Reviews in Australian Studies



Ann Galbally

Charles Conder: The Last Bohemian

Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, paperback ed. 2003

xvii + 312 pp.               £19.50                         0 52285 084 7



Although Charles Conder is usually regarded as an Australian artist, he spent less than six years in the country. He arrived in Sydney at the age of 17 in 1884, the son of a first marriage dumped in the colonies by a parent who had fathered a second brood. Conder led a loose, fast life: when he could not pay his rent, his Darlinghurst landlady prevailed upon him to discharge his debt in bed. By the time he moved on to Melbourne and Heidelberg four years later, he had escaped from a dead-end job as a surveyor, trained himself to paint and caught syphilis. From 1890 he was to be found variously in France (mainly, of course, Paris), Scotland, Algeria and London’s Bloomsbury. He married a prosperous Canadian widow in 1901: his biographer assumes he had reached the tertiary stage of his illness and was no longer infectious, and we can only hope she is right. But syphilis destroyed him first as an artist, then as a personality and finally killed him in 1909. In this biography, which is both scholarly and humane, we meet Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, and encounter Beardsley, Sickert, Toulouse-Lautrec and Oscar Wilde. The book is superbly illustrated, including nine colour prints of Conder’s work.

Mark Finnane, ed.,

The Difficulties of My Position:

The Diaries of Prison Governor John Buckley Castieau 1855-1884

Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2004

Paperback                                xxiv + 324pp.                           0 642 10793 9


Part of the charm of reading Victorian diaries lies in our awareness that the fragile worlds of gentility they evoke were perennially at risk from disease and disaster, always on the verge of being overwhelmed by the awfulness of surrounding real life. Few journals convey this bizarre juxtaposition so memorably as those of J.B. Castieau, prison governor first at Beechworth in Victoria and later in charge of ‘Castieau’s hotel’, otherwise known as Melbourne Gaol. He was a gold-rush immigrant with marginal social pretensions, the son of an army major and child of a broken marriage, who sank considerably in the class hierarchy when he took his first job, in 1852, as a mere turnkey at the big-city prison where he would later supervise the execution of Ned Kelly. In Castieau’s case, part of the challenge to respectability came from within: he could not handle the colonial custom of shouting rounds of ‘nobblers’ and was often at risk of drinking more than was good for him, an inconvenient weakness in one dedicated to uphold law and right conduct. In 1873 he saw the inside of the cells himself, and for a time was demoted in the prison service. Renewed allegations forced him out at the age of 53 in 1884, and he died soon after. Castieau delighted in being a club-man, and the diaries are especially valuable in bringing to life this important area of male social life. As Finnane remarks, it is only necessary to look at the public architecture of Beechworth today to be struck by the enterprise of mid-Victorian Australians in recreating the institutions of the old country in a colonial setting, and Castieau’s diaries show the buildings alive with the people who animated them. They also throw a good deal of light on his marriage, as his loving and long-suffering wife coped with his temper and temptations.

But it is in the interweaving of these various worlds, the constant surreal overlap between the familiar and the terrible, that the real attraction of the material is to be found. Take the case of Edward Feeney and Charles Marks, who resolved to leave the world together. They bought two pistols and commissioned a portrait photograph in which each pointed his gun at the other’s heart. (The photographer apparently did not think this at all unusual: what else were Melbourne snappers asked to record?) The two friends then adjourned to a park and drank a great deal of colonial wine, an indulgence that perhaps explained why their suicide pact went astray. An unscathed Feeney killed Marks and then calmly lit a cigar. Backed by the majesty of the law, the judge who sentenced him to death complained that Feeney might at least have blown his own brains out.  A month later, Castieau supervised the execution. The hangman fumbled the preliminaries. ‘At such a time a second seems like a minute & a minute almost an hour.’ He also bungled the actual killing, but this review is no place to give details. The prison doctor dismissed Feeney’s death struggles as merely muscular reflex, and then called in medical students for the rare luxury of the dissection of a fresh corpse. Particular attention was given to investigating signs of suspected homosexual activity, but for these too the reviewer must refer the reader to the text. On that occasion, Castieau seems to have had a night at home, but the next evening he was back at his club, drinking and talking politics. Thanks to the combination of Castieau’s almost Pepysian quizzical self-observation and Mark Finnane’s deft and scholarly editing, this volume is a notable contribution to the social history not just of Australia but of the whole English-speaking world. Finnane gives us about one-sixth of the discontinuous text held by the National Library in Canberra. There may have been other volumes, but it seems that drink and disillusion gradually took their toll on the diarist’s commitment. As a result, we shall probably never recapture that moment in November 1880 when John Castieau and Edward Kelly stood side by side on the Melbourne scaffold in the face of eternity.

Ian Keen

Aboriginal Economy and Society:

Australia at the Threshold of Colonisation

South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2004

Paperback                    xii + 436 pp.                             0 19 550766 5



The title of this massive and impressive book may inadvertently mislead: it is not a snapshot of life in Australia at the turn of the year 1788. Rather Ian Keen has drawn together the current state of knowledge of seven groups among the continent’s indigenous people to produce a work of comparison and synthesis. The approach reflects his opening argument that the valid comparison for Arnhem Land in the 1920s is Gippsland in the 1820s, although in concluding he admits that this ‘synchronic’ approach may be artificial, and risks conveying an impression of static societies that Keen would prefer to discount. The case studies focus upon the Kunai people of Gippsland, the Yuwaaliyaay of northern New South Wales, the Sandbeach people of eastern Cape York, the Yolngu of Arnhem Land, the Ngarinyin of the Kimberleys, the Pitjantjatjara of the desert and the associated Wiil and Minong people of the Albany region of Western Australia. (For simplicity, this review does not attempt to follow the use of accents in Keen’s revised orthography.) Some of the names derive from basic words for ‘human’, others are dialect or locational in origin, while one is evidently a European conflation. The nature of evidence also varies: for instance, Kunai culture was already ravaged by settlement when the amateur anthropologist A.W. Howitt began to record their way of life. Research on the adjoining Wiil and Minong is uneven but appears to point to elements of shared culture. Three groups are studied specifically in relation to their neighbours and although the term ‘Sandbeach’ reflects a regional self-identity, it spans several languages. The environments in which the groups lived (and still live) vary enormously. Thus both within the framework of time and the structure of identities, the case studies lack uniformity and require deft handling. This they undoubtedly receive.

Keen analyses the evidence under three headings: ecology, institutions and economy. In the process he throws doubt on many of the casual generalisations about language, identity (‘tribes’) and cosmology (‘dreaming’) which white Australians employ to make sense of their indirect indigenous heritage. Keen is particularly interested in the apparent lack of correlation between ecological factors and kinship patterns. He suggests that the seemingly low level of environmental determinism may be explained by shifting the discussion from means to ends. In reviewing the explosive subject of pre-contact Aboriginal population, he generally prefers to avoid overall numbers and speculate instead on square-kilometres-per-person densities. In each case study, however, it is clear that there were rarely more than a few thousand people in any group at any time. Hence societies had to achieve two aims: the regulation of sexual behaviour to avoid pre-marital breeding, and the avoidance of marriage between close cousins. What mattered was that there should be some system of control, even if the ornate details varied incomprehensibly from place to place. As the bureaucrats so often say, there have to be rules and this is one of them. Thus it was a Yolngu custom that if a man made sexual allusions within the hearing of a brother and sister, the brother would then attack not the speaker but the sister. No anthropologist has the faintest idea why this should have been so, but presumably it was perceived as in some way vital to the maintenance of the social fabric.

Keen closes with a word of hope and speculation. He would like his book to contribute to the understanding of race relations in the colonial period and today. It is possible, he thinks, that the nature of pre-contact culture in different parts of Australia helps explain the extent to which Aboriginal peoples were able either to resist or to accommodate the intruding newcomers. Historians might pose the question more forcefully. We know that there was Aboriginal resistance, especially across northern Australia. Keen tells us that we should discard the notion of Aboriginal Australia as a mosaic of helpless fragments locked within the cleanly delineated boundaries of textbook maps and think instead of networks of interconnection both within the continent and stretching outwards to the north. If we marry his revised perspective to an assumption of dynamic cultures, it becomes harder to explain why Aboriginal Australia did not respond to the European incursion by forming the kind of political confederacies that characterised aspects of Maori and Nguni resistance to white settlement. There are few problems in understanding the ravages caused by disease and alcohol around Port Jackson in the immediate aftermath of 1788 but, in continental terms, the First Fleet was a fleabite. If Aboriginal Australia functioned as a network, then it must have operated as a rapid medium for the transmission of information, which in turn means that peoples living far from Sydney had literally decades in which to re-shape and amalgamate their societies to resist penetration. Shared elements in Aboriginal cosmologies might have provided an ideological basis for a broad nationalist movement. Flexible redefinition of marriage and kinship structures, including the pervasive ritual of male circumcision, could have supplied elements of alliance and bonding. Fusing hundreds of sub-groups might well have been unrealistic, but surely somewhere on the advancing frontier we might expect to find at least one Shaka Zulu or a Te Rauparaha. If there is indeed a historical mystery to be tackled here, part of the answer must lie deep in the roots of local cultures.

Keen’s book is equipped with illustrations, helpful maps, extensive tables and a number of those diagrams covered with arrows that are so beloved by anthropologists. Referencing is of a high standard and in production the book lives up to the reputation of the publisher. This is hardly a work for the general reader, but it will surely find a place in any specialist library for its breadth and cautious exploitation of the comparative method.

Humphrey McQueen

A New Britannia

St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, revised edition, 2004

Paperback                    x + 326 pp.                                          0 7022 3439 7


Humphrey McQueen

Social Sketches of Australia 1888-2001

St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, revised edition, 2004

Paperback                    xii + 418 pp.                                         0 7022 3440 0


Humphrey McQueen was not so much an angry as an arch young man when he published A New Britannia back in 1970. A New Left attempt to make sense of Australia in the Vietnam era, it brusquely dismissed the self-congratulation of the Australian Legend to argue that if the Labor party was inadequate and the working class nasty, greedy and racist, at least both were logical products of mainstream historical forces. Many established historians hoped McQueen would simply go away, but the condemnations of Russel Ward and Donald Horne cited on the cover of this latest edition merely remind us that he is still around.

Yet for a book that professed to surf the wave of Australia’s past, A New Britannia seems in its latest manifestation to defy the inexorable forces of history. In the 1970s,

its bold generalisations upset the purists, to whom all simplification amounted to distortion. But the general reader accepted that bold brush strokes were needed on a giant canvas, and the text could be accepted as empirical iconoclasm. Through successive editions, a lengthening ‘Afterword’ has stripped bare the ideological bones. In an age when Marxists are grouped with morris dancers as relics of an absurd past, Humphrey McQueen proudly identifies himself with Lenin and Gramsci as he deconstructs his own text in unfashionable self-criticism. It is cheering to find someone who can still be perverse after 34 years.

His Social Sketches of Australia first appeared in 1978, so that the latest edition is appreciably larger than the first. Each chapter, McQueen explains, is built around seven running themes: work, urban life, rural life, health, Aborigines, whiteness and views of the world, with other issues on the fringes and an occasional year or controversy in more specific review. He insists that the book ‘is not history in any meaningful sense’.  Presumably that pretentious m-word means ‘ideological’ or ‘analytical’, for there is no doubt that McQueen provides a good read.

Queensland University Press has produced two robust paperbacks


Beverley Kingston

A History of New South Wales

Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2006

Pp. x + 299                  Price: £40 (hardback); £17.99 (paperback)

ISBN 0 521 83384 4 (hardback)         0 521 54168 8 (paperback)                                   


Claimed as the first history of New South Wales in one hundred years, Beverley Kingston’s book is a fast-moving, opinionated, often enjoyable work to read. Her atmospheric and sometimes idiosyncratic volume in the Oxford History of Australia series, covering 1860-1900, whets the appetite for another overview history. Since the book contains a photograph of the author playing in a North Shore garden in 1942, it is not ungallant to mention that her active life-experience covers about one quarter of the European history of Australia. Indeed, the torrential narrative becomes splendidly partisan in the more recent period. I enjoyed the description of a Labor politician  in this case, Neville Wran  as a Faust who had sold his soul to the media, if only because it makes a change from the standard allusions by embittered progressives to Judas. Kingston has a long-time role in planning the New South Wales entries for the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and her text is enlivened by incisive sketches about little-known aspects of politicians, such as George Dibbs. Nor should we forget that the author is BA (Queensland) and PhD (Monash), and so can shrug off the jibe: what do they comprehend of New South Wales who only Watsons Bay know? To have been based in Brisbane and Melbourne during the personally and nationally formative years of the Sixties ought to qualify an observer to assess whether New South Wales should be seen as Middle Australia  “the Australian archetype” (p. 3) as she calls it in an opening section. Yet while it would be unfair to describe her book as unsatisfactory, I found it unsatisfying. This review seeks to identify some structural shortcomings in the hope that we do not have to wait another hundred years for the attempt to be made again.

            In her Oxford History volume, Kingston sliced her forty years into five thematic approaches: materialism, belief, society, culture and power. With such a structure, there is a danger that some episodes will slip through the mesh, and there was some challenge in conveying the cumulative effect of chronological change over four tumultuous decades. For the smaller canvas of New South Wales, she adopts a narrative approach, although there is some back-and-forth zig-zagging, for instance jumping fifty years to bracket the executions for the Myall Creek massacre with the mass hanging of the Mount Rennie rapists. Kingston’s view that sugar was an important element in the 1890s debate on federation triggers two pages on cane plantations and crushing mills from 1821 to 1887  rather more detail, in fact, than is given to the federation movement itself. This scrambling of chronology may explain why some points that might deserve highlighting scarcely register at all. The proclamation of the Nineteen Counties in 1829  an early attempt at geographical definition of an organised colonial polity  is listed in a time-line appendix, but the text merely makes a few opaque allusions to “the settled districts” (p. 20), thus weakening the context necessary to understand squatting. For a chronological account to work, the story-line needs to clothe a scaffolding of clearly defined questions, deftly brought to the surface from time to time to add coherent analysis to the factual recitation. Some such explanatory issues are hinted at in a brief opening section, but the clues are thinly pursued.

