Living, working, and being in the Indigenous space, there are times when it feels as though nothing changes. Indeed, on occasion, it can feel as though things are in fact regressing. When The Hon. Ken Wyatt AM, MP was announced as the new Minister for Indigenous Australians, after the re-election of the Morrison government, numerous family members, friends, and colleagues expressed dismay that this appeared to represent a dilution of the role, which had been, to that point, the Minister of Indigenous Affairs. In recent weeks I have come to see that having an Aboriginal man as Minister for Indigenous Australians is indeed a step forward.

Wyatt delivered his speech while I was at the Australian Historical Association’s annual conference in Toowoomba. The AHA is generally not a hotbed of radical politics; often delegates are far more comfortable in the nineteenth century than they are among contemporary politics. This time, things were different. The Uluru Statement from the Heart and constitutional reform seemed to be a common theme during sessions, morning tea, and indeed the AGM. A colleague of mine who had attended the Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference in Perth the previous week remarked that a similar Zeitgeist seemed to be evident there. It is clear to me things are changing, and that change is political, cultural, and social.

Politically, there is talk of constitutional reform. The expansive generosity of the Uluru Statement has been noted by many, and there is talk at the highest levels of government that there will be constitutional reform, though precisely what this might look like is uncertain. Despite the deliberate obfuscation of conservative commentators, it is clear that a third chamber of Parliament is not being proposed. Constitutional reform needs the support of both sides of politics. Now might just be the right time.

Culturally, we are seeing an efflorescence of Indigenous creative talent. Tony Birch’s eagerly awaited new novel has been released, along with that of Tara June Winch, both to great acclaim. Birch probes the social and the political as he movingly demonstrates how the past shapes and gives form to the present. Winch draws on the power of language (Wiradjuri) of a lexicon lost, and reclaimed. Fiction, or rather storytelling, is a hallmark of Aboriginal culture; today’s creative authors draw on thousands of years of storytelling and yarning. Through a very modern form, they continue the tradition of sharing and informing.

In June, on a cold and wet Melbourne Saturday evening, Deborah Cheetham premièred her magisterial Eumeralla, a war requiem for peace. The performance was entirely in the reclaimed Gunditjmara language. Eumeralla was sold out weeks in advance, and the effusive praise it received suggests that the audience, black and white, was both moved and awestruck. Cultural productions at all levels from highbrow to popular and vernacular are now visible, even commonplace. The wildly successful ABC television show Black Comedy, along with the film Top End Wedding, indicate that mainstream Australia has finally allowed space for Indigenous ways of telling. It would be difficult not to see this creative energy as an Indigenous renaissance and a significant cultural shift.

Social change has been remarkable too, from Acknowledgment and Welcomes to Country, to the official apology to the Stolen Generations, to changes in school curricula. The sporting arena has played an essential role in this. The NRL and AFL Indigenous rounds have promoted the significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players. The pride shown by all players when promoting their club’s Indigenous-designed jerseys melds the athletic with the aesthetic.

Ash Barty’s victory at the French Tennis Open, while celebrated by many, unleashed hate-filled comments in the social media space, with criticisms of her physique and her insistence on her pride in her Ngarigo Aboriginal heritage. Sadly, racism abides, often coupled with wilful ignorance. This ignorance was perhaps best demonstrated by the treatment of dual Brownlow medallist and Sydney Football Club champion Adam Goodes. The recent documentary on the Goodes saga, The Final Quarter, revealed the thin layer of civility that covers parts of Australian society. It is telling that following the première of The Final Quarter, the AFL and all eighteen clubs apologised ‘unreservedly for our failures’. Palpably things are changing; sometimes they move forwards, sometimes they regress.

This Indigenous-themed issue of the ABR marks the start of an annual tradition. Also, in this issue for the first time, an Acknowledgment of Country has been included, a feature that will henceforth appear in each edition. This issue represents a deepening of the relationship between Monash University, in particular, the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre and ABR. The creation of the ABR Indigenous Fellowship is a welcome extension of this focus.

I am grateful to ABR for this proactive, engaged commitment to true reconciliation and Indigenous recognition. 

