that so fascinated his retainers? Six years ago, John Edwards wrote a massive biography-cum-memoir taking Keating’s story to 1993. Now Don Watson has produced an even heftier tome. Narrower in chronological span – 1992 to 1996 – Watson is broader in his interests, more personal, more passionate ...

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It has already become a cliché: Kevin Rudd’s memoir, 'Not for the Faint-Hearted', is not for the faint-hearted. More than 600 densely packed pages long, it contains some 230,000 words and over 1,000 footnotes, but by the end of the volume Rudd is yet to be sworn in as the twenty-sixth prime minister of Australia ...

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Neal Blewett reviews 'Evatt: A life' by John Murphy

Neal Blewett
Monday, 24 October 2016

John Murphy opens his magisterial study of Herbert Vere Evatt – the fourth major biography of the good doctor – with an essay on the challenge of writing biography in general, and of ...

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Books have long provided fodder for films and television. Now films and television series, particularly documentaries, spawn books. The Killing Season Uncut is a ...

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