            First, there is a need for a robust if teleological recognition that this is a history of New South Wales within its post-1859 boundaries. Port Phillip and Moreton Bay have more than a walk-on role in the early decades, and the loss of the former remained a wound (witness the proposal by Dibbs for a re-merger in 1894, which Kingston does not mention). However, viewed from the 21st century, Victoria and Queensland are essentially distinct stories  although it might have been interesting to have Kingston’s opinion of the latter’s role as the mother colony’s deputy sheriff in the Deep North. The notion of a “core” New South Wales does create some difficulties in taking account of the later Canberra enclave but from the point of view of a single-volume history, the significance of the national capital lies mainly in the “ripple” effect of its impact on the southern tablelands. This could be accommodated by including Queanbeyan as one of a number of state-wide reference points used for occasional stocktaking.

            Firmer definition of the post-1859 core as the focus of the study would add to the desirability of giving more attention to maps and statistics than this volume allows. The four maps are all hand-me-downs from other publications, and it is puzzling that nothing should have prepared specially for the first general history in a century. There is no clear indication of the Great Dividing Range, one of the geographical imponderables in the New South Wales story. Near the end of the book, Kingston comments that Sydney is hemmed in on its three landward sides by the Illawarra, the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. This is a theme that merits both earlier exposition and cartographic exploration.

            Statistics are scattered thinly and without obvious relevance: three estimates for sheep numbers, covering 1813 to 1851, follow a paragraph on railway construction in the decade 1855-65. One of the unifying themes in a history of New South Wales must surely be the growth of its Europeanised population from approximately one thousand First Fleeters to almost seven million today. A single-page table offered as an appendix would have been a nod in the right direction, so that demographic nerds could at least have flipped back to see how many people the book was discussing at any time.

More surprising is the neglect of even speculative discussion Aboriginal populations, especially at the time the first settlers arrived. It is a fair point that, in subsequent times, the white man’s census persistently undercounted Aboriginal people. For decades, the bureaucrats were not very interested, many Blacks were still migratory and people of mixed race preferred not to identify their pre-1788 heritage. (The Aboriginal census population jumped by two-thirds in the five years that straddled the 1967 citizenship referendum.) Moreover, the recent bout of scholarly name-calling over early colonial Tasmania is a reminder that speculation about pre-contact populations is incompatible with a quiet life. But Kingston is surely not afraid of controversy, and that missing half page on the central question  how many Aborigines were there in core New South Wales in 1788?  is a major blemish. In 1987, Charles Price suggested a rock-bottom figure of 48,000, but that was based on a continent-wide estimate only a shade above Radcliffe-Brown’s 1930 moderate estimate of a continental total 300,000. Most subsequent reconstructions point to at least twice as many people in 1788. Not only can Australia-wide estimates be scaled downwards, but it is also possible to attempt an in-state, bottom-up reconstruction. One of Kingston’s four maps shows around forty language groups in core New South Wales, and minimum calculations can surely be attempted for at least some of these. A consensus figure at around 100,000 people on 25 January 1788 would mean that the first century of the European incursion into New South Wales wiped out ninety percent of the original human stock. A few sentences about boring old guesstimates could give a State history a chillingly powerful organising theme.

            Population is the key to another explanatory mystery. How is it that a State more than twice the area of Germany packs so many of its people into a single city? In 1861, one person in seven lived in Sydney. By 1947, the proportion was half, and now it is heading for two-thirds. Kingston appears to take this dominance for granted. It is all very well to describe the magnificence of Port Jackson (although Kingston does not do so), but the non-development of King George’s Sound at Albany and Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania prove that it is not superb anchorages but access to hinterland that creates a great port city. The three-sided hemming in of Sydney that Kingston notes for the first time on page 230 was an even greater obstacle to its growth in earlier times. As Kingston reports, there were times in the late nineteenth century when Newcastle handled as many ship movements. It was the imperial and above all the colonial state that made Sydney the focus of communications, and an overview history requires a robust account of the way in which railways and roads were manipulated to this end. One of the positive features of Kingston’s coverage is the consistent attention given to road-building, but always with the Rome-like assumption that they must all lead to, or from, Sydney. This carries over into the story of the railway network. “It was decided that New South Wales … needed railways, three lines, like the roads, one to the north, one to the west, and another to the south.” (p. 42) “New South Wales” here equals “Sydney”, and the directional description requires the addition of “from Sydney” to make sense. Even the best sustained section on railway construction in the late nineteenth century, on pages 74 to 77, similarly assumes the centrality of Sydney, although it acknowledges Newcastle as a secondary focus: “The railway reached Goulburn” and “inched towards Bulli” (pp. 75, 77).

The omission of any interrogation of the process by which Sydney dominated communications is all the more regrettable, since Kingston’s introduction, which promises so much, refers to “internal tension” between Sydney and the bush, a theme which is hardly emphasised in the succeeding chapters (p. 5). Curiously, although the dominance of Sydney within the State is assumed, it is difficult to gain much impression of its suburban growth. Here, again, maps would have been useful. Perhaps “bubonic plague broke out on the Rocks in 1900” is a historical cliché, but the omission of all reference to the episode is puzzling. Even though it happened downtown, it symbolised the price paid for unregulated urban growth.

            And yet, alongside this world-ranking city, New South Wales has also managed to generate another urban centre, with a population larger than Tasmania. Mysteriously, J.C. Docherty’s history of Newcastle, published in 1983, is cited as useful reading for Kingston’s post-1988 chapter, the result perhaps of the author’s tendency to fill in gaps by doubling back. She does indeed call Newcastle “the quintessential NSW city” (p. 228). I doubt the adverb. Docks, coal-mines, steel-works, a university  it is hard to see Newcastle as emblematic of Goulburn and Tumut. But if Newcastle has been so mainstream in the New South Wales experience, surely we should have heard more about it in the preceding chapters?

More peripheral areas of the State receive even shorter shrift. “In some ways, the Riverina has always seemed closer to Victoria”, remarks that tantalising Introduction (p. 5) but  barring a couple of unsubstantiated allusions to a new state movement  the implications of this statement are not explored, and a smudged map of the irrigation areas is hardly a substitute. A minor-key with none the less valid theme in New South Wales history is the vision of a mighty city in the Murray valley. Kingston records “considerable political pressure to meet the Victorian line when it reached the Murray at Wodonga in 1873. Express trains with sleeping cars then took only eighteen hours to cover the distance between Sydney and Melbourne” (pp. 75-76). Albury is not mentioned, and “then” obscures the fact that the urgently desired link-up took another ten years to achieve. The break in gauge has to be inferred from a previous paragraph, and the general impression conveyed is of a smooth and efficient inter-colonial rail link, which is far from the truth. A century later, the Albury-Wodonga growth centre project is mentioned in passing, bracketed with its unworkable Bathurst-Orange counterpart. It would be unfair to call Albury-Wodonga a failure, but it is surely worth asking why it has hardly proved a ringing triumph: free-enterprise Coffs Harbour was just as notable an urban success story throughout the last quarter of the twentieth century. A history that firmly accepted the primacy of Sydney as the work of the colonial state might well have explored why its more powerful Commonwealth successor achieved so little at Albury. One pertinent question here is the extent to which the New South Wales-Victoria boundary constitutes, even nowadays, a greater barrier to economic development than it has ever interposed against fruit-fly.

            If I were compiling a do-it-yourself New South Wales history kit, one box that I would certainly expect to be ticked would be the farcical attempt by Henry Parkes in 1888 to change the colony’s name to “Australia”. We know that this provoked derision south of the Murray, where helpful spirits suggested the alternative of “Convictoria”. Presumably the episode also provided a window into attitudes to local identity, an opportunity to survey editorial attitudes to what it meant to be part of a colony so randomly named by Captain Cook. According to A.W. Martin’s biography of Henry Parkes (p. 369), the veteran Victoria-baiter John Robertson was all for the change: “If this Colony is not Australia I should like to know what Colony is.” Alas, Kingston passes over this potentially revealing affair in silence.

Of course, it is always difficult to measure something so diffuse as identity, and especially so in a keystone unit of a wider polity. Historians concerned with British identity have to disentangle Englishness, while in Canada, the study of Ontario was for long tacitly seen as a semi-amateur form of local history. In 1974, Ontario history was challengingly re-conceptualised by H.V. Nelles in The Politics of Development, which examined how government control of resource development had shaped not only the development of key industries, but the operation of the provincial political system itself. In effect, Nelles saw the Ontario story as one in which urban interests in the south, especially Toronto, carved up forest and hydro-electric resources in the north. This littoral-hinterland analysis does not entirely transfer to New South Wales, partly because the major mineral resource, coal, was located so close to the coast, but also because Sydney did not establish exclusive control over the mining industry. But there remains scope for fruitful Ontario-New South Wales comparative studies.

            Kingston begins her conclusion with the remark that while it is “not easy to disentangle the history of New South Wales from the history of Australia”, studies of other States “show that there are differences, some strongly felt.” (p. 250) It is regrettable that she gives so few clues about these strongly perceived distinctions. One of the strengths of her Oxford History volume was its emphasis upon the fundamental fact that there were six distinct colonies in late nineteenth-century Australia, and she sometimes conveyed the impish impression that the default position for Australian identity was to be found in Queensland. It is not necessary to recite the complete history of the other five States in order to measure New South Wales distinctiveness. When, rarely, Kingston does adopt a comparative framework, as in her explanation of the reasons why New South Wales Labor escaped a major DLP split, both the utility and the economy of the approach are demonstrated. Exploration of particular areas, such as sport and religion, might provide useful indications.

It does seem odd that a general history of any part of Australia can be published in 2006 that says so little about sport and recreation. In her allusion to the Packer affair, Kingston reveals a certain lack of sympathy for cricket, “a traditional and rather exclusive game” (p. 207).  But it was capable of drawing large crowds, as she notes in mentioning Don Bradman. It was also Sydney-centred (Bradman had to move from Bowral to become a regular in the Sheffield Shield side), and its alleged snootiness did not prevent it from operating as an Australianising influence for hundreds of young male immigrants.

Even more surprising is the absence of reference to the fact that New South Wales is a stronghold of rugby league  although, once again, we must allow for the hermaphrodite sporting identity of the Riverina. It was not until the VFL went continental in the 1980s, and the ugly ducklings of South Melbourne re-branded themselves as the Swans, that Australian Rules began to build a mass following in Sydney. The story of popular football is intriguing and maybe instructive.  The mid-nineteenth century was a great period for sporting codification in the English-speaking world. Famously, the pioneers of the Victorian game were advised by a former pupil of Rugby school that the ground was too hard to permit physical tackling. In 1858 they evolved a mobile and aerial code to exercise cricket-playing muscles during the winter months. However, codification did seriously impact upon New South Wales until 1870-74. Curiously, at just the time when the demographic centre of gravity was tipping towards the native-born, the colony’s sporting activists opted to impose the English rugby union code upon their sunburnt country. With Gramscian sleight of hand, a game originally played by a handful of elite schools came to dominate mass entertainment. But, as good Marxists will know, the working class will eventually seek to re-shape institutions in their own image. From 1907, rugby league, which originated in the acceptance of professionalism but also permitted local experimentation, quickly ousted the amateur game in New South Wales  and, also, in Queensland. No doubt rugby league represents a nasty form of masculinity, but masculinity does contribute its share to communal identity. Oddly enough, off the field the game permeates New South Wales society and identity much more widely in the form of the family-centred Leagues Clubs. In almost every suburb and large country town, the Leagues Club is a major focus for local life, and one built and operated by the community itself. A general history which omits rugby league thus passes up the opportunity to discuss an important element of both the distinctiveness and the social cohesion of New South Wales.

Kingston notes that much of southern New South Wales contained a larger proportion of Catholics (although still an overall minority) than the area north of the Hunter, although any potential implications of this are not pursued. Something might also have been made of contrasts with the denominational make-up of two other colonies: South Australia had fewer Catholics, Victoria an abnormally high percentage of Presbyterians. The early career of Robert Menzies illustrates the importance of an interlocking Victorian Protestant elite, one based upon schools, Melbourne University, the legal profession and the clubs. Adelaide was famously run by a local squattocracy. Although Kingston used power as one of the defining themes in her Oxford History volume, there is little consideration of the way social and political influence in the State was manipulated throughout the twentieth century, except in relation to the internal politics of the Labor party. It is tempting to assume that New South Wales was too diverse to fall under the control of a single Protestant and conservative elite, but for one hundred years there was only one university, and it seems to have been fed by a handful of schools. Kingston also shows little interest in the way Commonwealth politics interacted with or impinged upon the State. New South Wales appears often to have punched below its weight in national affairs. Perhaps Melbourne’s long-time role as the interim capital gave the Victorian elite an unshakeable foothold that transferred itself to Canberra: almost fifty years after the transfer, the Sydneysider Gough Whitlam was fatally determined to appoint a governor-general from his own State. Distance apart, Collins Street seems to have been a whole lot closer to Yarralumla than was Kirribilli to Pitt Street. “Presbyterian”, of course, is a code-word for “Scots”. Famously, the first public statue erected in Canberra was to Robert Burns.

In the matter of power, the comparison with Victoria may raise more questions than it can answer, if only because it is the nature of elite power within Australia to be elusive and concealed. But the attempt ought to have been made as part of a wider exercise in assessing the role of the past in shaping the New South Wales of today. “Of all the Australian states,” Kingston remarks, “only New South Wales shares with the United States something of an eighteenth-century ethos.” (p. 249) Had it been possible to cite this single sentence as the expression of a theme that had consistently informed the whole text, this review be a great deal more positive. To encounter the sentiment for the first and only time at the end of a paragraph recording Bob Carr’s election victory in 2004, and just four lines before the close of the chronological narrative, is bizarre.

What does it mean? First, it is strictly rather than absolutely true. European settlement in Tasmania belongs to the “long” eighteenth century that historians discern as extending to 1815, and Georgian architecture is perhaps more characteristic of the island State than any part of the Australian mainland. But to assess the influence of the eighteenth century, we need to define what sort of eighteenth century we are talking about. It was the noble era of the Enlightenment, whose implications for Australia are being so fascinatingly explored by John Gascoigne. But it was also the epoch of the ancien régime, arrogant in its smug sense of entitlement to privilege. Where antique brutality and modernistic efficiency came together, as in the penal system, the mixture could be profoundly nasty. But New South Wales in 2006 is not an outdoor prison. Fresh waves of people and ideas have re-shaped that original ethos, so that it is now hard to discern the original inheritance. Eighteenth-century British politics were profoundly and riotously corrupt  but this does not entitle us to regard the Askin era as a Georgian throwback.

