Biography and Memoirs

The paths of James Macarthur and Philip Gidley King crossed in 1801 when Macarthur was a very small boy. King, then governor of New South Wales, sent Macarthur’s father, John, to England for trial for illicit duelling, fearing that Macarthur Senior had too many allies in the colony to secure a conviction there. Young James Macarthur was six by the time his father returned, far from the chastened man King had hoped. In fact, he brought with him instructions that he was to be granted additional land, making his holdings the most substantial in the colony. It was not exactly the victory that King had envisaged (or that his biographers seem to think he won.)

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Warren Osmond reviews 'John Monash' by Geoffrey Serle

Warren Osmond
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Poor John Monash has waited a long time. Before he died in 1931, he clearly hoped for a friendly posthumous biography. He destroyed his collection of erotica and some extramarital love letters. This was characteristically called ‘Emergency Action’. Less characteristically, he instructed his son-in-law and executor, Gershon Bennett, not to ‘preserve indefinitely’ the enormous collection of letters, diaries, cuttings, etc.

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The ‘land of smiles’ was what they called Prague under German occupation during World War II – at least the Germans did. Few locals. Fresh vegetables and meat were available (to Germans) in quantities unknown back in Germany. Until close to the end, there were more than a hundred cinemas operating in the city, as well as theatres, concert halls, and numerous other places of entertainment. After all, Goebbels was not only passionate about culture in general, but keen, he said, to initiate a ‘lively cultural exchange’ with Czechoslovakia in particular.

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The vision was of a brown-skinned child standing by her side. She sensed it so keenly that she could even feel the child’s warmth. It was so striking she wondered about her sanity … but as time went by, she became more comfortable with her vision, accepted it as something precious, a visitation of some sort that only she knew about.’

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Virginia Woolf wrote that when trying to communicate about pain as a sick woman ‘language at once runs dry’. How does one talk about wounds without fetishising their workings, and how in a society where pain is taboo does one speak of it authentically? In Show Me Where it Hurts, writer and journalist Kylie Maslen balances the difficulty of this equation: telling the story of her disability and having that story remain fundamentally unspeakable. The act of telling remains for Maslen ‘a rejection of language’, and yet the thing on the table for those suffering is ‘the desire to make ourselves known’.

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Who was John Maynard Keynes? Was he the bookish Cambridge don who penned ambitious theories to overturn the tenets of economics and political liberalism? Or was he Baron Keynes of Tilton, the ardent imperialist who viewed British rule as a benevolent force bringing justice, liberty, and prosperity to the societies it administered? Was he a meticulous Lothario who kept lists of his hookups with anonymous men on notecards? Was he also a political statesman who lambasted the intransigency of his colleagues during fraught negotiations in two world wars?

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Michael Gawenda’s engaging biography of Melbourne lawyer Mark Leibler traverses matters of Australia’s migration history, Jewish identity, and political influence. What has it meant to live a Jewish life in an Australian city? What have been the intergenerational impacts of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and the establishment of the Stat ...

The realisation that our parents are not exactly who we understood them to be can be a profound rite of passage. For some it comes with no forewarning: a random event leads to an accidental disclosure, or substantiates an old rumour. For others this realisation takes shape in a less acute though no less transformative manner. With The Other Side of Absence: Discovering my father’s secrets, Betty O’Neill pieces together her family history in an effort to learn more about her father, a stranger she briefly encountered when she was nineteen. What began as an innocuous exercise at a writers’ retreat would evolve into a three-year research project through which the author uncovers the riveting story of Antoni Jagielski – resistance fighter, Holocaust survivor, unsettled postwar migrant, and absent father.

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Primitive accumulation was a brutal process often performed by gentlemen. Not all pastoralists were brutes – unless they had to be. Not all Aboriginals were murdered – unless they had to be. Facades of normality were hurriedly erected to confound Karl Marx. For a moment the Australian pastoralists could build oases of sophistication on the Australian landscape. For a generation or so they managed to impose a uniquely Australian gentility around the waterholes and rivers. That the phenomenon was a passing one is symbolised by the life and death of James Bourke in the Riverina. A secondary pioneer, he died at the age of twenty-four. His brother Thomas, ‘a fine athletic man’ died of the booze aged twenty-six. The body of his step-uncle, James Peter, was found in the river a few days later: he had been in ‘a severe fit of the horrors’. All sorts of disasters of a man-made kind – from fatal flaws to death duties – combined with the elements to wash away the billabong dynasties.

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Ben Bland, a Financial Times correspondent in Indonesia in 2012–15 and currently director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Lowy Institute, had a ringside seat to watch the rise of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi). By his own account, Bland has met him more than a dozen times. Jokowi was a furniture-maker and -exporter, mayor of Solo, and governor of Jakarta before being elected president in 2014. Bland has written a good introduction to the Jokowi era that will appeal to the general reader but may leave the serious student of Indonesia unsatisfied.

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