The Great Depression

In 2007, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Great Ocean Road, a bronze statue was unveiled at Eastern View, near Torquay. The statue, titled ‘The Diggers’, depicts two pick-wielding mates, one handing the other a drink. In name and form, the statue memorialises both the World War I Anzacs the road was built to honour and the repatriated soldiers who began constructing it in 1919. But the statue tells only half the story. As the anniversary date indicates, the Great Ocean Road was completed in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. It provided work not only for returned servicemen, but also for thousands of unemployed a decade later. Many probably worked under both circumstances.

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Lucky Shirley Temple! Film star biographies are usually made up of a chronology laced with doubtful studio publicity and salacious gossip. But The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression is written by a reigning scholar of American culture, John F. Kasson. A professor of History and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kasson takes entertainment seriously. For more than forty years, beginning with Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (1971), he has uncovered the cultural significance of popular leisure-time activities, places, and personalities in a style that is both scholarly and entertaining. His Houdini, Tarzan and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America (2001) used three mini-biographies to explore the ‘masculinity crisis’ of the early twentieth century. In The Little Girl, he focuses on one icon to help us see how Americans survived the Great Depression.

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