The best way to test the “eighteenth-century” hypothesis would be to trace a specific set of issues over time, measuring the interplay of the inherited and introduced. Kingston is especially qualified to do this through examining the role and status of women, who certainly appear in the text but are not firmly linked to analysis of identity. There is something of a Jane Austen character about Elizabeth Macarthur (remember there are some tough females in Pride and Prejudice). Miles Franklin was the classic wannabe Girton girl stuck in a Brindabella homestead. As a personality, Germaine Greer may be sui generis, but she is also the eminently comprehensible product of a collision between imported American feminist ideology and native Australian male machismo  but is the latter a product of the old world bawdy house or the new world frontier spirit? If the eighteenth century is still present in New South Wales, then it merits more than a belated throw-away line. At the very least, we need to beware of what Kingston, in her conclusion, sagely calls “an old world charm which passes for history.” (p. 252)

To measure the balance between eighteenth-century and subsequent external influences, Australian historians need a firm grip on the British and Irish background. (This is not to claim that the country’s history is some way “derivative”, but rather that a clear understanding of imported themes is basic to an evaluation of the locally dynamic processes that represent the exciting core of the Australian experience.) Kingston does not shine in this category. The statement that New South Wales produced wool for “Lancashire’s hungry mills” (p. 19) is an astonishing howler. Kingston implies that a Whig government was voted into office at the general election of 1830. The Whigs certainly won the election, for governments never lost before 1832, but their cabinet had been formed beforehand through traditional factional manoeuvres. The secretary of state for colonies did not approve the creation of Victoria because Port Phillip settlers had cheekily elected him as their representative in Sydney in 1848: Earl Grey had approved separation the previous year. It is anachronistic to say that Orange Lodges were imported into late nineteenth-century Australia “from Northern Ireland” (p. 115) since no such capitalised entity existed until 1920.

Perhaps because the book has not been organised around continuous explanatory themes, it is not always easy to grasp how the author intends narrative chunks to interact. “The end of transportation to New South Wales brought immense and dramatic changes” (p. 36)  so runs the eye-catching opening to chapter 3. An attentive supervisor would have pounced on the word “brought” had this appeared in a draft PhD, and asked whether a causal link was implied. The end of transportation probably did open the way, if not immediately, to elected institutions and the transfer of control over land policy, but did it cause the gold rushes, or the break-away of Victoria and Queensland?

But at another point, Kingston seems to dismiss any possibility of cause-and-effect. “Debates about federation during the 1890s became a welcome distraction from the ailing economy, the drought, and the noisy demands of labour.” (p. 97) This is a profoundly curious statement. First, while federalists cared a great deal about the issue, much evidence suggests that the bulk of the population had to be browbeaten into taking an interest in the movement at all. While it is not always easy to see just how federation could answer the challenges facing any of the colonies, to brand it as a simple irrelevance is bizarre. In her discussion of the issue (one which made only fleeting appearances in her Oxford History volume, despite its terminating date at 1900), Kingston usefully stresses the subtle role of George Reid in forcing the other colonies to accept his terms  and also includes a digression which forward-projects Reid’s public service reforms to the time of Neville Wran. But there is no serious attempt to confront the fact that opinion was deeply divided on the issue, no mention at all of the two referendums of 1898 and 1899, let alone of the votes cast (surely it is worth mentioning that the No side scored 48 and 43.5 percent)  nor of the fact that Reid himself was torn, and acquired the famous nickname of “Yes-No”.

Even if we countenance the implausible hypothesis that the colony sleep-walked into the Australian Commonwealth, the historian surely ought to pause and note that this was the point where New South Wales turned away from the path that would probably have led to a New Zealand- (or maybe Nicaraguan-) style independence. Of course we cannot second-guess what might have happened had the No voters triumphed, as they so nearly did. Maybe federation would have come around again on the back of the Anzac legend. But it is equally possible that the mother colony-cabbage patch rivalry, now one of the minor and risible features of Australian culture, might have escalated, through trade wars and disputes over Murray waters, to convert the relations between New South Wales and Victoria into something more like the Chile-Argentina confrontation in Latin America, where shared history, language and ethnicity, not to mention a healthy mountain barrier, has not prevented endemic hostility.

At times, Kingston’s enthusiastic determination to cram in facts creates cumbersome prose. Here is an example of a sentence which might have been pruned and then cut in two: “The Women’s Liberal League established in 1902 by Hilma Ekenberg, a Swedish nurse, who arrived in Sydney in the 1880s, known after her marriage as Mrs Molyneux Parkes, maintained a prickly relationship with Joseph Carruthers’ Liberal Party, though they could agree on issues like temperance.” (p. 95) Of lesser glitches, “comprised of” (p. 31) ought to have been edited out, and a social historian should know the difference between sewage and sewerage.

Kingston’s conclusion terminates with an evocation of multicultural children playing on a beach at dusk. A man fishing off the rocks makes the scene timeless  although we may guess that he is probably not black and certainly not wielding a spear. “They (who?) say that the sea will rise here with global warming.” (p. 253) The tectonic plates are shifting, we learn, the prelude to a weak joke about New Zealand washing up among the Kiwi colony at Bondi. When historians resort to speculations about tectonic plates, they surely reveal a failure to identify underlying themes in their own work. “What will this scene be a hundred years hence, or two hundred? It is not easy to know or understand the past, but it is impossible to predict the future.” True, and this is why historians generally concentrate their closing thoughts on the first problem rather than the second. “Who in 1770 or 1788 could possibly have imagined the changes that would take place on these shores in just over two hundred years. Yet…” (p. 254) And so the history of the three-letter abbreviation, NSW, ends inconclusively in a three-letter word. I have not the faintest idea what it means.

It would be an exaggeration to call the first modern history of New South Wales a journey into uncharted territory. But there was always going to be a challenge in melding together diverse research covering specific periods, issues and regions. Kingston’s book will be valuable in helping to shape future attempts to encapsulate the experience of Australia’s oldest State. One clear lesson is that the historian (or perhaps a scholarly team) must identify unifying themes and consistent intellectual challenges that can give coherence to a two-century overview. The post-1859 core should be regarded as the essential framework, stressing the implications of the artificial and accidental elements in its boundaries. A firm demographic analysis will be required, tracing change in both Aboriginal and Europeanised populations. The dominance of Sydney must be tackled, with due attention to the local growth and regional hegemony of both the capital and the Newcastle region. Countervailing perspectives should be built in, to take account of how New South Wales was experienced from places such as Albury, Armidale and Queanbeyan. Interrogation of the eighteenth-century foundations will require constant evaluation of fresh influences, especially from ideas and people without. Comparison with other States may throw light on what is distinctive, and the relationship between post-1901 New South Wales and the Australian Commonwealth requires deeper understanding. Other themes will no doubt be identified. It has always seemed faintly comic that some convicts absconded from the early penal settlements in the belief that they could walk to China, but future historians may feel that these hapless escapees had a prophetic view of a long-disguised Asian destiny. We ought to have been aware of a deep background to the debate on the environment ever since the publication of W.K. Hancock’s Discovering Monaro back in 1972. Water conservation and grassland management are likely to feature more centrally in any future retrospective view of those changes that nobody could have foreseen back in 1788. It would be pleasant to think that such a history might be planned for publication in 2017, to mark the bicentenary of Australia’s first bank. Meanwhile, Beverley Kingston’s pioneering attempt provides plenty of thought-provoking opinions even though it does not deeply engage with the underlying issues.

Nonja Peters, ed.,

The Dutch Down Under 1606-2006

Crawley, WA: University of Western Australia Press, 2006

Pp. xix + 422 .                         Hardback  ISBN 1 920694 75 7


In 1606 recorded Dutch contact with Australia began when the voyage of the Duyfken resulted in the mapping of part of the coastline of Western Australia. This handsomely illustrated four-hundredth anniversary volume, in semi-coffee-table format, both celebrates and interrogates the Dutch experience in New Holland. The 23 contributions are arranged in five sections, mixing personal stories with scholarly analysis. The first section deals with early voyages and the first migrants. The second looks at the relationship between Australia and the Dutch East Indies during the second world war, and so leads into the post-war migration, 168,000 people in half a century. Sections three and four contain most of the academic core, with studies of aspects of resettlement and especially social life. A final section of two chapters examines employment and art. Although one of the largest non-British immigrant groups, the Dutch have been remarkably invisible in Australia. This was partly because they far outstripped other immigrant communities in their speed of conversion to English, perhaps helped by the similar structures of the two languages. Contributors point out another reason, ‘pillarisation’. Although the Netherlands was founded on a Calvinist rejection of Spanish rule, the United Provinces included an extensive Catholic population. To make the state work, the two groups had to find a formula for peaceable co-existence. Their ‘consociational’ answer was very similar to the Aussie political philosophy of live-and-let-live, along with its paradoxical accompaniment of social segregation separating Protestants and Catholics. Hence both in speech and outlook, the Dutch found it easy to fit in. They did not so much assimilate, argues Desmond Cahill, as accommodate. My only reservation about this volume, as someone with an interest in the Netherlands (not an enthusiasm common among English-speaking intellectuals) is that it is if anything too much focused on the Australian end of the story, although return migration and inter-generational contact with the homeland are considered. I should have welcomed more detailed examination, with maps, to explore possible regional aspects of migration from the Netherlands. The land of windmills and polders may look both small and uniform from without, but it conceals complex local variations. Perhaps the anniversary will trigger further research. Meanwhile we can all wish Dutch-Australia a year of typically quiet celebration of a remarkable story of achievement.


Bruce Pennay

Making A City In The Country:

The Albury-Wodonga National Growth Project 1973-2003

Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2005

Pp. xi + 387                 Paper. ISBN 0 86840 944 8                $49.95



Twenty years resident in Albury-Wodonga, the regional historian Bruce Pennay has produced an excellent commissioned history for the now-doomed Development Corporation, chronicling the project for a new inland city straddling the Murray. Announced in January 1973, the Albury-Wodonga project was not the brainchild of the new Labor government, but it did reflect Gough Whitlam’s belief that there was ‘room for another Canberra’ between Sydney and Melbourne (p. 8), while its location astride the New South Wales-Victoria border made it an attractive laboratory for a centralising regime. The prime minister’s decided to raise the target to 300,000 people, and the proposed city acquired the aura of ‘Whitlamabad’. Aiming big would justify investment in major infrastructure projects. One of the downsides of an official history is that it concentrates on what was achieved (complete with pictures of managerial types in suits) more than on the areas missed. Some of the shortcomings of the project, such as the failure to build a general hospital or the lack of a major airport, form minor themes in Pennay’s text. The early years were bound to combine a maximum of controversy with a minimum of delivery. Locals disliked  outside intervention, and the thought of another Canberra. Wodonga, already the Cinderella community, did not wish to become a second Queanbeyan. 1977 brought a double blow. The Borrie Report revised estimates for Australia’s population downwards by several millions, casting doubt on arguments for a new metropolis. Then came the Dismissal. Officially the Fraser government supported the project, but it axed two agencies earmarked for decentralisation, and pegged its financial contribution to matching State funds. But the two State governments were only mildly enthusiastic. Neither wanted to locate their own services on their border, where half the hinterland was beyond their jurisdiction. Hence, Wagga Wagga and Wangaratta grew just as fast. In 1977, the population target was cut back to 150,000, and in 1989 the Development Corporation was earmarked for closure. It will survive until about 2009 simply because the Commonwealth government wants to avoid a fire sale of assets. It is to Pennay’s credit that he maintains the pace of the narrative throughout the prolonged post-1977 endgame.

Albury-Wodonga suffered from two fundamental weaknesses. One was the planning equivalent of ‘if you’re so clever, why aren’t you rich?’ As an OECD observer tactfully put it in 1973, ‘why, if it is a natural growth point, it has not developed much more rapidly’? (p. 93) Initially it seemed encouraging that pet-food manufacturer Uncle Bens had located in Wodonga in 1967 and quickly expanded. But two decades on, Uncle Bens was still the largest private employer. The second was the collapse of long-term political commitment. The twin cities were heavily dependent upon public sector activities (Wodonga relied on an army base) and were vulnerable to policy changes: Albury had lost railway jobs when the gauges were harmonised in 1962, and the local economy had suffered from the closure of the Bonegilla migrant reception centre in 1971. The proposed university, a central feature of the original scheme, was a casualty of Borrie: nobody in the late 1970s foresaw the massive expansion in higher education numbers yet to come. Instead, Albury acquired a campus of the Wagga-based Riverina CAE, now Charles Sturt University, while Wodonga became an outreach frontier of La Trobe. A single university as a research centre and economic driver would have been immensely preferable. Meanwhile, the State border survives to complicate everything from dog licences to daylight saving.

            I have two reservations about this well-produced book. One is that it lacks precise population figures, which are the basic yardstick for the project. Albury and Wodonga had a joint population of about 38,000 in 1973, although some promoters talked of regional total of 55,000. By 2001, numbers had nudged above 100,000, and  Thurgoona, the major Albury suburban initiative, contained just 4,000 people. Compared with naturally fast-growing centres such as Coffs Harbour, this is modest, and incidentally underlines the limited success of campaigns to persuade tourists to stay a little longer in Albury-Wodonga. The other defect is the lack of clear and specific mapping. Maps and plans appear as illustrations, but usually as contemporary artefacts. Still, this is a valuable account of a story that needs to be told.



