HarperCollins

Jeffrey Grey reviews 'Tobruk' by Peter Fitzsimons

Jeffrey Grey
Thursday, 27 August 2020

Books like this are not written for people like me, and it is only fair to acknowledge that at the outset. ‘Australia’s most beloved popular historian’ (he must be, it says so on the inside flap) actually doesn’t want to be regarded as an historian, but as a storyteller (he says so himself), and so has little or no interest in satisfying the requirements and expectations that a professional historian might seek to apply to his undertaking. He will make a lot of money in the process, and good luck to him.

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It’s not racism that makes my mother – once a poor girl from the Welsh valleys – side with the Howard government on the refugee issue: it’s an instinctive territorial defensiveness that can be easily exploited by emotive phrases: illegals, queue jumpers, people smugglers. She’s not alone, if her friends, other relatively prosperous, tax-paying senior Australian citizens, are anything to go by; but it’s not a hardline position. All it might take to soften their attitude is a copy of The Haha Man by Sandy McCutcheon, a rollicking good read that highlights the refugee plight without a whiff of the lecture hall.

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It is quite extraordinary how often in this country we resort to caricature in our cultural expression. Think of the hammy acting in Australian films and television, the switches in levels of reality in Patrick White’s novels and plays, the new lead William Dobell gave to modern Australian painting or Keith Looby designs for Wagner. Peter Carey has made his fortune from it; Bill Leak has made it his trademark. And no, we won’t start on the politicians, thank you.

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Tim Rowse reviews 'Chifley' by David Day

Tim Rowse
Monday, 14 October 2019

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.

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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 ...

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It was a great moment in Australian history when William Cooper walked to the Australian parliament to object to the treatment of Jews in Germany during World War II. At the time, the British and Australian parliaments were ambivalent about the atrocities occurring across Europe ...

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When asked to review Sea People: The puzzle of Polynesia, I thought it might be hard work – improving, but not necessarily fun. I could not have been more wrong. The book is a triumph. Exploring the remarkable history of Polynesian migration to the ‘vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island’, it is magnificently researched, assured, and elegant ...

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From the ill-fated explorations of Leichhardt and Burke and Wills through to the Beaumont children, Azaria Chamberlain, and the backpacker murders in New South Wales, the history of Australia is peppered with tales and images of people going missing. And, as the First Peoples might well have been able to warn us, few of those stories turn out well ...

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Even the most seasoned political observers would have been surprised at the Palmer United Party’s triumph at the federal election, which saw it claim three seats in the Senate. Was it a stroke of luck or the work of a remarkable political strategist? In any case, the political fate of the PUP’s founder remains undecided ...

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With James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch grinning smugly on its cover, Killing Fairfax: Packer, Murdoch and the Ultimate Revenge projects a strong message that they are indeed the company’s smiling assassins. Pamela Williams mounts a case that these scions of Australia’s traditional media families ...

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