Joseph Benedict Chifley enjoys a special place in the Australian pantheon – an icon of decencies almost extinct. Born in 1885, Chifley was raised in Bathurst, where he joined the NSW Railways in 1903. One of the youngest-ever first-class locomotive drivers at the age of twenty seven, Chifley was among those who struck for six weeks in 1917 against new management practices in the railways. They lost. He was demoted to fireman, and his union, the Federated Engine-drivers and Firemen’s Association of Australasia, deregistered. He was soon restored to engineman.... (read more)
Colin Nettelbeck reviews 'Tête-À-Tête: The lives and loves of Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre' by Hazel Rowley
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir are both mythical figures. They are also a mythical couple, a symbol of lifelong intellectual and personal commitment to each other and to commonly espoused causes. Of the two, Beauvoir is probably the more widely read today, because of her foundational role in the development of feminism, and the relative accessibility of her writing. In comparison, Sartre’s work, with the exception of his elegantly self-mocking autobiography, Les Mots (1966), is more difficult. His opus is as eclectic as it is voluminous – covering philosophy, prose fiction, theatre, political essays and literary criticism – and it is often dense. With Beauvoir, the reader is always in the presence of a person; with Sartre, we witness above all a mind at work, a brilliant intelligence grappling with whatever problem or issue it has decided to take on. In both cases, their work had a profound impact, mirroring and inspiring fundamental changes in thought and mores. Sartre and Beauvoir shared a philosophy – which went, somewhat loosely, under the name of existentialism – that held that human individuals and societies had the capacity to determine their own destiny, free of the weight of history and tradition. In the wake of World War II, and in the context of the ideological stalemate and nuclear threats of the Cold War, this philosophy of possibility and freedom offered an alternative to the ambient pessimism. It promised not passive resistance but transformative action by and for a humanity willing to create its own future.... (read more)
Christina Slade reviews 'Don Dunstan: The visionary politician who changed Australia' by Angela Woollacott
Don Dunstan tended to divide those around him, even his parents. His father, Viv, moved from Adelaide to become a company man in Fiji. Peter Kearsley, a contemporary of Don’s who later became chief justice of Fiji, said Viv was ‘a fair dinkum sort of chap’, ‘the sort who would have been an office bearer in a bowling club’. His mother, according to Kearsley ...
Philip Dwyer reviews 'Hitler: A Life' by Peter Longerich, translated by Jeremy Noakes and Lesley Sharpe
It’s a disconcerting image. Piercing blue eyes stare out at you from the cover of the book. It renders Adolf Hitler somehow human, which is the intent of the author, Peter Longerich, and which sets this biography apart from the many others that have preceded it. Two other notable biographers, Ian Kershaw and Joachim Fest, refused to engage with Hitler’s personal ...
Ilana Snyder reviews 'Jean Blackburn: Education, feminism and social justice' by Craig Campbell and Debra Hayes
In the foundation Jean Blackburn Memorial Lecture in 2014, David Gonski observed that Australian schooling was unfairly funded – that the money wasn’t going where it was needed. To our national shame, this is not a new phenomenon. Successive governments in Australia have adopted school-funding policies for ...... (read more)
Kári Gíslason reviews 'Henrik Ibsen: The man and the mask' by Ivo de Figueiredo, translated by Robert Ferguson
Conversation is the raison d’être of this monumental monologue. But you might not think so if you read only the reviews. Splenetic, greensick criticism – and there has been plenty of it – insists that what Clive James has built out of a life’s voracious reading and careful noticing – his ‘notes in the margin’ – is a platform for his ego. Not so. But how ruthlessly we skin our own ...... (read more)
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 ...... (read more)
Robert Menzies cast such a large shadow that the contribution of his immediate successors has tended to be belittled, if not forgotten altogether. Each of the three is remembered mostly for things unconnected with their prime ministerships: Harold Holt for the manner of his death; John Gorton for his drinking ...... (read more)
‘AT NIGHT,’ wrote Charmian Clift one summer in the late 1950s on the Greek island of Hydra where she lived with her husband and children, where the harbour village had been invaded by summer tourists, where teams of local Greek matrons invaded the kitchen in relays to monitor the foreign woman’s housework and mothering techniques ...... (read more)