Well May We Say…: The Speeches That Made Australia edited by Sally Warhaft. Melbourne: Black Inc., 2004. xx + 588 pp., paperback. ISBN 1 86395 277 2


What a delight! Students of Australian history are well supplied and well served by books of documents, but somehow they all share a desperately serious air of blood on the wattle. This collection of extracts from over 100 speeches certainly does not trivialise the Australian past. Indeed, its title comes from Gough Whitlam’s sober declaration of hostility to the governor-general who had just dismissed him from office. There are a few more-or-less wise words from outsiders, such as the Queen and the Pope, and others from those who were embraced by their new country, such as the British teenager Ninian Stephen. Most of the material is about being Australian and feeling Australian. Of course, there are words of familiar ring: Parkes on the ‘crimson thread’, Ned Kelly in the dock, Menzies on the forgotten people, Chifley invoking the light on the hill, Arthur Calwell’s calculation that two Wongs do not make a White. There are also some of the resounding statements of the past half century, some too recent for the standard anthologies, such as Harold Holt’s pledge to LBJ and Blainey’s ‘black armband’. Grouped into nine sections, the collection runs from Governor Phillip to the Howards and Hansons of today. It would make an excellent teaching resource for a seminar on Australia and Australian identity, within the country or overseas.

Genocide and Settler Society: Frontier Violence and Stolen Indigenous Children in Australia History, edited by A. Dirk Moses. New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2004 (paperback edition, 2005). Pp. xv + 325, paperback. ISBN 1 57181 411 6


This is a collection of thirteen papers from the emerging field of genocide studies. Eleven of these relate to Australia, two to aspects of Nazi racial policies in Europe. The editor’s brief preface indicates that Australian publishers were resistant to issuing the original collection. It has become part of a series on War and Genocide from an American house, whose general editor ‘thought it appropriate’ to include work by two young German historians. ‘Readers can judge for themselves how relevant these cases are for Australia.’(p. xiii) The contributors appeal to different definitions of genocide, a word that can be synonymous with extermination but is also widely used to describe forced cultural assimilation. One contributor, Russell McGregor, explicitly contests the applicability of the term to the second half of the twentieth century at all. He does not endorse assimilationist policies but he insists that to call them ‘genocidal’ is ‘to render the term conceptually and morally incoherent.’ (p. 307) The essays are grouped into three main sections. The first deals with general themes, the second with frontier violence and the third with the removal and institutionalisation of indigenous children. A brief final contribution by Tim Rowse usefully reviews attempts to calculate Aboriginal populations.


The Europeans in Australia: A History, Volume Two: Democracy by Alan Atkinson. South Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. xxiii + 400. $59.95, hardback. ISBN 019553642 8


Half a century ago, C.M.H. Clark crafted a majestic invocation of the Australian past noteworthy both for imaginative empathy and florid prose. Those few who attempted to emulate his approach were likely to be mocked for producing ‘pidgin Manning’. In the second volume of his planned trilogy, Alan Atkinson harnesses the Manning Clark spirit to give a fresh creative insight into modern Australia’s dreamtime. As a historical interpretation, it has one solid advantage. Atkinson’s study is based on the imaginings of the people he wrote about. Clark, who gazed into the face of a wooden portrait of Arthur Phillip and perceived Enlightenment reason in conflict with dark passions, relied too much on his own. For Clark, men and women were fleshly actors in mighty ideological struggles, between Catholicism and Protestantism, privilege and democracy. For Atkinson, democracy is a social rather than a political concept. Yet human autonomy is never wholly clarified. The book is organised into three sections, entitled ‘Still They Kept Coming’, ‘Their Method of Utterance’ and ‘The Masses Unpacked’ (the last, presumably, a double entendre). Each is prefaced by a contemporary description of insects – flying ants, cicadas and bees – with the obvious implication that early Australians resembled all three, a metaphor that subordinates individuality to instinct. The reviewer too must soar to catch the author’s winged heels: this is pointillist history. Just as the tiny details of Seurat only make a picture when we stand back, so Atkinson’s meaning flows subliminally and is not easily pinned down. As he enigmatically puts it, ‘vivid things are to be glimpsed merely on their passing our window.’ (p. 286)

In covering 1820 to the 1870s, Atkinson talks of generations, but readers may sometimes have to calibrate their own time lines as chapters flows chronologically from one to the next. Within sub-sections, there are apparently seamless links between logically unrelated topics. My favourite (pp. 279-86) does not blink as it moves from the treatment of lunacy to the establishment of Queensland. ‘In some sense Queensland was itself a kind of hallucination, a mixture of waking and dreaming.’ Well, in 1859 it was very large and contained few settlers. And what are we to make of the claim (p. 204) that ‘the settler population was beginning to work with the idea of an existence deeply dyed – gilded and stained – by the new world …. So much salted blue, so much dried brown.’ The continent itself becomes a huge carcass, which Europeans had to learn to ‘skin and carve’ (p. 210). Miners burrowed into its ribcage, mapmakers traced its sinews. But ‘the jagged lines’ on Thomas Mitchell’s chart of botanist Richard Cunningham’s fatal expedition on the Bogan are ‘a jagged cry of pain’. (p. 214) Actually, they are the zigzag tracks of a lost explorer – and, anyway, whose pain: Cunningham’s, Mitchell’s, Australia’s? Atkinson’s focus upon democracy might suggest that he aims to trace the past to the present, but sometimes the emphasis is reversed. ‘Ancestors are strange reflections of the present – an early shadow of yourself,’ he remarks as he introduces us to his great-grandparents. Without realising it, we too have entered the dreamtime.
            In his final sentence, Atkinson tells us that European Australians were not ants at all, but resembled the small crimson crabs which four pages earlier had swarmed from their burrows in a Western Australian river estuary to greet the incoming tide. It seems a touch unfair to unleash a new image after 339 pages, and what does it mean? Had the Europeans left burrows in Britain to embrace the ocean of Australia? Or did they scramble from colonial sandholes to plunge into the warm surf of modernity? Every History department encounters the odd [sic] student suffering from a touch of the James Joyces: I recall one who called the 1914 War an ‘otiose oubliette’. Usually, firm and sympathetic essay therapy can curb the affliction. But how shall we handle the student who not only characterises colonial Australians as estuarine river crabs, but can footnote the statement too? I congratulate an old friend on a magnificent achievement, but I do hope that it proves to be unique.



Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle’s Fabrication of Aboriginal History, edited by Robert Manne. Melbourne, Black Inc., 2003. Pp. 385, paperback. ISBN 0 9750769 0 6



This collection contains seventeen essays (and one document) replying to attacks on mainstream historians by Keith Windschuttle, through Quadrant and his own self-published book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, a title which is pointedly not italicised here. The longest contribution, by James Boyce, is a tour-de-force from a graduate student. The authors expose weaknesses in Windschuttle’s methodology. Early Van Diemen’s Land produced much official paperwork. Windschuttle’s mistake was to assume that because records were extensive, they must also be comprehensive. Hence an unreported Aboriginal death was one that never happened. On the same basis, Manne suggests, there was no sexual abuse of children in Western societies until recent times. Others point out that government sources did not systematically note Aboriginal deaths until 1827, and probably not effectively even then. It was hard to know what happened ‘on the other side of the frontier’. Maybe relatively few Blacks were killed by settler guns (although, as Mark Finnane points out, the statistical rate of violent death was still ‘extraordinarily high’), but what happened to the wounded who crawled away into a society that knew only herbal medicine? The documents do indeed show that only three percent of the island had been officially granted by 1823, but settler penetration on the contested ground was much greater. Calling his tormentor ‘biased and cantankerous’, Henry Reynolds points out that Windschuttle never mentions that Sir George Arthur, governor at the time of the ‘Black War’, had specific instructions from London to ‘oppose force by force’ and treat hostile Aborigines as if they were an invading enemy. Martin Krygier and Robert van Krieken point to the ambiguity in Windschuttle’s assessment of Christianity, portrayed as a value system which must have inhibited violence, while its practitioners were the very do-gooders whose interventions destroyed Aboriginal society. Archaeologists Tim Murray and Christine Williamson refute the absurdity of Windschuttle’s view of a dysfunctional society that providentially managed to cling to life for 30,000 years before coincidentally collapsing in the first forty years of European contact. Replying to Windschuttle’s challenges to the accuracy of her footnotes, Lyndall Ryan vindicates her scholarly integrity while acknowledging not ‘fabrications’ but some ‘infractions’: her evidence does exist in the documents and newspapers, even if not one hundred percent in the ones she actually cited. Ryan adopts the Warren Hastings defence, proclaiming herself astonished by the accuracy of her referencing when she was the first academic to tackle the archival material. While Tasmania is the principal focus of the row, Windschuttle’s claims about mainland events are also covered. He doubted a reported massacre in 1915 at Mistake Creek in the Kimberleys, arguing that it depended upon oral evidence of a 71 year-old Gija, Peggy Patrick, who apparently claimed her mother as a victim. But as Patrick’s statement makes clear, she speaks ‘blackfella’ and not ‘high’ English, and was referring to her ‘mum mother’ (i.e. grandmother). It was unnecessary of A. Dirk Moses to imply that revisionists suffer from a castration complex, but he is correct to challenge Windschuttle to prove he is not an outright ‘denier’, an Australian David Irving. As Moses says, Reynolds and Ryan have accepted Windschuttle’s criticisms where valid: his own response to the counter-attack in Whitewash will demonstrate whether this is a lively debate or a witchhunt. And, as Krygier and van Krieken remind us, even if there was never a single massacre, there was still a wholesale dispossession of other people’s land.


An Historian’s Life: Max Crawford and the Politics of Academic Freedom, by Fay Anderson. Melbourne, Melbourne University Press. Pp. xi + 398, paperback. ISBN 0 522 85153 3


I found this a compelling book, and this review is offered as a critique to help place it within the intellectual history of modern Australia, where it deserves a place. We need to recreate two aspects of the academic world in which Crawford became a professor at thirty. It was very hierarchical. Within minutes of welcoming me to ANU in 1972, the great J.A. La Nauze deftly made it clear that he expected to be addressed as ‘Professor’. Anderson prefers the informal use of first names, but it was an era when respectable Australian males had two initials. (Brian Fitzpatrick and Russel Ward did not so aspire.) Of course A.G. Serle, J.A. La Nauze and L.F. Fitzhardinge were Geoff and John and Laurie within their select circles, but there was shock when C.M.H. Clark naughtily referred to Fitzpatrick as ‘Aunty Katie’ in public. Crawford was pitchforked into a world where responsibility sometimes demanded that he defend positions on issues he might not have chosen to fight. Worse still, universities were massively under-resourced, and it is hard now to grasp the grinding experience of his massive workload, most of it non-negotiable drudgery imposed by others. Humanly, it is not surprising that Crawford did not always rush into other people’s battles.

            Anderson planned to write a purely intellectual biography of Crawford, but gradually became aware of the importance of his personal life. The founder of the Melbourne History School was himself a Sydneysider, and Anderson identifies personal re-invention as a persistent theme in the Crawford story. She explores Crawford’s relationship with his working-class family, but the book perhaps needed deeper examination of those early years. Crawford’s schooling is merely mentioned – but Fort Street High injected a meritocratic element into Sydney society (a slightly later product was a Balmain boilermaker’s son called John Kerr) – something not easily paralleled in the stratified world of Melbourne. Crawford’s makeover started early: on the ship to England he was patronisingly congratulated on the absence of an Australian accent. Yet there was an obstacle to the imposition of any personal caesura. Her name was Dorothy Cheetham and we learn, almost in passing, that she was the fiancée that he left behind to go to Oxford. Although they married three years later, pregnant Dorothy was soon left for another overseas venture. The first Mrs Crawford avoided academe, and at times the marriage was strained. Crawford had an intense relationship with a colleague, Kathleen Fitzpatrick. Without enquiring into the nature of their relationship – why should we? – Anderson terms her Crawford’s ‘intellectual wife’. Later, Crawford had to define emotional limits in his relationship with a younger colleague, Margaret Kiddle. In 1958, by then a widower, he married Ruth Hoban, head of Melbourne’s Social Studies department. He left La Nauze to break the news to Fitzpatrick, who condemned him as a ‘stinker’. Hoban’s department was riven by conflicts not unknown among sociologists. In 1961, through the Bulletin, Crawford denounced a campaign of leftist intimidation against his wife. The chosen forum was a mistake, and Anderson stresses Crawford’s inconsistency, since he had himself been a target for ASIO McCarthyism. The episode is viewed through the filter of the Blainey affair, but perhaps continuity can be discerned with Crawford’s earlier campaigns for closer links with the Soviet Union. He resisted authoritarianism from both within and without the institution. Certainly, his emotional life cannot be overlooked in assessing successive intellectual stances. It might have been useful, too, to have had a follow-through to an early allusion to his religious beliefs.

            Crawford never wrote his projected books on the Italian Renaissance or modern Spain or early settlement in Western Australia. Why, then, was his only substantial work a biography of his Sydney University professor, G. Arnold Wood? Critics like McQueen saw it as vicarious autobiography, a defence of a doppelganger who wrote little and whose claim to be ‘A Bit of A Rebel’ (Crawford’s title) seemed at odds with his conventional lifestyle. Anderson identifies the importance of this late work, but maybe it should be explored more deeply in an intellectual biography. In a moving account of Wood’s death, the word ‘suicide’ does not appear, but Crawford blamed the tragedy on the ‘trivial embarrassments or failures which everybody carries hidden in his mind from the early years of learning to live’. Crawford lived An Historian’s Life, but the obstacles to self-expression stemmed as much from internal guilt and inadequacy as from external censorship. I salute Fay Anderson’s book, even in disagreeing with some of her approach.

J.R. Nethercote, ed.,

Liberalism and the Australian Federation

Annandale, NSW: The Federation Press

xx + 380pp.   Hardback                       1 86287 402 6


This well-presented collection of eighteen essays is the outcome of a project by the Liberal Party to mark the centenary of federation, an initiative that everyone should applaud, irrespective of political allegiance. Ten of the contributions form a kind of relay-race coverage of the achievements of the Liberal Party and its forerunners in shaping the constitution and governing the Commonwealth. Of particular interest is Ian Hancock’s contribution dealing with the post-Menzies governments from 1966 to 1972. He does not dispute that they were ineptly led, but argues a persuasive case that they initiated an important phase of change, credit for which is too often casually allocated to the Whitlam era. It is the sort of short but challenging historical writing that deserves a place on undergraduate reading lists. Four essays survey the handling by Liberal governments of major issues, including an economical survey of one hundred years of external policy by Carl Bridge. It is the remaining four theoretical discussions that capture the book’s central and intriguing opacity. As Gregory Melleuish points out, there is a scholarly consensus (chiming with Liberal hagiography) which traces the party’s origins back to Alfred Deakin and hence to Victorian protectionism, transmuted during the first decade of the twentieth century into an interventionist commitment to social justice and economic security. As a result, the enthusiasm for free markets shown by recent Liberal leaders John Hewson and John Howard is regarded as a historical aberration, despite its respectable ancestry in the New South Wales free trade tradition. Some contributors tag such attitudes as ‘conservative’. One, Greg Craven, confesses himself ‘cheerfully unequal’ to defining these two interwoven elements in the Liberal Party. He then suggests that the federation settlement represented, simultaneously, a victory for free trade within Australia, which he likens to the modern discourse of recent economic deregulation, confusingly coupled with a dirigiste approach to external protection through a high tariff. Complicating the perennial philosophical cross-over has been the federal alliance with the Country Party, whose idea of being liberal was to spend lavish amounts of public money in rural areas. One can only conclude that an element of ideological ambiguity does not seem to have harmed the Liberals at the polls. The book is a fine monument to a worthy project.