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  • Custom Article Title 'Living in the Indigenous space' by Lynette Russell
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    Living, working, and being in the Indigenous space, there are times when it feels as though nothing changes. Indeed, on occasion, it can feel as though things are in fact regressing. When The Hon. Ken Wyatt AM, MP was announced as the new Minister for Indigenous Australians ...

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In the early eighteenth century, smallpox inoculations were introduced to England and promoted by the charismatic Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, one of the many scintillating characters in David Isaacs’s outstanding book Defeating the Ministers of Death: The compelling history of vaccination. Inoculation, a precursor of modern vaccination, was initially trialled on prisoners, with impressive results, leading to the technique being used by the British royal family and eventually the wider public.

Around the same time, when many of his compatriots in France considered the English foolish for apparently giving their children a disease (by inoculation) to prevent them from catching it in future, Voltaire wrote his Letters on the English. He noted that the English meanwhile considered continental Europeans who dreaded inoculation ‘cowardly and unnatural’, since fear of the relatively small risks of the procedure left their children at much greater risk of disfigurement or death from smallpox. Although such debates took place almost three centuries ago, they will be familiar to modern readers who still find such clashes of opinion regarding vaccination in newspapers today.

Defeating the Ministers of Death charts the history of vaccines from the early successes and controversies of smallpox to the present day. It is replete with vivid details of historical characters, not only of the scientists who developed vaccines and the famous people affected by vaccine-preventable diseases, but also of the harm done by these diseases to everyday people, especially the poor. The volume includes striking case studies drawn from Isaacs’s long career as a paediatrician working on at least three continents during decades in which increased access to vaccines saved millions of lives. It is an entertaining and engaging work that is sure to delight general readers as well as those with special interests in the history of public health.


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  • Custom Article Title Euzebiusz Jamrozik reviews Defeating the Ministers of Death: The compelling history of vaccination by David Isaacs
  • Contents Category History
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    In the early eighteenth century, smallpox inoculations were introduced to England and promoted by the charismatic Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, one of the many scintillating characters in David Isaacs’s outstanding book Defeating the Ministers of Death ...

  • Book Title Defeating the Ministers of Death
  • Book Author David Isaacs
  • Book Subtitle The compelling history of vaccination
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio HarperCollins, $34.99 pb, 368 pp, 9781460756843

Though he had already produced two volumes of poetry, Roger McDonald first came to popular attention with his spectacular début novel, 1915, published in 1979. A recreation of the Gallipoli Campaign from the points of view of two temperamentally different boyhood friends (thus anticipating Peter Weir’s movie Gallipoli, which appeared in 1981), 1915 stood out from the ruck of Australian World War I retrospective fiction. It still does. Meticulously researched, it provides a plausible historical reconstruction of a lost world, and an arresting account of the perils and stresses of life in the ‘whirlpool of venomous geography’ around Anzac Cove.

1915 was more than yet another deferential historical novel about Australians at war. By fusing domestic with military brutality, it penetrated the complacent face of the heroic Australian war legend. Country-born Billy Mackenzie starts out as the stereotypical Digger, one of the boys. Attractively cocky and truculent, he is said to be ‘made’ for war; at Gallipoli he becomes a sinister, psychopathic, and solitary sniper nicknamed ‘the Murderer’. But his Gallipoli self was there in the making, in killing kangaroos for pleasure and sexual violence at home before the war. Men like Billy Mackenzie, McDonald writes towards the end of the novel, carry war within them and seem compelled ‘to obey its simple imperative’. This is a disturbing take on C.E.W. Bean’s notion that the bush-bred Australians of the First AIF were ready-made for the battlefield.


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  • Custom Article Title Robin Gerster reviews Postcolonial Heritage and Settler Well-Being: The historical fictions of Roger Mcdonald by Christopher Lee
  • Contents Category Biography
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    Though he had already produced two volumes of poetry, Roger McDonald first came to popular attention with his spectacular début novel, 1915, published in 1979. A recreation of the Gallipoli Campaign from the points of view of two ...

