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Australian Broadcasting Corporation
15 February 2024
Each episode of Nemesis, the ABC’s morbidly fascinating three-part retrospective series on the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments of 2013-22, begins with a word association game. The ensemble of parliamentarians and former ministers is asked to describe the three featured prime ministers in a single word. Tony Abbott is called, among other things, ‘strong’, ‘negative’, ‘clever’, ‘dishonest’, ‘aggressive’, and ‘disciplined’, and, in the words of former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, ‘pugilistic and [someone who is] also willing to] give you a hug’. ... (read more)

Ms Represented 

ABC iView
by Michelle Staff and Joshua Black
30 August 2021

12 March 1921: after four weeks of hard campaigning as a Nationalist candidate in the Western Australian state election, Edith Cowan received the news that she had won the seat of West Perth by forty-six votes, making her Australia’s first ever woman parliamentarian. Cowan was shocked: initially she didn’t want to run and discounted her chances of success. As the sole winner among five women candidates across the state, Cowan saw hers as a victory for all women. She used her new position to build on the social welfare and reform work in which she had been involved since the 1890s, promoting motherhood endowment, sex education, migrant welfare and infant health centres. Though her time in office was short (1921–24), Cowan had made history in taking a seat at the parliamentary table.

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21 April 2021

Spoiler alert: at the end of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randle Patrick McMurphy is lobotomised. It’s a tragic defeat for a counter-culture hero and a barbaric victory for the institution housing him. The psychiatric facility is depicted as a prison, its residents the doomed inmates, and its head nurse, the villainous Nurse Ratched, the warden. In that story, madness is analogous to freedom, and the final image of Chief making his escape for Canada is a much-needed glimmer of resistance and hope.

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Mystery Road 

Bunya Production / ABC
01 June 2020

As a genre, the western springs from colonial tension: tension between the old ways and the new; between the native people and an invading population; between humans and the land itself; between lore and the law. There are no westerns set in Britain. And while the gunslinging adventures of cowboy frontiersmen may have receded into the background of American culture, the genre remains ripe with critical and narrative potential for more freshly colonised countries like Australia.

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The title of Ken Inglis’s book is a poignant irony, reflecting the transience of history itself. For its publication coincided exactly with the death of the Commission, and the birth of the Corporation, and with hindsight one can say that it should have been called That was the ABC, thus creating a pleasant symmetry with That Was the Week That Was. But Inglis did his best to defeat time by bringing the history up to the federal election of 5 March 1983, edging his way as near as possible to the date he would like to have reached.

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Supporting the ABC; Jolley Prize; W.H. Auden; Morag Fraser's upcoming biography of Peter Porter; The Peter Porter Poetry Prize; ABR in Perth; Free copies of ABR in select bookstores; Dilan Gunawardana leaves ABR; Jack Callil is the new Assistant Editor ...

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Few who saw them will forget the grainy newspaper images of Australian drug traffickers Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers. Despite high-level diplomatic pleas from the Australian government, they were hanged at Pudu jail in Kuala Lumpur in July 1986 for possessing 180 grams of heroin. In the post-execution mêlée, their bodies were concealed by blankets, but one foot was casually left uncovered. The poignancy of those toes was heart-rending, their vulnerability encapsulating the brutal and ruthless efficiency of law in that region of South-East Asia.

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In the course of its seventy-five years, the ABC has maintained a variety of in-house live music ensembles, including symphony orchestras, radio choruses, dance bands, a show band, military band and string quartet. In its capacity as a concert agency, the national broadcaster has been responsible for touring an astonishing array of artists. Claudio Arrau, John Barbirolli, Thomas Beecham, Otto Klemperer, Rafael Kubelík, Yehudi Menuhin, Birgit Nilsson, Eugene Ormandy, Artur Schnabel, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Isaac Stern, and Igor Stravinsky all made at least one visit to our shores, thanks to the concert-giving activities of the ABC. High-end classical music traffic in and out of the country has been so intense over the years that, at one point, piano legend Arthur Rubinstein crossed paths with violin virtuoso Bronislaw Huberman in remote Daly Waters in the Northern Territory (their inbound and outbound planes were refuelling at the time). To the Polish-born classical music celebrities, outback Australia in 1937 must have seemed as strange and unlikely a meeting place as deepest, darkest Congo. Rubinstein couldn’t resist exclaiming to his startled friend, ‘Dr Huberman, I presume!

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Ken Inglis is now as much a part of the history of the ABC as any of the charismatic broadcasters, mercurial managers or audiences – devoted and indignant – that his two monumental histories chronicle. He has become the repository, the source, the critical race memory of the ABC, ‘just three years older’ than the phenomenon he examines.

The list of corrigenda at the end of the new edition of This Is the ABC (first published by Melbourne University Press in 1983) underscores the point: insiders, listeners, viewers and politicians have inundated him with corrections and information to refine and expand his already minutely detailed volume one of the history. Listeners plead with him to include the story of the newsreader who announced that a lady had been bitten on the funnel by a finger-webbed spider. Other responses are less benign. Solicitors for Sir Charles Moses, for thirty years the ABC’s general manager, write to Inglis in 1983 listing ‘imputations’ in his book which they claim are grossly defamatory of Sir Charles’s good name and reputation. Sir Charles himself, at the Broadcast House launch of the first volume in 1983, greeted the disconcerted author with the news that he would be hearing from his solicitors. ‘I did my best to look and sound at ease when Dame Leonie called me to the dais’, recalls Inglis. The case was not pursued, and the relevant documents are now deposited in the National Library. But it is characteristic of the man and the historian that Inglis should ‘remain sad that although my admiration for the ABC’s principal maker was evidently clear to reviewers and other readers, the subject himself could not see it’.

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At the height of summer fire danger, on Friday, 13 February 2004, the ABC launched on its website an online documentary about the most awesome bushfires since the European occupation of Australia. The Black Friday fires of 1939 still represent the ‘worst possible’ conditions in a continent of fire. The website reveals just how deeply Black Friday burned into the national conscience, and how profoundly it changed attitudes to society and nature. It also took lives and left survivors with enduring emotional and physical scars. Some of those stories are told for the first time.

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