Jean Fornasiero, Peter Monteath and John West-Sooby,

Encountering Terra Australis:

The Australian Voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders

Kent Town, SA: Wakefield Press, 2004

xii + 411 pp.    Hardback                             1 86254 625 8


Since this is a book about encounter and observation, it is appropriate to begin by noting its superb physical appearance and comfortable ‘feel’. This is a volume that belongs in the smart bookcase in your sitting room, not among the paperbacks on the machined planks of your office. It is profusely illustrated with contemporary maps and prints which almost form a parallel text. One of the few presentational lacunae is the absence of a convenient list of its excellent colour pictures. The main part of the text interweaves two voyages of exploration around the Australian coastline between 1801 and 1803, one by the Englishman Flinders and the other by the Frenchman Baudin. Flinders won the historical battle of memory, publishing an influential memoir and even fixing a name upon the continent which he had circumnavigated. By contrast, Baudin’s narrative has to be reconstructed from fragments. Part I of Encountering Terra Australis brings together extracts from their two accounts, Baudin’s in translation, and those from Flinders with some modernisation of spelling. Part II offers five reflections on the theme ‘Legacies’, looking at the role of the two expeditions in shaping our image of Australia, and assessing the artistic and scientific value of their work. A thoughtful chapter captures the two voyages as key moments in the death of European noble-savage fantasies in their dealings with Aboriginal people. ‘We love good stories and publish beautiful books,’ says the tailpiece from Wakefield Press. It is certainly rare to find a scholarly book that can so obviously double as a Christmas present.

J.M. Bennett

Sir Henry Wrenfordsley: Second Chief Justice of Western Australia 1880-1883

Leichhardt NSW: The Federation Press, 2004

(Series: Lives of the Australian Chief Justices) (with foreword by Roy M. Mersky)

Pp. xiv + 146.              Hardback  $49-50       ISBN 1 86287 528 6


By seeking to interpret the actions of their subjects, biographers usually slip into defending them. In his ninth contribution to a self-imposed series devoted to the lives of Australia’s chief justices, J.M. Bennett offers a more detached judgement. Describing Wrenfordsley as ‘a weak judge’, ‘a poseur and a judicial fraud’, he adds that ‘the pattern of his uniform incompetence and self-interest emerges only when all of his colonial service is taken into account.’ This one of Trollope’s minor characters transferred to a W.S. Gilbert libretto. His father was a Dublin solicitor who double-barrelled his surname, Sly, which cannot have been good for business. The son elided and elaborated the elements. Wrenfordsley was not without some positive characteristics. He was a qualified barrister, who unluckily lacked both briefs and brevity. He was a fluent orator, and Disraeli’s Conservatives twice ran him as a candidate in the hopelessly Liberal borough of Peterborough. He also spoke good French, and when his political allies first paid him off with a colonial appointment it was to Mauritius that they sent him. Thereafter he was rapidly shunted around the Empire, amassing a knighthood plus a host of quarrels, grievances and unpaid debts. The pinnacle of his career was a brief spell as acting governor of Western Australia, which he marked by stealing souvenir crockery from Government House. ‘This gentleman knows how to blow his own trumpet,’ noted a Colonial Office minute early in his odyssey. A later assessment was more blunt: ‘the main thing is to get rid of him’. For me, the only cloud in this enjoyable romp was the reflection that I have encountered several incarnations of the subject during my career in academe.



Susan Butler, publisher,

James Lambert, general editor,

Macquarie Australian Dictionary: Complete & Unabridged

Macquarie University, NSW: The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd, 2004

Pp. xi + 223.    Paperback.       $19-95             ISBN 1 876429 52 6


Librarians may find this volume a problem. Its formal title is given above, but the text and the back cover make clear that it is the Macquarie Australian Slang Dictionary, confirmed by the spoof warning that its contents may offend. There is indeed a larger section under the letter F than in the average glossary of English, but readers will probably be amused rather than shocked, especially by the light, informative notes that accompany many entries. In Australia, as elsewhere, much slang reflects masculine insecurity, which accounts for the inventive clusters relating to defecation, homosexuality and masturbation. But because Australian slang reflects many influences ─ Aboriginal, American, British as well as local inventiveness ─ precision is indeed required. Thus ‘ackers’ may refer to testicles or to university teachers, while it is important to distinguish between ‘yacker’ (chatter) and ‘yakka’ (hard work). Devotees of a distinctive national identity will perhaps find it discouraging to realise just how much Australian slang is derived from Britain, although Cockney-style rhyming slang is locally generated. ‘Werris’, for instance, can refer either to urination or to a person from Greece, but it is odd to note that the brief Edwardian flowering of Bristol City football club still finds an echo in allusion to Australian female anatomy. Surprisingly, too, ‘snog’ apparently only made its way to Australia in the 1980s, by which time the lack of any felt need for extended preliminaries to sexual intercourse had rendered it a quaint term in the Old Dart. Australian popular vocabulary is also affected by simultaneous global developments.  Urban four-wheel drive vehicles are ‘Toorak tractors’ in Melbourne, with similarly smart suburbs conscripted in other capital cities. They are, I believe, known as ‘Chelsea tractors’ in London. Genuinely Australian terminology seems in retreat. It is good to see ‘get off at Redfern’ (the last stop before Sydney’s Central Railway Station) still in use for coitus interruptus, but one wonders how many such terms, like ‘chunder’, owe their survival to Barry Humphries. Less cheerfully, ‘darg’ (output targets, often worker-imposed) seems to be dying out, while the pastoral ‘yow’ and ‘snagger’ get their guernseys mainly to help make sense of a famous folk song. But Click Go The Shears! was only published in 1946. Sixty years on, the vernacular seems to be flooded with Americanisms. Lambert argues that Australian English is in no danger of being taken over by the Yanks, since borrowings are promptly naturalised. Let us hope he is fair dinkum.


Anne Twomey

The Constitution of New South Wales

Annandale NSW: The Federation Press, 2004  [January 2005 in the UK]

(with foreword by Hon. Justice Keith Mason)

Pp. xli + 917.               Hardback    £58           ISBN 1 86287 516 2


In his belittling invective, Gough Whitlam dismissed the states as mere British colonies. With a century and a half of self-government, and a population larger than almost one hundred sovereign nations, New South Wales is more than that. Anne Twomey, who is both a legal practitioner and an adjunct member of the Sydney University’s Law Faculty, has produced a massive and intriguing book on the state’s constitution that will undoubtedly become an indispensable classic. One of its major strengths is her recognition that a constitution is more than just a document, a truth that has not always been evident in Canadian debate. In the case of New South Wales, it is certainly more than the single document that forms the book’s appendix, the consolidating act of 1902 made necessary by federation. Most of the chapters conform to predictable headings in this kind of textbook, dealing with subjects such as the legislative power, elections, qualifications of members of parliament, procedure and privilege, taxation, the role of the executive and the judiciary. One unusual chapter, entitled ‘Manner and Form’, examines New South Wales practice with regard to entrenchment, devices used by one parliament to deter its successors from changing key provisions, notably in the constitution itself. The detailed arguments here are probably above the general reader, but it is clear that Twomey has identified an area of potential uncertainty in the practice of government. Two chapters which will have wider appeal relate to the dismantling of direct links with Britain, largely achieved in 1986, and with the implications of the campaign for a republic on the state constitution. Among the possibilities considered under the latter are that New South Wales might sever its links with the Crown or determine to maintain them, independently of, and possibly in conflict with, any action by the Commonwealth. The question might arise, since it is not clear whether abolition of the monarchy at federal level would automatically change the constitutions of the states. However, Twomey is reasonably confident that it is legally safe to campaign for a republic despite the state law which declares it an offence to attempt to ‘depose Our Most Gracious Lady the Queen’. The relevant case law is drawn from England, where in 2003 the republican Guardian newspaper asked the Law Lords to guarantee immunity from prosecution for treason. Their lordships told its editor to stop being silly, which of course is too much to ask of that publication. A final chapter discusses general issues of federalism, and the whole mighty tome concludes with some enigmatic reflections on the theoretical question of secession. Although back in 1900 the federal constitution was wisely silent on this issue, Twomey concludes that unilateral withdrawal ‘would not be legally valid’ but adds realistically that if matters came to such a sad pass, some means would have to be found to carry out an orderly divorce. In short, or more accurately in 900 pages, Twomey has covered pretty well every eventuality, sensibly and comprehensively.

Greg Barns and Anna Krawec-Wheaton

An Australian Republic

Melbourne: Scribe Short Books, 2006

Pp. vii + 135                            $22.00    Paperback                


This short and polemical attempt to kick-start the movement for an Australian republic is the joint work of a seasoned campaigner and the author of a doctorate in political science. They identify three conditions necessary for the successful push to remove the monarchy. The first is widespread republican enthusiasm across the community. The second is the central role of the Australian Republican Movement, which Barns formerly chaired. The third is the securing of general agreement among politicians, constitutional experts and the media on the aims and tactics to be adopted. Some would feel that there is an element of special pleading about the second, urged in the form of “why the republic can’t live without the ARM” (p. 18). Many would describe the third as “elite consensus”: the authors use the second word rather more than the first. The authors hope that Peter Costelloe might revive the issue on taking over as prime minister. John Howard’s resolve to fight another election postpones this prospect, but the hope may be delusive. The problems the Liberal party encountered in replacing Menzies may incline any successor to avoid divisive initiatives.

            This revealing book contains three major flaws. However, many of its minor arguments and asides are also puzzling, and a collage may convey the flavour of unsupported assertion that runs through the text. It is hard to see how the resignation of Dr Hollingsworth from the office of governor-general in 2003 impinges on the argument for a republic, except perhaps to demonstrate that it is easier to get rid of a unelected but damaged head of state than one who could claim a popular mandate. Nor is it easy to grasp how the marriage of Mary Donaldson to the Crown Prince of Denmark strengthens the case for a president in Canberra, although the transmutation of another Australian into HRH Princess Michael adds to the case for a republic in Britain. The claim that republicans focus “on the right of all Australian citizens to aspire to the nation’s highest office” (p. 37) seems overblown given that the governor-general has been an Australian for over forty years. The authors assert that “changing from a monarchy to a republic would mean a huge shift for those who benefited from the status quo” (p. 40). But who are these people and how do they benefit? Does Yarralumla contain some hidden army of parasitical Gold Sticks and Ladies of the Bedchamber who face unemployment? An Australian head of state will probably still process around the country throwing garden parties for shire councillors and their partners. Tabloid journalists will continue to make a living from the peccadilloes of Anglo-German princelings.

The authors are selective in their use of examples from overseas. They are excited by the potential for mobilising new sources of support shown by the 2004 US presidential run made by John Dean  but Dean did not even win his party’s nomination. They note the process by which New Zealanders adopted a form of proportional representation, MMP, through an ascending series of consultative and binding votes. Given the familiar Australian indifference to New Zealand, this is indeed commendable, but they play down the fact that proportional representation has changed New Zealand politics in ways that even the doomsayers could hardly have foreseen: the present foreign minister, for instance, is not bound by cabinet solidarity. Like the Australian republic, MMP in New Zealand was probably unavoidable and in most respects an improvement on the system it replaced. But it is myopic to ignore the lesson that major reforms have unforeseeable side effects.

            However, these lesser blemishes pale alongside this book’s structural shortcomings. The first, the authors’ attempt to cope with the problem that they lost in 1999, is so bizarre that it merits quoting at some length. They begin by charging the Howard government with “significantly altering the referendum process.” In 1996, Labor had proposed “a referendum preceded by an indicative plebiscite designed to test the public’s support”. Instead, the coalition opted for a referendum “based on choosing the preferred model for a republic.” (p. 21) Note here the phrase “significantly altering”. A party which lost the 1996 election proposed one course of action. The parties which won adopted another. Normal constitutional conventions assume that policies advocated by the losing side do not get put into effect. Here, it seems, the winners should have accepted the procedure advocated by the party which the voters had rejected.

            What was so wrong about asking Australians to select a preferred form of republic? The answer is breathtaking and, incidentally, factually tendentious. It was “a choice that demanded some knowledge of constitutional and legal technicalities. Many Australians were not adequately qualified or prepared to make that decision, nor were they interested in constitutional issues. In other words, the public was cheated of a republic. By changing the emphasis of the referendum process, those in positions of power surreptitiously abdicated their responsibility by shifting that responsibility onto the public.” (pp. 21-22)  I am reminded of the hard-pressed candidate in a legendary American election who alleged that his opponent and spouse were guilty of practising matrimony. Australia is been governed by a system in which the people decide whether to change the constitution, and everyone is required to vote. It seems a bit late to start complaining that some people have a weak grasp of the issues. It is unlikely that the Australian electorate of 1967 would have spontaneously aroused itself over the status of Aborigines, but they were persuaded to vote in favour of conferring rights of citizenship upon indigenous people. Many Australians were probably unexcited by the issue of regulating casual senate vacancies, but in 1977 they agreed to amend the constitution on this point. In both cases, the politicians outlined the pros and cons, and the people decided. Republicans have only themselves to blame if they failed to win the argument in 1999. It is both arrogant and distasteful to accuse the Howard government of practising that most hideous of abominations, democracy.

