ACT contributor

The dual crises of the recent bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed structural weakness in Australia’s economy. Our export income is dominated by a few commodities, with coal and gas near the top, the production of which employs relatively few people (only around 1.9 per cent of the workforce is employed in mining). The unprecedented fires, exacerbated by a warming climate, were a visceral demonstration that fossil fuels have no role in an environmentally and socially secure future. Global investors are abandoning coal and, in some cases, Australia. Meanwhile, industries that generate many jobs – education, tourism, hospitality, arts, and entertainment – have been hit hard by efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.

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Jessica Urwin reviews 'Benevolence' by Julie Janson

Jessica Urwin
Friday, 24 July 2020

‘You not waibala, you not blackfella. You in between.’ So Granny Wiring tells Muraging, the protagonist in Julie Janson’s latest thought-provoking novel, Benevolence. While this is not Janson’s first foray into historical fiction – The Light Horse Ghost was published in 2018 – it is a tale close to her heart. While Benevolence is based on the oral histories of Darug elders and the archival snippets of her own great-great-grandmother, Janson’s characters evoke notions of belonging and benevolence in early settler Australia. Primarily set on Darug country between 1813 and 1842, Benevolence draws attention to the survival and adaptation of Aboriginal communities in the face of the destruction wrought by colonialism.

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Australian Sikhs delivering free meals to fellow citizens in need has been a heart-warming news story against a backdrop of doom and gloom this year as bushfires then the coronavirus laid waste to life as we know it. Public housing tenants in lockdown, international students stranded without support, and bush-dwellers who lost everything in the fires are among those who benefited from their kindness and competence.

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The papacy’s role in international affairs is often underestimated. A recent example is Pope Francis’s participation in the 2015 negotiations leading to a détente between Cuba and the United States. It helped, of course, that Barack Obama was president and that Raúl Castro had replaced his brother Fidel in Havana; but it was Francis, building on the work of his predecessors who had maintained continuous relations with the Castro regime, who brought the two sides together, and who persuaded the United States to drop its sanctions against Cuba.

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Whither wowser?

Amanda Laugesen
Monday, 16 December 2019

Lexicographers, especially historical ones, are always interested in the way words fall in and out of fashion. But while we spend a lot of time tracing the first usage of a word and trying to figure out its origins, we pay much less attention to when or why a word falls out of common usage.

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You didn’t have to be Antony Green to know that by seven o’clock on election night things were looking very bad for Bill Shorten. The problem itself wasn’t complicated. While all the available polling suggested that Labor would gain support, the majority of booth results said that Labor was going backwards. Numbers were breaking for Scott Morrison, with the Liberal National Party driving a bulldozer through Queensland, while expected Labor gains in Melbourne remaining stubbornly out of reach. Echoes of Don’s Party were hard to ignore.

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Cass Sunstein, a noted American constitutional scholar, once lamented: ‘The notion that the government may control information at its source is at odds with the idea that the purpose of a system of free expression is to control the conduct of representatives.’ In a liberal democracy – supposedly of the people, by the people, for the people – political opacity is inconsistent with the central premise of government.

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Four new Young Adult novels

Emily Gallagher
Monday, 25 November 2019

A whistleblower’s child hides from a drug ring in the Blue Mountains. A sixteen-year-old rolls through life like an armadillo. A Melbourne high-school graduate wrestles with her insecurities. The daughter of a Chinese restaurateur juggles her responsibility to care for her siblings as her mother’s health deteriorates.

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Every biographer has a relationship with their subject, even if they have passed away. A real advantage for biographers of the dead is that the subject cannot say what they think about the book. The relationship between Margaret Simons and Penny Wong was fraught. That this mattered is evident from the opening sentence: ‘Penny Wong did not want this book to be written.’ Simons, a journalist, biographer, and associate professor at Monash University, uses her preface to complain about how difficult it was researching the book without Wong’s assistance and against her will. 

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One’s last gumtree

Amanda Laugesen
Thursday, 24 October 2019

Sidney (Sid) J. Baker (1912–76) is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the history of Australian slang lexicography. Born in New Zealand, Baker worked in Australia as a journalist, writing for publications such as ABC Weekly, The Daily Telegraph, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He was also the author of a number of books about Australian slang, one of which is A Popular Dictionary of Australian Slang (1941).

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