  • Book Title Postcolonial Heritage and Settler Well-Being
  • Book Author Christopher Lee
  • Book Subtitle The historical fictions of Roger Mcdonald
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  • Biblio Cambria Press, $134.99 hb, 246 pp, 9781604979497

The late historian Patrick Wolfe did not pull any punches when he wrote that colonialism seeks to eliminate and replace the Indigenous cultures holding sovereignty over the lands and resources that colonisers wish to claim. Wolfe considered this ‘logic of elimination’ to be one of the defining and persisting features of colonial societies, manifest not only as early-frontier warfare and land expropriation but also as a whole range of subsequent policies and attitudes working towards the erasure, dispossession, or assimilation of Indigenous peoples. By demonstrating the continuity between these policies and attitudes and the violence of the frontier, Wolfe famously asserted that colonial invasion is not a single event occurring in the distant past – something over and done with, which everyone should now move on from – but an ongoing structure within colonial societies today, including Australia.

Heavy stuff, all this talk of invasion and erasure. Not a suitable topic for children, some might think. Indeed, many fully grown white Australian adults balk at thinking about, or even acknowledging, these defining aspects of Australia’s past and present. And yet, reading this ground-breaking anthology as a non-Indigenous person, one is struck by the fact that growing up Aboriginal in Australia often means confronting and negotiating the ongoing structure of colonial invasion, and its eliminatory logic, at a very young age. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia is compiled and edited by Anita Heiss – prolific writer, anthologist, Indigenous literacy advocate, and proud Wiradjuri woman – who brings together more than fifty contributors to reflect on growing up Aboriginal in Australia. Heiss begins her introduction by emphasising that ‘there is no single or simple way to define what it means to grow up Aboriginal in Australia’, and that her goal in compiling this anthology is ‘to showcase as many of the diverse voices, experiences and stories together as possible’. Heiss makes a number of editorial decisions that work to showcase this diversity.


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  • Custom Article Title David Haworth reviews Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia edited by Anita Heiss
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    The late historian Patrick Wolfe did not pull any punches when he wrote that colonialism seeks to eliminate and replace the Indigenous cultures holding sovereignty over the lands and resources that colonisers wish to claim ...

  • Book Title Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia
  • Book Author Anita Heiss
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Black Inc., $29.99 pb, 311 pp, 9781863959810

Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt is renowned as the woman who defeated David Irving in court after he sued her for describing him as a Holocaust denier. Her portrayal by Rachel Weisz in the film Denial (2016) ensured that Lipstadt and her landmark victory achieved even wider celebrity.

Thousands of books have been written on the history of anti-Semitism, and Lipstadt has not set out to write another. Alarmed that people continue to demonise Jews and regard them as responsible for evil, she directs her attention to its contemporary resurgence. For Lipstadt, anti-Semitism ‘is not the hatred of people who happen to be Jews. It is hatred of them because they are Jews’. The existence of anti-Semitism, which has never made sense and never will, is a threat not just to Jews but to all those who value an inclusive, democratic, and multicultural society. Indeed, when expressions of contempt for one group become normative, it is virtually inevitable that similar hatred will be directed at other groups.

Antisemitism: Here and now addresses questions that people began asking after the white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. Is today’s anti-Semitism different from earlier manifestations? Where is it coming from: the right or the left? Is it all about Israel? Are we seeing anti-Semitism where it’s not, or refusing to see it where it clearly is?

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  • Custom Article Title Ilana Snyder reviews Antisemitism: Here and now by Deborah Lipstadt
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    Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt is renowned as the woman who defeated David Irving in court after he sued her for describing him as a Holocaust denier. Her portrayal by Rachel Weisz in the film Denial (2016) ensured that Lipstadt and her landmark victory achieved even wider celebrity ...

  • Book Title Antisemitism: Here and now
  • Book Author Deborah Lipstadt
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Scribe, $32.99 pb, 287 pp, 9781925322675
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Marilyn Lake is without doubt one of the most influential historians in and of Australia in the last thirty years. ‘SIGN. US. UP’ writes Clare Corbould, one of the contributors to this festschrift, when describing the reaction of her postgraduate self and friends to seeing Lake sweep through the crowd at a history conference in the late 1990s. Backing up astute critique of others with innovative and field-shaping work of her own, Lake’s scholarship demonstrated the power of feminist analysis in the study of war, culture, and politics, then broke its early national boundaries to explore how the settler colonial world, especially Australia and North America, responded to the challenges of increasingly mobile and articulate people of Asian, Pacific, and African origin. The historian who began with Tasmania ended up taking on the world.