            But this does not represent the full extent of the charge sheet against the cunning prime minister. He “effectively sidelined” the question of national identity, thereby removing “a powerful and compelling mechanism for re-enforcing [sic] unity and cohesion”. As a result, “the Yes campaign was faced with presenting an argument that was essentially constitutional, one that was unlikely to resonate in the hearts and minds of the people.” (p. 76) “Once Howard was able to separate the identity issue from the republican debate he was able to control the process.” (p. 80) This is political science run mad. Every referendum campaign is conducted on two levels. If it was proposed to make the constitution guarantee fine weather, there would still be a need to discuss whether the amendment provided for adequate rainfall. But a referendum campaign operates simultaneously at a higher level of debate, with both sides seeking to mobilise a vision of Australia itself. In 1951, H.V. Evatt successfully blocked an attempt to outlaw the Communist party, a move which had initially scored a 73 percent opinion poll rating, because he was able both to persuade and to inspire, demonstrating not only that the Menzies proposal was dangerously worded but also that it reflected an unpleasantly narrow view of what the country was all about. Mugabe and Putin can control the process of public debate, but not John Howard. Republicans lost in 1999 because they failed to project an inspiring vision of a presidential Australia. Portraying the hapless Howard as some kind of political Superman only adds to their own humiliation.

            The authors’ inability to face up to the implications of their own defeat in 1999 is underlined by the unreality of their proposed path to future victory. They favour the approach of deliberative democracy, which assembles cross-sections of volunteer voters to act as a combined teach-in and drafting convention. When such an assembly of 347 people was convened in Canberra in 1999, support for a Yes vote rose from an initial 53 percent to 73 percent after informed discussion. Evidently, deliberative democracy has the potential to mobilise those citizens who are prepared to take part, but can it refresh those parts of the body politic that other devices have failed to reach? (In their sketch of a deliberative assembly, the authors make their sole passing allusion to the six States, whose constitutional relationship to the distant Crown is at the very least a complicating factor.) The authors see deliberative democracy as the key to producing a choice of republican models to be put to a future popular vote, a device that they describe as “tactically clever” (p. 96). Politicians should “renew faith in Australian democracy by placing their trust in the electorate to make the judgement.” (p. 124) These are the same politicians who, we have been told, had “surreptitiously abdicated their responsibility by shifting that responsibility onto the public” in 1999. The Australian people “want a choice  they want to believe that the republic is theirs to devise and own” (p. 96). Evidently they have moved on since 1999, when they were “not adequately qualified or prepared to make that decision, nor were they interested in constitutional issues”. But surely all this public participation will be in vain, for some future Howard figure will “control the process”. Next time round, apparently not. The Australian people will be out to show that they are just as smart as their New Zealand cousins when it comes to voting for constitutional change. “They could ignore the manoeuvrings of the political elite, study the factual material and the arguments put before them”  in which idealised world they would of course vote for the direct election model which happens to be the authors’ preference. (p. 97) In simple terms, democracy is fine if you convince yourself that you are bound to win. But democracy is a fraud and a farce if you have lost.

            The second endemic flaw in this book relates to its attitude to those republicans who venture to espouse rival ideas. Indeed, the reader is left with the feeling that one advantage in making Australia a republic would be to remove the ego-ridden and quarrelsome ARM from the scene. While the tag “rebels” does appear in inverted commas, other terms of endearment vary from “passionate republicans of sorts” (p. 46) through to “spoilers” (pp. 49, 89, 92), who were “used by the monarchists” (p. 85). Their tactics are “clumsy” (p. 90), and their criticisms feigned. Yet the authors recognise that “conservative republicans”  it is not clear whether the adjective refers to political orientation or minimalist reform  are “an essential part of the equation of political success for the cause” (p. 87). They are, it seems, so vital that they should shut up and fall into line. The irony is that, whereas in 1999, it was supporters of direct election who broke ranks to oppose the parliamentary election model that was on offer, the authors now denounce those, like Greg Craven, who equate direct election with “constitutional strychnine”. Not only has Craven had the temerity to clash with Barns but, worse still, he seems incapable of accepting “any possibility that on the issue of a republic comprising a directly elected president there might be a need for compromise on his part.” (p. 54)

            There seem to be two reasons why the deviant heresy of 1999 is now proclaimed as the unassailable dogma of 2006. The first is an undocumented assumption that “it looks increasingly likely that a majority of Australians believe that the best form of republic is one where they have the right to elect the individual who would be president.” (p. 123) The confusion of tenses here suggests that the authors themselves are unsure whether this represents a majority view today or a predicted drift of future opinion. Elsewhere they speak generally of “the mood of the nation” (p. 88) and assert that a “desire for some form of direct election exists in Australia today” (p. 56).  The fundamental error here is to confuse opinion polls (although none are cited) with educated public debate. Polls measure snapshot responses, not considered viewpoints. Thus pollsters often report majority support for the death penalty, but (outside the United States) intensive media debate will usually secure informed rejection of this obscenity. It is eminently understandable that people who live in a democracy will tell the polls that they wish to elect a head of state, especially if they envisage a president wielding real powers. It does not follow that this sentiment would transfer into a considered verdict after a referendum campaign. Indeed  and, if fairness, the authors note the fact if not its implications  there is a striking piece of evidence in the opposite direction. The 1999 Canberra deliberative assembly began with fifty percent of the participants leaning towards direct election. By the close, an astonishing three fifths of these had changed their minds. Evatt was not deterred by opinion poll evidence that three-quarters of his fellow citizens supported banning the Communist party, and a more decent Australia resulted from his stand. Even if Craven is a former Liberal adviser, he has the right and, as a concerned citizen, arguably also the duty to argue his point of view.

            But the second reason why republicans must rally behind direct election is that it is the preferred solution of the authors themselves. They assert that “there is no denying one fact: the case for a directly elected president is a good deal stronger on symbolic, nation-building, and national-identity grounds than the more conservative alternatives.” (p. 90) Note here those first six words, which are an example of an old rhetorical trick: argument weak here, shout. Elections are an expression of majority will, but they are also inherently divisive. In terms of national unity, everything depends on the extent to which a nation’s civic culture encourages the population to accept the legitimacy of winner. The secular religion of Americanism is strong enough to rally the people of the United States behind their president, despite bruising partisan contests every four years  even in 2000, when the candidate chosen through the notional electoral college system did not top the popular vote. But presidential elections held in 2006 in Mexico and the Congo, the losers showed a marked lack of sporting good humour. Naturally, we should expect the Australian response to fall closer to the American end of the spectrum, but can we be sure? Significant sections of Australian society declined to accord legitimacy the both Whitlam and Fraser, if for very different reasons, despite their election victories, while Barns and Krawec-Wheaton remain in denial about the 1999 referendum defeat. A moderately optimistic analogy might be found in Ireland, a country which Australia so often resembles. A largely ceremonial head of state is chosen by popular vote, although a restrictive nomination process makes it possible for the main parties to stitch up an unopposed return. Although the two most recent incumbents have shown some tendency to claim an independent mandate, the public at large is not much interested in the office and it hardly figures among symbols of national identity. It is worth noting that in the Canberra deliberative assembly, support for a non-political head of state (i.e., by definition, a non-executive presidency) rose from 53 percent to 88 percent. If, unlike in Ireland, the right to nominate were widely disseminated, and the president chosen by a non-partisan body (if such a thing be possible in Australia), then it might be possible to evolve a suitably representative head of state by consensus from among a broader range of candidates.  As with most political questions, the matter can be argued either way. The point is that dogmatic assertion of the “no denying” type does not silence the debate.

            Given the lack of charity shown towards dissenting republicans, it is hardly surprising that the third major blemish concerns the authors’ attitude to the knavish tricks of Australia’s monarchists. True, Queen-freaks only make a passing appearance, but it seems that the declared commitment to “a tolerant and a diverse society” does not extend to “factions [sic] who were against the republic” (pp. 39, 27) John Howard is criticising for defining the nation in a way that excludes whole groups, but republicans are in danger of denying any form of Australian identity to those fellow citizens who happen to subscribe to a constitutional position that was the mainstream, and  at times the only stream, for the first century and three-quarters of European settlement. They are simply people with a “seemingly endless destructive capacity” for running scare campaigns. (p. 110). With the republican cause at such a low ebb, such hostility is not surprising. Yet a longer perspective might suggest that the authors devalue their own cause by barring monarchists from the heart-warming phrase that closes the text, “all of ‘us’” (p. 126). Monarchy works best in communities where there is tacit agreement to overlook its inherent absurdity and treat it as a unifying symbol. Sometimes, such as in medieval Scotland or modern Belgium, it functions as almost the sole uniting bond for divided societies. But a Crown that has survived a referendum is on borrowed time, especially if its support base is vulnerable to generational change. Monarchists won in 1999, but the fact that there was a vote at all was a defeat for monarchy. From that point of view, Australia will one day become a republic. With greater confidence in their ultimate triumph, republicans might start asking how best they can help their opponents to come aboard.

            The great danger of focusing solely on the conditions for victory lies in the implied assumption of “happily ever after”. Achieving the republic should be seen as a beginning as well an end, and it will be unhelpful to the institution if it cannot command the respect of an unreconciled minority as future heads of state inevitably face the challenge of controversy. At the merely mundane level, Australia’s vigorous tabloid press will seek to dish whatever dirt it can unearth on the tallest poppy of them all. If scandal should engulf a future president, the dignity of the office will not be enhanced by tut-tutting monarchist comparisons with the home life of our dear Queen. But far more menacing to political stability is the question of the reserved powers which even a minimalist successor will inherit from the office of governor-general. In contrast to the authors’ general wish to skate around awkward questions, they accept that codification of the reserve powers is one issue “that cannot be dismissed in any discussion about the political strategy of a republican push” (p. 99). In keeping with their predominant abracadabra! attitude to lions in their path, they see no difficulty in securing clarification. However, powers that are codified are by their nature powers that have been re-endorsed for practical use. Where those powers are discretionary, there will remain issues of judgment, and no amount of codification can remove the potential for controversy over whether and when they are invoked. Prior to 1975, any politicisation of the office of governor-general was inhibited by the concern that such action would embarrass “the Palace”. Since then, there has been a reluctance to re-open the wounds of the Dismissal. Declaration of a republic would finally eliminate the first consideration, codification would mean a fresh start in relation to the second. The precise circumstances cannot be foreseen, but it is highly likely that the reserve powers of the republican head of state will be invoked before long. Whatever the nature of the crisis, full-hearted acceptance of the republic by all Australians, ex-monarchists included, will be a desirable prerequisite for supporting or swallowing whatever its president feels compelled to do.

            Utopian though it may sound, the best way not simply to achieve constitutional change but to avoid its becoming a sectarian triumph would be for republicans to show the confidence in eventual success and the generosity of spirit required to propose a Grand Compact. This would begin by recognising Elizabeth II as head of state for the remainder of her lifetime. In return, Australia would automatically become a republic at the close of her reign, with the incumbent governor-general as president, with or without a change of style. For an interim period, say three years, any vacancy in that office would be filled by the nomination of the Executive Council (the constitution knows no prime minister) and promulgated by the chief justice. Meanwhile, parliament would convene a broadly representative constitutional convention which would draft alternative schemes of government to be put to a popular vote.

            Republican acceptance of the status quo for the lifetime of the present Queen would make it easier for monarchists to accept the inevitability of change. This would of course require republicans finally to accept the legitimacy of the 1999 vote: people who claim to believe in the sovereignty of the people need to show they can accept the unpalatable fact that in a democracy, sometimes you lose. Indeed, once they are assured of ultimate victory, there is no reason why he ARM should not regard Elizabeth II as having been endorsed in 1999 as the transitional crowned president of an Australian republic, to quote the old Fenian oath, “now virtually established”. There is, too, a practical reason for offering concession. The monarchist prayer, “long may she reign over us”, may well prove to be an actuarial prediction. Even with confrontational campaigning, it could take the movement five years to secure a second referendum. By which time Australians may well feel uneasy about sacking an old lady of 85. It would be far less traumatic for one side to accept the inevitable and the other to agree to its temporary deferment. In all likelihood, Australians would awake one morning to learn that the bells were tolling in London and their country had become a republic while they slept. True, the bump-in-the-night transition would initially stack the odds in favour of a minimalist change but, with the central issue resolved in advance, members of the ARM could devote its activities to a medium-term campaign of public information without feeling the necessity to denounce one another as splitters and stooges.

            Could the Grand Compact have a chance? Among politicians, the elite whom the authors seek to mobilise, it might prove surprisingly attractive. Conservatives like to escape from those issues on which they know they are doomed to defeat: even John Howard hints that the monarchy may not outlast the present reign. Labor leaders might equally welcome the opportunity to slip clear of a Keating era deadweight. It is far more likely that the problem in launching such a compromise would lie with the narrow limitations of the republican movement. On the evidence of this book, there is a marked lack of the generosity of spirit, the vision and the desire for inclusiveness which might seek to accommodate Australian monarchists.

            The combination of political science analysis and personal bitterness that is the hallmark of An Australian Republic simply does not convince. It is a book that can be recommended, if at all, merely as evidence that helps to explain why a political campaign for democratic sovereignty has become becalmed in one of the most socially egalitarian countries in the world.


John M. Williams

The Australian Constitution: A Documentary History

Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2005

Pp. xv + 1288             Boxed Hardback          ISBN  0 522 85042 1


While the bulk (31x23x7 cm), not to mention the price, of this volume would seem to dictate a substantial review, its documentary nature means that it is difficult to go much beyond description and indeed congratulation. John M. Williams has assembled an impressive collection of reports and legislative drafts relating to the history of Australian federation, from the Privy Council report of 1849 through to the Commonwealth constitution of 1900. Wherever possible he has reproduced facsimiles of working drafts from the papers of participants such as Inglis Clark, Griffith and Garran. Other sources are given in modern typeface. The presentation also includes a lengthy tabulation of amendments pressed by the various colonies to the 1897 draft constitution (pp. 669-704), an imbroglio which would have fatally discouraged less committed enthusiasts. Another variation sets the 1897 Sydney and 1898 Melbourne drafts side by side for ease of comparison (pp. 850-909). Even as unadorned documentation, interesting reflections stand out. Shorn of the context of metropolitan hauteur, the Colonial Office comments on the 1897 draft (pp. 711-61) come across as remarkably helpful. But in section 2 of the Adelaide version of the Bill, Australia’s roundheads adopted the cavalier formula: ‘This Act shall bind the Crown’. Surprisingly, this survived three years of trans-global scrutiny before being altered to the more decorous formula: ‘The provisions of this Act referring to the Queen shall extend to Her Majesty’s heirs and successors’ – just as well given Victoria’s age in 1900 – and almost the wording suggested by Inglis Clark back in 1891. (pp. 1187, 1209, 80) A detailed clausal index assists the reader to trace the history of individual provisions, and there is a helpful general index as well (which, in advertently knighting Joe Chamberlain, provides just about the only grumble for the eagle-eyed reviewer.) 

