Australian classical music. Not quite an oxymoron, but certainly an unfamiliar phrase. Yet Australian literature has been promoted by a battery of university courses overseas, following the beachhead established by Patrick White’s Nobel Prize. Similarly, Australian art has twice had great moments of impact: the Whitechapel exhibition of 1961 for the Nolan–Boyd generation, and now the continuing worldwide interest in Aboriginal art. Our rock stars have repeatedly made worldwide reputations; in classical music, Australian singers have regularly risen to the top. But classical composition has been something else. Apart from the quirky Percy Grainger – deftly working in small forms, sometimes with large resources – no Australian composer has had a significant influence overseas (though Brett Dean is shaping up as a contender). Grainger had to abandon Australia to do so, eventually taking out American citizenship.... (read more)
Ilana Snyder reviews 'A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion' by Tom Segev, translated by Haim Watzman
In Israel’s recent election, Benjamin Netanyahu desperately defended his position as Israel’s prime minister, but perhaps also as a free man, because he may soon face trial for corruption charges. As Israelis learn more about his lavish life style, many yearn for the days of David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), whom they recall as an ascetic statesman of vision and integrity. Netanyahu is seen as the opposite of Ben-Gurion.
So mused Israeli historian and journalist Tom Segev, author of this important biography of Israel’s first prime minister, in Haaretz newspaper. But, he added, Netanyahu has in many ways followed in Ben-Gurion’s footsteps, especially in his view that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians can at best be managed, not solved.... (read more)
Sam Leith, literary editor of Spectator magazine, recently put author Benjamin Moser on the spot. ‘Do you think her work will last?’ he asked, referring to the writings of Susan Sontag, whose biography Moser had not long finished. ‘And if so, which of it?’ Moser dissembled bravely. ‘Well, I hope so ...... (read more)
Much has been written on Edna Walling’s gardens, first by herself, later by garden historians, although no detailed account of her early career has been attempted, and less still is generally known of her private life. With a play on Walling to her credit (1987), Sara Hardy presents an account of her private life (1895–1973) and of her early career.... (read more)
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)