A festschrift works on a number of levels. Designed to honour the significance of an eminent scholar upon retirement, the essays therein also identify their authors as esteemed peers and anoint the coming generation. So it is with this collection. The senior men in the field of history in Australia are well represented. True to their disciplinary training, several of them look to Lake’s place and family of origin, and her undergraduate milieu, to locate the wellsprings of her early intellectual interests. The essays by Graeme Davison and Stephen Garton sketch Lake’s biography and the formative influences on her work, while also identifying both her points of departure and their lingering traces.

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  • Custom Article Title Christina Twomey reviews Contesting Australian History: Essays in honour of Marilyn Lake edited by Joy Damousi and Judith Smart
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    Marilyn Lake is without doubt one of the most influential historians in and of Australia in the last thirty years. ‘SIGN. US. UP’ writes Clare Corbould, one of the contributors to this festschrift, when describing the reaction of her postgraduate self and friends to seeing Lake sweep through the crowd at a history conference in the late 1990s ...

  • Book Title Contesting Australian History
  • Book Author Joy Damousi and Judith Smart
  • Book Subtitle Essays in honour of Marilyn Lake
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Monash University Publishing, $34.95 pb, 264 pp, 9781925835069

ETA, a terrorist group formed in the late 1950s, was predominantly active in the Basque Country. Its name is an acronym in Basque for ‘Euskadi Ta Askatasuna’, which means ‘Basque Country and Freedom’. Fernando Aramburu’s Homeland is not the first novel to deal with the decades of ETA’s terror. Other works, like Martutene (2012) by Ramón Saizarbitoria, also delved into the car bombs and sporadic gunfire on sunny afternoons, ETA’s separatist aim to create a socialist state independent from Spain, and the psychological carnage that was left behind. Previous novels by Aramburu himself have touched on the subject: Fires with Lemon (1996) and Slow Years (2012). But Homeland is the first Basque novel to garner international attention and to sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

Part of this has to do with timing. ETA came to a ceasefire in 2011, and the group was finally disbanded in 2018. Aramburu’s novel was published in Spanish in 2016, striking a topical chord in its readers. Homeland unfolds close to San Sebastián, in an unnamed small town that represents everyday life in the Basque Country. Txato, a successful businessman, receives letters from ETA demanding money. At first Txato complies, but when he is no longer able to pay, the demands are followed by threats. Graffiti appears, denouncing Txato as a traitor. Everyone loves Txato, but everyone is petrified to say so publicly for fear of what ETA might do. His closest friend, Joxian, stops talking to him because Joxian’s son, Joxe Mari, has joined ETA. The novel begins with Txato’s assassination, and much of its plot hinges on whether it was Joxe Mari who killed him.

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  • Custom Article Title Gabriel García Ochoa reviews Homeland by Fernando Aramburu, translated by Alfred MacAdam
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    ETA, a terrorist group formed in the late 1950s, was predominantly active in the Basque Country. Its name is an acronym in Basque for ‘Euskadi Ta Askatasuna’, which means ‘Basque Country and Freedom’. Fernando Aramburu’s Homeland is not the first novel to deal with the decades of ETA’s terror ...

  • Book Title Homeland
  • Book Author Fernando Aramburu, translated by Alfred MacAdam
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Picador, $32.99 pb, 586 pp, 9781509858033

‘History repeats itself,’ Karl Marx wrote presciently in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. ‘The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’ The central themes of Hal Brands and Charles Edel’s The Lessons of Tragedy are clear. In the developed world, we are complacent about world order, democracy, and civil society. But the ancient Greeks knew, from endless wars with Sparta to the Hellenic Republic’s annexation by Rome, that empires have feet of clay. It is telling, too, in a work about world order and engagement, that seminal figures such as Bismarck and Kissinger are quoted approvingly. Both men were Machiavellian in their use of power, but they were also sufficiently prudent to know its limits and to exercise restraint.

