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Gough Whitlam

The careful media management accompanying the Australian National Archive’s release in January 2004 of cabinet papers covering the first year in office of the Whitlam government underlined the interest of the ageing ex-prime minister and his supporters in safeguarding his status as an Australian icon. It was a success: most analysts agreed that the papers showed that in 1973 the newly elected Labor government performed with exceptional dynamism and transparency.

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Part guru, part factoid, Gough Whitlam shows every sign of enjoying his retirement from politics. Thanks primarily to Sir John Kerr, Sir Garfield Barwick, and Sir Anthony Mason. And of course, Malcolm Fraser.

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This is a massive book, as large in scale as the author himself, running to over 700 pages, and – at a rough estimate – to something like 300,000 words of text, lightened only by a few photographs, all of them of Gough Whitlam with friends and enemies.

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As soon as I read the title, I welcomed Mr Gough Whitlam’s pamphlet following perhaps an instinctual and rather biased interest in all that concerns both Italian and English literatures, and even more so whenever I come across an analysis of cross-currents between the two. My enthusiasm, however, was but short-lived. What the booklet offers, in fact, is only an enormous and indigestible amount of information, collated in a hopscotch fashion, with hardly any attempt to classify it in any way or to illustrate the purpose of such a mammoth task; it eventually fails to offer the reader a satisfactory overall picture, however superficial, of what the author means by ‘Italian Inspiration in English Literature’.

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