NewSouth

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

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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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Killing Sydney by Elizabeth Farrelly & Sydney (Second Edition) by Delia Falconer

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March 2021, no. 429

Poor old Sydney. If it isn’t being described as crass and culturally superficial, it’s being condemned for allowing developers to obliterate whatever natural beauty it ever had. Is it doomed, will it survive, and if so, what kind of city is it likely to be?

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In 2019, the Spanish government exhumed the remains of General Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen memorial to relocate them, bringing the controversial dictator alive in national debate in a way he hadn’t been for decades. Franco’s wasn’t the only body to resurface in Spain. Of the 170,000 non-combatants – innocent people – murdered during the Spanish Civil War of 1936–38, 115,000 were killed behind nationalist lines, then buried under decades of silence. In recent years, however, the people of Spain have begun unearthing mass graves, ordering DNA tests in search of lost relatives, and hotly arguing the historical and cultural narratives of Franco’s dictatorship.

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In July 1894, a year after New Zealand women had gained the national right to vote (the first in the world to do so), their spokesperson Kate Sheppard prepared to address a suffrage rally in London, alongside Sir John Hall, the parliamentary sponsor of the New Zealand suffrage campaign. They took the stage in the vast Queen’s Hall at Westminster to report on their historic fourteen-year struggle. In an age when oratorical skill defined public authority, Sheppard was, unfortunately, not a forceful speaker. She was evidently ill at ease on the platform and her voice ‘scarcely audible’, as historian James Keating reports in Distant Sisters, his meticulous account of Australasian women’s international activism in support of women’s suffrage between 1880 and 1914.

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In the wake of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, truth-telling has gained new currency in Australia. The Statement called for a ‘Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history’.  Although yet to be fleshed out in any detail, the renewed call for truth-telling has been greeted with enthusiasm by many First Nations peoples and their allies around the continent, who endorse the view that shining the bright light of truth into the darkest recesses of Australian history will contribute to a transformation in Indigenous–settler relations.

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