History

I early disqualified myself from reviewing Greg Dening’s The Death of William Gooch: A history’s anthropology. For one thing, we are old friends. That means that if I told you that I think it a marvellous book (and I do), you might not believe me. There was another reason: being a friend, I had read much of the text in the writing, and knew the book in its earlier form as a Melbourne History Department publication, so it could not be as fresh to me as it would be to a first-time reader. Given that, self-exclusion seemed the best policy. But now I want to sneak back in, if briefly, and by a side door, because I discover that this MUP edition is illustrated, or, more correctly, illuminated, by visual texts, which so interact with the written text as to make the book new. Furthermore, the visual material was not only provided and selected by Dening, as is conventional, but author-located on the page. an innovation I would very much like to see become the convention. It is a fascinating extension of the text producer’s role, and elongates an already formidable writer’s reach.

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‘There was nothing in particular to write about either yesterday or the day before, as, indeed, there is not today.’ Fifteen-year-old Arthur Clarke speaks, in 1868, for many of us whose diaries didn’t live up to our hopes of them. Why do we write them?

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Like Manning Clark, Blainey sees history as a story of progress in which Western civilisation develops from a kind of primal baseline. But the dynamic force which drives events in Blainey’s history is more tangible-more material-than in Clark’s. As Blainey himself explains, he regards technology and economics as being far more important agents of change than politics. He locates the origins of modem industrial culture in the Middle East, at that moment when hunter-gatherers first settled in villages and began systematic farming. This neolithic revolution, says Blainey, was more significant to human development than the beginning of the industrial revolution: ‘It led to the collection of taxes, the rise of powerful rulers and priests, to the creation of armies larger than any previously known.’ As this revolution gradually spread into Europe, America and Asia, new societies ‘blossomed and bloomed’ because an increasing proportion of their populations was freed from food production to pursue other activities. They were free to write, think, scheme and invent things.

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Contemporary Aboriginal writing, like Aboriginal art, is now so diverse that is impossible to talk about any one particular style. John Muk Muk Burke, whose first novel, Bridge of Triangles, has just been published, recently told a Sydney seminar for Aboriginal writers that they were no longer writing from the viewpoint of victims. He said they were survivors rising from the ashes of the invasion like the phoenix. Burke’s own novel is multi-layered, poetic and visually strong, with a structure informed by his study of world literature.

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The title of this book has a faint dash of Ouida, but actually it signifies not a dashing cavalry regiment but the officiers bleus of the French navy under the Ancien Regime, who were not of the nobility and so socially inferior to their aristocratic colleagues, though often (or usually) superior as seamen. Duyker has written a good businesslike account of a remarkable career. The book is very well presented, with genealogies, bibliography and glossary, many plates (some in colour), and above all plenty of maps. An appendix by Rex Nan Kivell recounts his rescue, in the confusion at Calais when the German’s were overrunning France in 1940, of the painting of Marion’s death. He rolled up the canvas and stuffed it down his trouser leg, doubtless walking rather stiffly. A wry footnote to history.

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This is Maurice French’s sixth work on the Darling Downs. An Associate Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Southern Queensland, he is ideally placed to study this fertile plateau in south-east Queensland, reputedly the richest agricultural land in Australia.

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In his foreword to Doc Evatt, Jim Hagan claims that this is the fourth full-length biography of Dr. H.V. Evatt and suggests that only one other Australian politician has scored as many. Leaving aside the fact that Allan Dalziel never pretended that his book, Evatt the Enigma, was anything more than a profile of the man he worked with for twenty years, these assertions create the misleading impression that a substantial body of literature on Evatt exists. Academics have long lamented the lack of a comprehensive and scholarly biography of one of Australia’s most important and complex judicial and political figures. The very recent appearance of Peter Crockett’s Evatt: A life, characterised by wide-ranging research but a crude psychoanalytical approach, chronic disorganisation, a weakness in the analysis of international affairs, and a lack of historical perspective, disappointed in many ways.

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There were no winners in the first round of the Orr Case. Sydney Sparkes Orr lost his job as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tasmania in 1955. Suzanne Kemp, who had accused him of seduction, lost her reputation. Her father, who had supported her accusations, was subjected to all manner of speculation and innuendo. Edwin Tanner, a mature-age student who had complained about Orr’s poor teaching and his requests for professional favours, had his life ruined. Dr Milanov, Orr’s colleague who had protested that Orr was harassing him professionally, found himself subjected to just the kind of persecution he had fled in his native Serbia.

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At the conclusion of the fascinating essay ‘Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and Cook’s Second Voyage’ in his recently published book Imagining the Pacific: In the Wake of the Cook Voyages, Bernard Smith writes:

The most carefully planned and the most scientifically and efficiently conducted expedition ever made up to its time in the realm of reality provided the poet with a world of wonder and a nucleus of recollections from whence emerged in its own good time the most romantic voyage ever undertaken in the realm of the imagination.

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Janine Haines’s book, Suffrage to Sufferance is a good read. For women who are in public life and who insist on equality, it is a realistic and often humorous read. For those women who aspire to public life or simply equal rights, it is an entertaining – lost journalistic – account of where women’s aspirations might lead them. For men who understand or want to understand women’s drive for equality, there is an idea of the barriers, seen and unseen, that women face. And there is some sense of women’s struggle for political influence and recognition.

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