Williams links the sections with brief introductory essays, always incisive and usually enlivened by some human detail. His narrative only occasionally strays from the technical process of drafting, for instance when it is necessary to explain how the 1898 referendum results reopened key questions. (pp. 1142-6) There is a splendid immediacy about photo-reproducing the very documents on which the Fathers themselves laboured, but there are also problems. The odd wavy line can probably be attributed to a gremlin in somebody’s photocopier, and nobody has ever pretended that Victorian penmanship was designed for legibility. But some annotations have copied badly and are hard to decipher, notably Griffith’s comments on the 1891 first proof (pp. 167-86) while those vital operative words ‘La Reyne Le Veult’ on the Westminster archive copy of the 1900 Act are ghostly indeed. One may wonder why the Conventions did not double-space their printed drafts, but perhaps this would have invited even more textual fiddling. A more substantial reservation would suggest that, while it is striking to glimpse the historical moment at which ‘Dominion’ was struck out and ‘Commonwealth’ inserted in the drafting process, we still need to turn to J.A. La Nauze, The Making of the Australian Constitution (Melbourne, 1972) to understand why such changes were made.

A century ago, Joseph Pope, loyal biographer and former secretary of Sir John A. Macdonald, quarried the papers of Canada’s first prime minister to produce a similar collection tracing the origins of the British North America Act, under a wordy title generally cited as Confederation… (Toronto, 1895). But Macdonald’s archive was incomplete and, except for one illustrative facsimile, Pope made no effort to include the marginalia. He was also far too canny to contribute any commentary, preferring not to confront his master’s penchant for backdoor centralisation. No doubt Williams has the advantage of superior technology, but the comparison nonetheless establishes that he has done by far the better job. He writes of his hope ‘that these constitutional drafts will be a resource that others may use in the development of further interpretations of the Australia Constitution.’ (p. xv) A reviewer may add the additional prayer that at least some northern hemisphere libraries will acquire copies to support such research.


Susan Magarey (editor)

with Barbara Wall, Mary Lyons and Maryan Beams

Ever Yours C.H. Spence:

Catherine Helen Spence’s An Autobiography (1825-1910),

Diary (1894) and Some Correspondence (1894-1910)

Kent Town SA: The Wakefield Press, 2005

Pp. [vi] + 392               Hardback                     ISBN 1 86254 656 8


Her father’s bankruptcy in 1839 overshadowed her teenage years, but it was probably the best thing that ever happened to Catherine Helen Spence. Forced emigration to the new province of South Australia created ‘opportunities for usefulness which might not have offered if I had remained in Melrose’, deep in the intellectual confines of Scotland. (p. 37) Spence (‘Katie’ to her family) brought some of her homeland with her, refusing an offer of marriage for fear of producing children who would be condemned to hellfire. But on the other side of the world she shook off grim Calvinism and devoted herself to campaigns for reform, most notably for proportional representation – ‘effective voting’ as she called it. It was no accident that South Australia led the way in giving votes to women, nor that she became the first female to fight an election in Australia, seeking a seat in the federal convention of 1897. Shortly before her death in 1910, she wrote much of her autobiography. Its republication here includes comments cut from the original edition, and its interest and utility are both enhanced by Barbara Wall’s notes.

            Spence died before she could complete her life story, and her executors commissioned another feminist, Jeanne Young, to finish the job, using Spence’s diaries to adopt her voice – a clear case of ghost-writing. In fact, Young had little in common with Spence and treated the diaries with little respect. Later she declined to deposit them in archives, alternately claiming they were either too trivial or too personal to be made available. Spence’s biographer, Susan Magarey, tried to track them down over thirty years ago, but concluded that they had been destroyed. Magarey suspects that Young’s real objection to their preservation was that they were too revealing not about Spence herself, but about Young’s own marriage to a husband roundly condemned by South Australia’s Grand Old Lady. Then Magarey learned that one volume, for 1894, did survive in private hands and she was allowed, under less than ideal conditions, to transcribe extracts. These form the second section of the present work. As Spence was travelling through North America to Britain that year, the extracts are interesting although not especially self-revelatory: perhaps at 69 we have few juicy secrets. Her handwriting occasionally defeated the editor. For instance, it was surely the Athanasian and not the Athenaeum Creed, that Spence encountered in Peterborough Cathedral (p. 276). An indecipherable allusion in her account of meeting Arthur Balfour suggests that she told him that her mother had been born at Whittinghame House, the Balfour home in East Lothian (p. 282).

            The final section includes selections from Spence’s letters to two correspondents from the final years of her life. ‘Yours in desperate haste,’ she so characteristically signed one of the last. This is a worthwhile collection, and handsomely produced.


Ian Marsh and David Yencken

Into The Future: The Neglect of the Long Term in Australian Politics

Melbourne: The Australian Collaboration / Black Inc.: Public Interest Series

Pp. 89.             Paperback                    ISBN  1 86395 325 6



With ‘little to celebrate in the present and the past,’ wrote K.S. Inglis in The Australian Colonists in 1975, Australia’s nineteenth-century patriots persuaded themselves that ‘the real history of their nation lay ahead.’ In the twentieth century, this vaunting optimism subsided into the defensive complacency of ‘she’ll be right’. Now Marsh and Yencken urge that Australia must adopt a more constructed approach to confronting the long term. They concede that, on the surface, the country’s political system is not well designed for this task. Low public confidence in politicians makes it hard to provide leadership that looks beyond immediate gain. The decline of ideology tempts political parties into ‘fake adversarialism’ (p. 32). But latent possibilities may be exploited in existing bodies, such as the Council of Australian Governments. The authors point to institutions in other countries, such as Finland’s ‘Committee for the Future’ – although they insist that the real need is for flexibility of response to change rather than crystal-ball prediction. A strengthened cabinet office would assist in ‘joining-up’ strands of government policy. Think-tanks have a role, and so do parliamentary committees. It is heartening that Marsh and Yencken insist that the issue must be faced, and heartening that they believe it can be tackled. This short but provocative publication deserves an audience far beyond Australia.


Gwen Chessel

Richard Spencer: Napoleonic War Naval Hero and Australian Pioneer

Crawley WA: U of Western Australia Press, 2005

Pp. xii + 169                Hardback         ISBN 1 920694 40 4


Richard Spencer was born in 1779. He served as a naval officer during the Napoleonic wars, in the Mediterranean and the East Indies. In 1833, he brought his family to Albany in the new and struggling colony of Western Australia, where he died six years later. Family tradition claims either that he was an illegitimate son of the future king William IV, or of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, a Spencer by birth and deliciously immoral by choice. William would have hit puberty remarkably early for William to have been his parent, but Georgiana qualifies at least on grounds of age. However, a more prosaic baptismal record indicates that his father, a Southwark sail-maker and businessman, was a genuine Spencer. (In fact, his parents were the original Richard and Judy.) Gwen Chessell’s biography is an excellent example of the way that committed detective work can turn up an impressive amount of information about a minor figure, and even conjure a personalised portrait from cold official files. The book is handsomely illustrated, making it a splendid addition to the literature of pioneer days in Western Australia.



J.M. Bennett

Sir William Stawell: Second Chief Justice of Victoria 1857-1886

Leichhardt, NSW: The Federation Press, 2004

Pp. xvi + 239               Hardback         ISBN 1 86287 520 0


J.M. Bennett is to be congratulated on writing all nine volumes (to date) of the series Lives of the Australian Chief Justices, and this latest comes with a supportive preface from a recent chief justice of Victoria, J.H. Phillips. William Stawell (he pronounced his name ‘stole’) was a County Cork Protestant, a neighbour in his early years of the family of Redmond Barry. Famously, he counted twenty ‘hats’ (barristers) on the Munster (south of Ireland) circuit but estimated that there was work for only twenty. In 1842 he sailed for Port Phillip, and on his death in 1889 he was described as ‘the history of Victoria personified’ (p. 192). Separation from New South Wales, gold-mining and responsible government all hit Victoria at about the same time. Stawell, as Attorney-General, was close to the centre of events throughout the Eureka upheaval, and many felt that he was the real government of the colony. He was no friend of the diggers, and his reputation among progressive historians is accordingly besmirched. He was, in fact, an easy man to dislike and more or less pitchforked the incumbent chief justice, A’Beckett, into retiring so that he could grab his job. Bennett defends Stawell as a judge, as a founder of the Victorian Bar and as a practical reformer who helped shape the colony’s legal system. Perhaps it is symbolic that he died in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, having hoped to climb that famous but dormant volcano.


Michael Hogan, ed.,

A Lifetime in Conservative Politics: Political Memoirs of Sir Joseph Carruthers

Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2005

Pp. xiii + 251.               Hardback         $54.95             ISBN 0 86840 872 7                          

Joseph Carruthers was premier of New South Wales from 1904 to 1907. Born in Kiama in 1856, he entered politics in 1887, became a minister under Parkes in 1889, served in the 1897 Federal Convention and remained an elder statesman until his death in 1932. In his last years, he drafted two versions of autobiography, the second alarmingly discursive. Michael Hogan has skilfully excised and conflated the material, and his helpful marginal notes clarify the author’s reminiscences. Carruthers was a puzzlingly unpredictable writer of memoir. Sometimes he was evidently influenced by the subsequent writings of others, but at key points, such as the year he quit as premier, his own memory failed (until tactfully corrected by Hogan). Carruthers included sketches of contemporary figures, notably the men of 1897, which naturally recall the pen-portraits in Alfred Deakin’s then-unpublished Federal Story. But whereas Deakin could use a few words to capture an identity, Carruthers concentrated on their appearance and their speeches. This emphasis upon externals is equally evident in the guarded release of information about himself. We learn, almost in passing, that he entered politics after ‘I had the great misfortune to suffer a great bereavement in the death of a dearly loved little daughter’ (p. 64). Hogan finds him ‘strangely reticent’ (p. 161) in failing to explain why he did not follow up his hankering for a career in Commonwealth politics. Nor is there much information about the illness which forced Carruthers to resign the premiership, beyond the statement that it took him thirteen years to recover. Something was going on beneath the Carruthers carapace, but his memoirs offer at best a glimpse. Why did he write at all? Of course there are also positives: life at Sydney University in the early 1870s, cricket, British bigwigs pontificating about a war with Germany during his only visit to the old country in 1908, Billy Hughes in a bad temper and with a strange preference for stale bread. Hogan is to be congratulated on the end product, and thanked for omitting the original material on the death of Lord Nelson, the torpedo fish and the history of Scotland.

Amanda Sinclair,

Doing Leadership Differently:

Gender, Power and Sexuality in a Changing Business Culture

Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, revised ed. 2005

Pp. xiv + 208.              Paperback                    ISBN 0 522 85149 5  


A couple of years into our careers, most of us experience not so much a passage rite as a minor crossing of the tramlines, the first changing of the guard among the people in power above us. Thus in universities, the professor who has voiced criticisms at faculty meetings takes over as Dean, the senior lecturer becomes head of department. The transition is managed by enfolding the appointee in an aura of ‘leadership’, which usually includes wearing a suit and reciting humourless monologues about strategic planning. Amanda Sinclair is unimpressed by the form of leadership that is perpetuated by these modern-day Emperor’s Clothes. It is not simply that the archetype favours men, but rather that it reflects a specific form of ‘heroic masculinity’ (p. 37). Thus although Sinclair’s reflections stem from research into the glass ceiling syndrome based on interviews with successful businesswomen, she would not regard her book as a feminist manifesto. ‘Until we unravel and expose the links between being a leader and enacting a particular form of manliness, then, in gender and racial terms, leadership will remain the domain of a homogenous elite.’ (p. 175) This is a reissue of a book first published in 1998. The publisher has overruled Sinclair’s wish to put a J.M.W. Turner landscape on the cover (it appears as a frontispiece). Turner, she explains, was a leader because he helped us see our world in a new light.

Graeme Turner,

Ending the Affair: The Decline of Television Current Affairs in Australia

Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2005

Pp. x + 173                  Paperback                    $34.95             ISBN 0 86840 864 6


Graeme Turner is concerned about the decline of the half-hour, multi-item (‘short-form’) news magazine on Australian television. The format, he believes, has never recaptured the influence of the ABC’s This Day Tonight and the Nine Network’s A Current Affair, both of which ended in 1978. Television bosses regard the 6 p.m. to 7.30 slot as the opportunity to hook viewers for the rest of the evening, but the various experiments with the early-evening magazine format have all experienced massive falls in ratings over recent decades – a slide which Turner finds all the more depressing since Australia’s population has grown by six millions since the glory days of TDT. ‘Tabloidisation’ of television has helped neither analysis nor viewership. ‘Whole areas of public affairs have been ignored while we have learnt how effective the latest low-carb diet has been for Janine and Damien from Balgowlah who are trying to shed ten kilos each in the two months left before they are due to marry in swimsuits at the water’s edge on Bondi Beach.’ (p. 152) When real issues are reported, the need to retain the audience points to simple endorsement of popular hysteria, for instance fanning the belief that the country is over-run by illegal immigrants. Budgetary discipline and bullying allegations of ‘bias’ have combined to deter the ABC from mounting considered challenges to established viewpoints, and if the public broadcaster is not making the attempt, the commercial channels have no reason to compete. Pay TV and the Internet are unlikely to fill the gap. Turner writes in the first person in a pleasantly opinionated style. If he sometimes seems to be stating the obvious, it is because the obvious needs to be reiterated. As he insists, this is not just a ‘chattering classes’ issue. In the short run, it suits the politicians to intimidate the media into acquiescence. In the longer term, Australia democracy needs the forum for intelligent public discussion that ought to be supplied by television current affairs programming.

