Rachel Buchanan

A Mother's Story by Rosie Batty with Bryce Corbett

December 2015, no. 377

I was halfway through A Mother's Story when my oldest daughter asked how I would review it. 'Will you talk about the writing, mum, or the content?' she said. 'You could bring personal experience into it because you are a mother too. You'll read it differently from me.'

Lily is fourteen. She is rarely interested in the same books as me and she has ne ...

Silent Shock by Michael Magazanik

August 2015, no. 373

Silent Shock is an ambitious, important book. It is a work of history, a work of journalism, and a forensic exposé of hideous corporate negligence, all woven around the lives of one modest Melbourne family.

Former journalist turned lawyer Michael Magazanik was one of the dozens of lawyers, barristers, and researchers who worked on a recent class acti ...

David Syme made his name and his fortune in newspapers – specifically The Age – and his life’s course might be compared with the workings of a gigantic web offset press.

I have watched such machines at work. They start off slow; the rolls of naked newsprint snake by gently, round and round. When the presses roar to life the noise is astonishing; the paper is stretched like the thinnest of skins as it flashes, smooth and furious, through the machine, soaking up words and pictures. If the paper breaks, the whole thing unravels and the run must be reset. So it was with Syme, the brilliant but perplexing man who owned and ran The Age from 1860 until his death in 1908. At its peak in the 1880s, only the London dailies had higher circulations. One in ten people in Melbourne bought a copy.

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New Zealand coins often sneak into Australian purses. Both currencies bear the queen’s, and some coins have common colonial symbols on the front (Cook’s Endeavour on the Kiwi fifty cent, for example), but these coins only work by stealth. They have value if they can pass as Australian. Recognised for what they are – foreign objects – their currency evaporates ...

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The book in my hand is a Letts Diary, 11B, made in England. The diary is small, no bigger than a child’s hand. It belonged to a boy named Michael Snell. Clearly he loved school; his first entries list the subjects he studied each day. On 23 January 1950 Michael wrote: ‘Had a letter sent went to school … we had our second injection against typhoid fever getting excited.’ On 24 January he wrote: ‘Last whole day in England for quite a time I hope I come back sometime.’ Then his ship sailed. On 25 January, Michael played football on deck with some other children. Next day he played table tennis, shuttlecock, darts. There was no land in sight. ‘Saw Plymouth last we saw of England for quite a time had light tea waiting for High dinner.’

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Melbourne woman Kate Holden’s memoir of being a heroin user and of working as a prostitute to fund her habit opens with a quote from Virgil: ‘To descend into hell is easy. But to return – what work, what a labour it is!’ The quote is at odds with the life story Holden constructs in this brave, explicit, and extremely well-written book ...

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