NewSouth

At the height of the Millennium Drought (2001–9), I took the late Deborah Bird Rose to my favourite childhood swimming hole near Dubbo, on the Wambool (Macquarie River). The banks had eroded and a flood had washed the sandy beach a hundred metres upstream, burying trees halfway up to their crowns. Weeds flourished in the churned ground, and scum floated on the shallows. Nothing seemed safe from degradation. Farther west, on the Barka (Darling River) near Bourke, we passed private water storages lining the banks of the river for kilometres. The scalded land was strewn with rubbish and discarded machinery. Wind blew dust into our eyes. At our feet, a dead sheep lay in an irrigation channel. ‘This is it,’ I said. ‘This is broken country.’ Rose thought for a moment, then turned and said, ‘No, it’s wounded.’ It was a reminder to afford nature its potential to heal.

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Travel itineraries are significant in the world of diplomacy, as Ian Hoskins illustrates in this panoramic survey of Australia’s interactions with the Pacific. Gareth Evans, freshly installed as Australia’s foreign minister in 1988, made a point of visiting the South Pacific neighbourhood before paying his country’s traditional obeisance to Washington and the European capitals. Within a month he had visited Papua New Guinea, Nauru, the Solomons, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Western Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and New Zealand. Evans was sending a message, visibly prioritising ‘our Asia-Pacific geography over our Euro-Atlantic history’.

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While France provided a relative trickle of immigrants – the French in Australia numbered only four thousand at the end of the nineteenth century – its influence in Australia was surprisingly pervasive. Some years ago, an exhibition entitled The French Presence in Victoria 1800–1901 drew together an extraordinary range of materials, including French opera libretti and school textbooks printed here, together with original Marseille tiles and sumptuous fabrics. But Alexis Bergantz’s new book, French Connection, is not concerned with the spread, or penetration, of French goods. Rather, it is a careful examination of the idea of France. It is typical of its verve and elegance that the cover captures this nicely: Fragonard’s frilly beauty swings high at the top, a world away from the bottom-left corner, where Frederick McCubbin’s bushman sits Down on His Luck. (Tom Roberts got it in one: his well-known painting of Bourke Street includes the French tricolor, flapping from a shopfront.)

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Tongerlongeter was surely one of Australia’s toughest military leaders. Henry Reynolds and Nicholas Clements expressly narrate his story to affirm the place of the Frontier Wars in the Anzac pantheon. Reflexive conservative responses to such arguments – that Anzac Day commemorates only those who served in the Australian military – are flawed and outdated. The Tasmanian frontier is one of Australia’s best-documented cases of violent operations against Aboriginal people. In 1828, Governor George Arthur, unable to gain control over the ‘lamentable and protracted warfare’, issued a Demarcation Proclamation later enforced by the formation of Black Lines, military cordons stretching several hundred kilometres across southern and central Tasmania to secure the grasslands demanded by white settlers.

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At what point does a ramble or meander through the bush become a bona fide bushwalk? Was my two-hour stroll near Wolli Creek during semi-lockdown – when I locked eyes with the now-maligned fruit bat – a bushwalk or just a ramble? Answers to these questions vary wildly according to the conflicting approaches to bushwalking detailed in Melissa Harper’s updated version of The Ways of the Bushwalker (2007).

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Professors Ruth Balint and Julie Kalman are descended from Jews impacted by the Holocaust. No surprise then that in the introductory sentences of this work they remind us that the first people smuggler was probably Moses. Throughout the Jewish year, we study this colossus, who may or may not have existed, as he leads the Hebrews out of Pharaoh’s bondage into the desert toward a promised land. For much of the past two thousand years, Jews have relied on people smugglers as they were shunted from country to country. In Smuggled: An illegal history of journeys to Australia, Balint and Kalman detach the people smuggler from the politicised, malign tropes surrounding this activity and present firsthand accounts from some of those who were smuggled and from the smugglers themselves.

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Radicals: Remembering the Sixties by Meredith Burgmann and Nadia Wheatley

by
July 2021, no. 433

Now in their early seventies, and friends since their late-night meeting over the metaphysical poets and the leftover toast, Burgmann and Wheatley have collaborated on a collection of twenty portraits or profiles of Australian contemporaries who, like them, came of age in the late 1960s and took part in activities and demonstrations against whatever they found most oppressive. Much of this oppression was personified, directly or indirectly, in the figure of Robert Menzies, whose second stint as prime minister of Australia ran from 1949 to 1966. Burgmann and Wheatley make this point in their Introduction: ‘For a twenty-year-old Australian today, who has lived through seven Prime Ministers, it would be impossible to imagine how stultifying it was to grow up under a single one – and a patriarchal, conservative one at that.’

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Far too few Australian artists have been the subject of comprehensive biographies. Gary Werskey mentions Humphrey McQueen’s 784-page Tom Roberts (1996) as an inspiration. Of course, there are art monographs and retrospective exhibition catalogues, but those are not life stories. With seventy-six colour plates and another fifty-one images in the text, Werskey’s thoroughly researched Picturing a Nation, set in rich historical and social context, is most welcome. As he observes, A.H. Fullwood’s life was ‘as full of pathos and plot turns as a three-volume Victorian novel’.

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‘When I first began reading Nam Le’s Love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice, I was sceptical: a story about a writer writing a story? A writer at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, no less? Isn’t this a little self-indulgent? Hasn’t this been done before?’

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Into the Loneliness is the story of two Australian women, opposites in temperament, who eschewed the conventional roles expected of women of their eras, lived unconventional lives, and produced books that influenced the culture and imagination of twentieth-century Australia. The book focuses on their complicated friendship, and on Ernestine Hill’s role in assisting Daisy Bates to produce the manuscript that was published in 1938 as The Passing of the Aborigines, which became a bestseller in Australia and Britain. Hill, a successful and popular journalist, organised the anthropological material and ghost-wrote much of the book, for which Bates privately expressed her gratitude, while not acknowledging it publicly.

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