Society

Where We Swim takes the broad view on each component of its title: the ‘where’, the ‘we’, the ‘swim’. Wellington-based author Ingrid Horrocks explains that her original idea – to record a series of solo swims – was transformed when she realised such deliberate solitary excursions were ‘bracketed moments held deep within lives’ and that their contrivance ‘felt too close to the act of an explorer, or an old-school nature writer’.

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Amid the daily dramas and momentous impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to forget that, just four years ago, Australia was enduring a very different – and much less serious – kind of political crisis. In July 2017, the Australian Greens’ Scott Ludlam resigned from the Senate, having been advised that his failure to renounce his long-dormant New Zealand citizenship meant that he was a dual citizen, and in breach of section 44 of the Constitution. This kicked off a farcical procession of resignations, High Court referrals, by-elections, and countbacks. This ultimately resulted in fifteen MHRs and senators from across the political spectrum being ruled ineligible to sit in the federal parliament.

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Doom by Niall Ferguson & The Premonition by Michael Lewis

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August 2021, no. 434

One of the disconcerting aspects of this pandemic is that there was no shortage of warnings. For decades, virologists foresaw the coincidence of urbanisation, human proximity with animals, climate change, and globalisation as ideal conditions for spreading deadly pathogens. Science journalists wrote books with titles such as The Coming Plague (Laurie Garrett) and Spillover (David Quammen), whose conclusions were amplified by TED-talking billionaires. SARS, MERS, Ebola, and swine flu were further clues. Yet come January 2020, authorities worldwide were slow, indecisive, and ill-prepared.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Eisenberg Murkoff, Sandee Eisenberg, and Hathaway R.N. & Safe and Natural Remedies for the Discomforts of Pregnancy by The Coalition for the Medical Rights of Women

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August 1987, no, 93

I thought of concealing myself behind the androgyny of my initials and writing a mean little piece about apple-pie and motherhood and pregnancy in particular. But honesty prevails and I confess to being a woman, and a pregnant one, too.

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Refugee policies around the globe are under strain. As Alexander Betts recognises in the opening pages of The Wealth of Refugees, refugee numbers are increasing due to conflict and political instability in many countries, a situation that will be exacerbated in the future by climate change and the impact of Covid-19. Betts, a political scientist at Oxford University, also notes that populist nationalism has undermined the political willingness of wealthy countries to accept migrants and asylum seekers.

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Subtitled ‘Encounters with love, death and faith’, Sarah Krasnostein’s The Believer takes on big themes. In this work of creative non-fiction that combines memoir, journalism, and philosophical inquiry, Krasnostein details her meetings with people whose beliefs she finds unfathomable but whom she is driven to understand. Her own guiding faith on this journey is that ‘we are united in the emotions that drive us into the beliefs that separate us’.

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Open Minds: Academic freedom and freedom of speech in Australia by Carolyn Evans and Adrienne Stone with Jade Roberts

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April 2021, no. 430

Across the Anglosphere, academic freedom is in crisis. That, at least, is the conclusion one draws from reading conservative newspapers and listening to right-wing politicians. Boris Johnson’s government, concerned about ‘unacceptable silencing and censoring on campuses’, recently announced plans to appoint a ‘free speech champion’ for British universities. In 2019, Donald Trump signed an executive order to protect free speech on campus, describing it as a ‘historic action to defend American students and American values that have been under siege’. In February 2021, the Australian government amended higher education legislation to redefine academic freedom, amid shrill calls from the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) about the ‘free speech crisis at Australia’s universities’.

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David Kemp, formerly professor of politics at Monash University and minister in the Howard government, has a fairly simple thesis about Australian politics in the years between the mid-1920s and the mid-1960s. Put crudely, Australians were offered a choice between socialism and liberalism.

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Killing Sydney by Elizabeth Farrelly & Sydney (Second Edition) by Delia Falconer

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March 2021, no. 429

Poor old Sydney. If it isn’t being described as crass and culturally superficial, it’s being condemned for allowing developers to obliterate whatever natural beauty it ever had. Is it doomed, will it survive, and if so, what kind of city is it likely to be?

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Late January 2021 brought a moment of anger and anguish for many liberal Australians. Margaret Court, the erstwhile tennis champion turned Pentecostal Christian preacher, had just received Australia’s top honour. Court may have won more grand slam tournaments than any other player, but her record cannot erase a history of derogatory comments about gay and transgender Australians. And yet, I wonder if most Australians didn’t just mentally check out of this latest chapter in a thirty-year kulturkampf over sexual identity. This is a country increasingly willing to live and let live – but not obsess – over such matters.

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