Appeals to classicism have both their vices and virtues. Machiavelli’s The Prince, the first modern work of political science, was influenced profoundly by Virgil, Plutarch, and Cicero. Enoch Powell’s inflammatory ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 also drew inspiration from Virgil, as he excoriated Britain’s mass immigration policy.

It is no surprise that the first widely accepted international relations text, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, tells a tale of tragedy. The Athenians defeated the Melians, slaughtered the men and sold the women and children into slavery. From the Battle of Vienna (1683), to the establishment of the Concert of Europe following Napoleon’s defeat, to the darkness of Auschwitz, the response to tragedy has been the same: nations coalescing to defeat the oppressor and cooperating to reduce the persistence of conflict and to regulate the conduct of warfare. By the mid-nineteenth century, the grim battlefields of the Austro-Sardinian War led to the formation of the Red Cross.

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  • Custom Article Title Rémy Davison reviews The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and world order by Hal Brands and Charles Edel
  • Contents Category Politics
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    'History repeats itself,’ Karl Marx wrote presciently in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. ‘The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’ The central themes of Hal Brands and Charles Edel’s The Lessons of Tragedy are clear. In the developed world, we are complacent about world order, democracy, and civil society ...

  • Book Title The Lessons of Tragedy
  • Book Author Hal Brands and Charles Edel
  • Book Subtitle Statecraft and world order
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Yale University Press (Footprint), $39.99 hb, 200 pp, 9780300238242

To a weary and frightened people, fatalism does offer the consolation of lethargic peace ... anger and alarm still signal life.

Yi-Fu Tuan (Landscapes of Fear, 1979)

 

Be afraid. ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, the viral article published in New York magazine (2017) that was both fêted and scorned for its visceral bluntness, has grown out and up. A scary, 7,000-word portrait of a near-future Earth razed by climate change has matured into a deeper, darker treatise on environmental injustice, or what author David Wallace-Wells calls ‘ethics at the end of the world’. ‘And how widespread alarm will shape our ethical impulses toward one another,’ he writes, ‘and the politics that emerge from those impulses, is among the more profound questions being posed by the climate to the planet of people it envelops.’

The way this book sounds the climate alarm is no mere lyrical feat. Wallace-Wells, a deputy editor at New York, heard his detractors yet did not repent. Be very afraid. For fear is now at the crux of the story.

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    Be afraid. ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, the viral article published in New York magazine (2017) that was both fêted and scorned for its visceral bluntness, has grown out and up. A scary, 7,000-word portrait of a near-future Earth razed by climate change has matured into a deeper, darker treatise on ... 

  • Book Title The Uninhabitable Earth
  • Book Author David Wallace-Wells
  • Book Subtitle A story of the future
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen Lane, $29.99 pb, 310 pp, 9780241400517
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According to most accounts, the history of computing is a triumph of enterprise. This story starts in the 1950s and 1960s with commercial mainframe computers that, one stack of punch-cards at a time, assumed business tasks ranging from managing airline reservations to calculating betting odds. But the public’s day-to-day life looked much the same. Then, in the mid-1970s, geniuses like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates pioneered home computing. Personal computers, and later smartphones and the internet, became the defining technologies of our age. Nerdy men, often in their garages, had remade the world.

An appealing story, but it leaves out a lot. In fact, it might leave out the key parts. People were sending electronic messages all over New England in 1968. Around that time, professors and students at Dartmouth College pioneered the BASIC programming language, innovative for prioritising clarity over efficiency. Soon it was the lingua franca of hobbyists and students worldwide. In the early 1970s, the Peoples Computing Company organised low-cost classes, school visits, and circulated publications that featured computer programs readers could copy, modify, and redistribute. This social world was the fertile soil from which personal computing grew.

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  • Custom Article Title Josh Specht reviews A People’s History of Computing in the United States by Joy Lisi Rankin
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    According to most accounts, the history of computing is a triumph of enterprise. This story starts in the 1950s and 1960s with commercial mainframe computers that, one stack of punch-cards at a time, assumed business tasks ranging from managing airline reservations to calculating betting odds ...

  • Book Title A People’s History of Computing in the United States
  • Book Author Joy Lisi Rankin
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Harvard University Press (Footprint), $64.99 hb, 336 pp, 9780674970977