Melbourne University Press

For almost half of the twentieth century, train passengers travelling into Sydney from the western suburbs and beyond could observe a large sign, painted in drop-shadow lettering, on the vast blank brick wall of an industrial building facing the tracks between Redfern and Central. It carried the message: TEAGUE’S HAMBURGER ROLLS – WHAT YOU EAT TODAY, WALKS AND TALKS TOMORROW.

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John Kinsella’s new memoir, Fast, Loose Beginnings, may have been published by the august publishing house of Melbourne University Publishing, but it is nevertheless a garage-band of a book. It is, as its title signals, both fast and loose. Its rhythms aren’t always graceful, and its timbres aren’t always smooth. You can almost hear the hum of the amplifiers. The poet Jaya Savige, in his review of the book for the Sydney Morning Herald, commented on the book’s lack of polish.

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Ministers, Mandarins and Diplomats: Australian foreign policy making 1941–1969 by Joan Beaumont, Christopher Waters, and David Lowe, with Garry Woodard

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May 2003, no. 251

Important political issues sometimes cut across traditional party lines, making it harder for us to confront and debate them. The ‘children overboard’ affair, for example, raised important questions about the relationship between public servants and their ministers. Some of these questions were blurred in the subsequent debate, however, for a simple reason. Since the 1970s, governments from both sides of politics have had, in effect, a common policy of restricting the independence of the public service, especially of heads of departments, in the name of accountability and responsiveness. Ministers now have departmental secretaries who can be dismissed for no stronger reason than that they have lost the minister’s confidence. The powerful mandarins who, it used to be said, ruled Australia from the lunch tables of the Commonwealth Club in Canberra are a distant memory. Political influence now affects appointments down to middle managers in ways that those mandarins would have thought totally improper.­­­

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The Rush that Never Ended by Geoffrey Blainey & The Fuss that Never Ended edited by Deborah Gare et al.

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May 2003, no. 251

‘He looks a bit like Marty Feldman with two good eyes.’ So wrote a journalist of Geoffrey Blainey in 1977. In The Fuss That Never Ended, a collection of essays on Blainey arising out of a Melbourne symposium, Bridget Griffen-Foley no less irreverently compares the historian to a character played by Steven Seagal in a movie she saw on television – not because he shares Seagal’s ‘fake tan, ponytail, high-pitched voice, rippling muscles, kickboxing prowess or lurid, technicolour knee-length leather coat’, but because of his ‘style of investigation’ as a young historian. Blainey, she suggests, was neither bookworm nor archive rat. He went into the field, spoke to real people, visited historical sites. His work even helped his first employer, the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company, to exploit long-forgotten mineral deposits. Since producing his history of that company in his early twenties, he has been Australia’s leading mining historian, and one of that industry’s staunchest defenders. It has probably been easier for most people to swallow Blainey’s historical and economic arguments in favour of mining than Hugh Morgan’s biblical ones.

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The Ice and the Inland by Brigid Hains & Australia’s Flying Doctors by Roger McDonald and Richard Woldendorp

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December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

Australia’s frontier legend is alive and well, as is John Flynn’s contribution to it in these two new books. In Australia’s Flying Doctors, Richard Woldendorp’s glorious photographs celebrate a medical service that reaches about eighty per cent of the vast Australian landmass. They are complemented by Roger McDonald’s economical personal vignettes of outback spirit.

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I first encountered the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia long before I heard its name. Readers who  were at primary school in the late 1960s or early 1970s will know what I’m talking about — those illustrated booklets (a treasure trove for school projects) on Australian history, put out by the Bank of New South Wales, with pompous, triumphalist titles such as ‘Endeavour and Achievement’.

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When did Australia grow up? Australian historians have accepted, almost as an obligation of their trade, that they must declare the moment when the child reached mature adulthood. Was it, as Justice Murphy proclaimed in splendid isolation on the High Court bench, at the moment of the adoption of the Commonwealth Constitution in 1901? He was, admittedly, an amateur historian. Was it with the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, when the Dominions were given the right to have their own defence and foreign policies? Or in 1942, when Prime Minister Curtin looked to the United States ‘free of any pangs as to our traditional links and kinship with the United Kingdom’? Or with the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951? Or is the safest thing to stick with the election of the Whitlam government in 1972?

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Borderline by Peter Mares & Asylum Seekers by Don McMaster

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June 2001, no. 231

The year 2001 marks the centenary of the Federation of Australia and the fiftieth anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. There are important linkages between these milestones. Australian Federation was driven, among other factors, by the desire to gain sovereign control over immigration. Despite the demise of the White Australia Policy and Australia’s early support for the Refugee Convention, Australia’s present-day treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers shows us to be a nation that is still defined in negative terms, through the exclusion of others.

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Since the Federal Parliament moved to the house on the hill, the rose garden on the Senate side of the Old Parliament House has been neglected and uncared for. Escapism, from parliament, from Canberra, from the intensity and claustrophobia of being locked up in a remote building, has always been a secret ambition of most politicians during parliamentary sittings. The rose garden used to be a beautiful and tranquil place to enjoy a reflective half-hour. On special days, like the opening of parliament, a military band would play in a marquee, and politicians, parliamentary staff and invited guests would stroll on the lawns, enjoying the music, an atmosphere of easy-going irrelevance, and the roses. It was like a scene from the last days of the Raj, filmed by Bertolucci.

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Teresa Petersen’s study of Christina Stead’s fiction is littered with startling assertions about Stead’s sex life. Petersen suggests that Stead did not actually love her life partner, Bill Blake, in a sexual sense and that a yearning for fatherly love drove her forty-year relationship with him. She maintains that Stead struggled with her own lesbian desires throughout her life, and, unable to come to terms with her homosexuality, recreated herself in her fictional characters. While Petersen stops short of saying that Stead engaged in lesbian relationships, she contends that Stead’s novels are infused with lesbian eroticism in a displacement of Stead’s own desires onto her women characters. If Stead’s life with Bill was so happy, as Stead consistently maintained, why, Petersen asks, didn’t she portray positive heterosexual relationships between men and women?

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