Sybil Nolan, ed.,

The Dismissal: Where Were You on November 11, 1975?

Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2005.

Pp. xii + 167.               Paperback        ISBN  0 522 85199 1 



It was quite a day. For one Liberal staffer, it began with the news that his doctorate had been passed by Yale. For one Labor politician, it ended with the gentlemanly refusal of an offer from an emotional young woman to provide consolation in bed. For your reviewer, catching the news flash of Whitlam’s sacking while painting the bedroom wall of my Canberra bungalow provoked a moment of intense self-awareness. Briefly reviewing the options for protest, I confronted the long-denied truth that I am one of nature’s cowards, and went on pushing the roller. However, even if November 11th 1975 was a landmark day, it has not proved to be a universally memorable one. Frank Moorhouse is sure he was lunching in Sydney with Donald Horne, but others whom he recalls as present insist they were not there, with one pointing out that he was thirteen and living in Brisbane at the time. Food has a curious effect on the triggering of memory: Bob Hawke recalls a juicy T-bone steak regretfully abandoned in a Melbourne restaurant as he dashed to the airport. Fortunately, a foreword by Jenny Hocking provides an overview of the crisis, as a curtain raiser to contributions from 29 authors. Several themes stand out. Kerr’s coup was entirely unforeseen. As Patrick Weller recalls, the ANU Politics Department had ‘canvassed all the possibilities, except the one that happened.’ (p. 69). When the blow fell, many retreated into disbelief: the governor-general could not do such a thing, it simply could not be true. People distorted the news to make sense of it in their own way: I received a telephone call reporting that National Library staff had heard that Whitlam’s deputy, Frank Crean, had been appointed prime minister. Mark McKenna, then a teenager, assumed that the Queen had done the deed. As a prominent republican, he is still trying to get rid of her, even though he now admits that she was guiltless on that November day. Nobody in Whitlam’s circle bothered to alert the Labor leadership in the Senate, although Ken Wriedt doubts whether he could have provided more than a tension-raising rearguard delay. Inevitably, recollection of the event becomes entangled with assessment of its significance. Several contributors point out that the core constitutional issues of 1975 have never been resolved, but are merely overlain with further experiential layers of convention. The journalist Michelle Grattan has the last word. For her, November the eleventh 1975 remains one of those events irrevocably linked to a specific date, ‘the most galvanising political day I’ve witnessed.’ (p. 163) And Grattan was in Washington on another day historicised in the calendar, September the eleventh 2001.


Michael Sexton,


The Great Crash: The Short Life and Sudden Death of the Whitlam Government

Melbourne: Scribe Publications, revised edition 2005

Pp. vii + 343.                 Paperback                  ISBN 1 920769 69 2  


As news spread of the ousting of the Whitlam government, Labor ministers and staffers removed piles of documents to prevent the usurpers from prying into their thought processes. Some of the paper was buried or burnt, but much of it enabled Michael Sexton to provide insights into policy-making at an unusually close point in time to the events. His book, first published in 1979, is now reissued with a thoughtful preface and concluding reflections. Sexton’s interpretation was remarkably even-handed for that torrid time. Many of Fraser’s detractors elevated the ousted Whitlam ministry to heroic status. One Canberra whisper in 1975 was that leading Liberals had confessed they were out to destroy the government because, with Hayden at the Treasury, it would soon be too impressive to defeat at the polls. Sexton painted a more sober picture of a government harried by a hostile Senate, permanently within six months of being forced into an election, and increasingly desperate about survival. Whitlam himself, Sexton now notes, thought the analysis too harsh. Still, the core of the book remains the five magnificent chapters of almost Shakespearean tragedy, portraying the interlocking weaknesses of Whitlam himself, Jim Cairns, Lionel Murphy, Rex Connor and Sir John Kerr. The juxtaposition of the 1975 and 2005 texts is instructive. Thirty years after the upheaval, there is a measure of ironic consensus about 1975. Both the Senate and the governor-general acted within their powers, but it is far from clear that they were right so to do. Despite landslide victories in 1975 and 1977, Fraser’s legitimacy was never wholly accepted, while Kerr was destroyed, both officially and humanly, by the Dismissal. Pace Bagehot, as a constitutional head of state, he had the right to warn, and with tax revenues soon to run out, he had a duty to speak plainly. Sexton examined the devices by which the Whitlam ministry hoped to remain financial, and it is obvious that they were schemes that few lawyers and no bankers would touch. Amazingly, Kerr’s chief concern was fear that if he confronted his prime minister he would merely trigger the famous race to the telephone, as each man urged the Queen to sack the other. To resort to a coup to save his own job was contemptible. Most Australians cared little about concurrent bicameralism or overseas loans. But every Australian knows that players cannot sack the umpire: if Whitlam had fired Kerr he would have destroyed his own standing for ever. Thirty years on, the political landscape looks very different, and Sexton shakes his head with amused disbelief that he should have urged a future Labor government to get around constitutional barriers by establishing state enterprises. In the event, Hawke and Keating deregulated the economy instead. Hence the problem now is not how to win power, but what to do with it. ‘After the Whitlam years, Labor wondered how it could ever do the things that it wanted to do. In 2005 there is a real question as to what a Labor government would want to do.’ (p. 4) The bureaucracy has changed. The public service mandarins of the 1970s, mainly Liberal holdovers with virtual life tenure, have been replaced by contract appointees, all too ready to share the short-termist outlook of their political masters. And, more than ever, Labor parliamentarians ‘now have very little in common with the bulk of Australian society’. (p. 305) Health services, childcare, pensions, immigration, energy, democratic participation – the new agenda cries out for action, but the Whitlam years have made Labor managers wary of hyperactive creativity. Both the original insightful text and the humility of the second thoughts make this a welcome reissue.

Mark Latham,

The Latham Diaries

Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2005

Pp. ix + 429.    Hardback                     ISBN 0 522 85215 7  



After establishing his Labor party credentials in local government in Sydney’s western suburbs, Mark Latham won Gough Whitlam’s one-time seat of Werriwa at a by-election in January 1994. Aged 32, he was ‘a young man in a hurry.’ (p. 24) After an eleven-year rollercoaster, he resigned as federal leader and left parliament altogether. Shortly afterwards, he published these diaries, and it can be safely predicted that he will not be going back into Labor politics. Latham began his parliamentary career fighting off testicular cancer, and collapsed during his only national election campaign suffering from pancreatitis. His first marriage broke up, leaving a time-bomb of threatened revelations, but he remarried and became a father. On the way, he became, to put it mildly, disillusioned with his party. He seems initially to have kept his intermittent diaries as private means of coping with the nastiness of caucus politics. His decision to publish is of course controversial. All a reviewer can do is to note that the document is now in the public domain, and assess it accordingly. Embodying the private thoughts of an explosive Australian, the entries employ a vocabulary that is notably excremental and copulatory. But blunt language is merely the surface: the real shock lies in Latham’s developing condemnation of his own party. Labor, he came to feel, believed it could succeed without offering a coherent philosophical response to the modern world. Latham wanted to challenge political shibboleths, invoke new agendas and rebuild communities. His colleagues seemed more interested in factional in-fighting. One MHR was driven to suicide, and Latham left politics was partly out of disgust at what he claimed were lies about his own private life. There are funny, or perhaps bizarre, moments, such as the legend that an informal gathering of the ALP National Executive, ‘the conversation at this all-male gathering inevitably [sic] turned to dick sizes.’ (p. 39) Labor heavyweights took turns to categorise their penises as either long or thick, but Bob Hawke claimed to be both. Whitlam would later dismiss the Hawke government as neither. Latham portrays his party colleagues as out of touch and self-serving, for instance reacting to extensive spending cuts in the first Howard government budget by complaining about moves to deprive them of air-miles on their parliamentary travel. ‘If Labor MPs are a bunch of greedy bastards, what hope is there for personal sacrifice and collectivism in the rest of society?’ (p. 59) In an appendix, he lists the bewildering array of sub-factions underlying modern Labor in-fighting. Latham broadly belonged to the Right and could not understand the Left ‘they hate each other more than they hate the Libs’ (p. 256) ‘Often I’m a bad judge of character, too trusting of people and their motivations,’ he remarked in 2002 (p. 205) What would he have said of his colleagues had he been less indulgent? Latham especially disapproves of Kim Beazley, condemned as an opportunist ‘boredom machine’ (p. 118). He also dislikes New South Wales premier Bob Carr. Carr is ‘the kid from the schoolyard who was so gawky that he got pounded with rocks every day’, who entered politics to make people like him, but without success (p. 33). His verdict on other named colleagues includes ‘as useful as pockets in your underpants’, ‘a habitual liar’ and ‘a sandwich short of a picnic’ (pp. 251-2). The life of a federal party leader is not made easier by Labor’s state allies, who ‘are in it for themselves. They open a few schools and hospitals, and think they are King Shit’ (p. 283). The party itself he dismisses as a ‘sewer’ and ‘a lost cause’. (pp. 139, 186) Its membership base is ‘a joke’, perhaps totalling 7,500 active branch members across Australia, ‘enough to fill a small suburban soccer ground’ (pp. 104, 398). (There is something intensely dismissive about this citation of the wimpish immigrant perversion of a football code.) In two short sentences, he considered and dismissed as impossible the idea of launching a wholly new party. Instead, this interesting man quit, and poured out his disillusion in print. The ALP, it seems, is pretending that the diaries have not happened. A reviewer at a distance notes with surprise that Latham admired Tony Blair. Both he and Beazley talked of possibly moving to Britain and working for third-way New Labour. Pleasant, too, to note that Latham’s 2002 Menzies Lecture, at London University’s Australian Studies Centre, helped shake up his ideas about policy. Priests (or, as Latham calls them, ‘kiddie-fiddlers’) who use the Book of Common Prayer invite true believers to ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest’. You should certainly read Mark if you are interested in Australian politics, you will learn much but you will need a strong stomach to manage the inward digestion of his bleak and depressing message.


Graeme Davison

The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne

Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press (Melbourne University Publishing), second edition 2004.                   Pp. xviii + 382  ISBN 0 522 85123 1                   paperback


At its first publication in 1978, Graeme Davison’s The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne became an instant classic in Australian urban history. He wrote of the city as if it were a living creature with a throbbing will of its own that transcended the people who swarmed its streets. But he also wrote of the two final decades of the nineteenth century when, for the first time since John Batman had tagged the site for a village, Melbourne was running into trouble. Soon after a visiting British journalist had celebrated its marvels in 1885, the property boom burst and the banks faltered. Even more fundamentally, the city’s crucial warehousing function was undermined by the combination of steamships and the international telegraph, which made possible just-in-time deliveries from Europe. Would Melbourne have to be abandoned as a gigantic Hill End, could it prove to be a Pompeii swamped by the volcano of its own dynamism?

            In an extended preface to this new edition, Davison traces the origins of the book. From schooldays in Essendon through undergraduate education in the Melbourne History Department, Davison simply could not identify with Russel Ward’s Australian Legend  or, rather, he could not see why the values it celebrated had to be associated solely with the bush. The English historian Asa Briggs posed a different kind of challenge, as he celebrated Melbourne in his Victorian Cities (the adjective was temporal not geographical), but implied that it was primarily an extension of a European urban phenomenon. Happily, R.N. Twopeny’s atmospheric study of 1883, Town Life in Australia, was enough to pre-empt any derivative theory. After a detour to Oxford, Davison headed to ANU for a doctorate. From the viewpoint of the modern-day postgraduate production line, he marvels that his supervisor, the great J.A. La Nauze, allowed him to tackle so broad a subject, but he gives a superb portrait of the fertile world of the Coombs Building where, with the support of F.B. Smith and Patrick Troy, he ran the gauntlet of Noel Butlin’s criticisms and imbibed insights from the sociologists. Looking back at his book, he wishes that he had included more of the seamy side of Melbourne life, and focused attention on the physical legacy of townscape, even the smells and sounds of the streets. But this was already a synoptic study, bringing together the central business district and the suburbs, and interweaving the reality of urban daily life with the hugely powerful myth which helped to sustain Melbourne through its time of troubles. In the end, Davison has wisely decided to reissue the text in its original form.

            The first edition of The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne was also a landmark in scholarly book production in Australia. The original tables and pictures are reproduced, not least those wonderful cartoons featuring Runemup the Builder. The two sections of the book, respectively devoted to the city and its suburbs, now have double-page illustrated title-markers. There are also four four-sided inserts of photographs and colour illustrations  maps, panoramas, photographs and paintings. The confident interpretation of Bourke Street West by Tom Roberts in 1888 perhaps offers a subtle clue why it was Melbourne that acquired its luminously alliterative adjective, whereas we never got to hear of Superb Sydney or Amazing Adelaide. In a brief afterword, Davison tentatively explores the way the tag has resounded, challengingly and sometimes sardonically, ending with the reflection that, a century later, Melbourne is still in pursuit of the same combination of happiness and success. In short, a welcome reissue of a much-admired book.

Stephen Alomes, editor,

Islands in the Stream: Australia and Japan Face Globalisation

Hawthorn, Vic.: Maribyrnong Press, 2005.

Pp. vi + 145.    Paperback        ISBN  0 9752384 1 8


As a member of the Australian Studies department at Deakin University, and a former visiting professor in Tokyo, Stephen Alomes is well qualified to edit this collection, to which he contributes three of the eleven essays. Five contributors are based on Australian campuses, three at universities in Japan, and one in China. Topics discussed include sport and popular culture, historical memory and attitudes to globalisation. Alomes argues that Australia and Japan have more similarities, politically and socially, than might at first appear. For students of Australia, this book will be chiefly useful in illustrating attitudes towards Japan, and of course for the shafts of light that the essays throw upon assumptions about twenty-first century Australia itself.

George Main,

Heartland: The Regeneration of Rural Place

Sydney: UNSW Press, 2005

Pp. ix + 286                 Paperback        ISBN 0 86840 873 5       $39.95


George Main returned to the Cootamundra district after twenty years absence at school and university. This is the story, part academic, part personal  and sometimes very personal indeed  of his rediscovery of the landscape and people, including its almost-forgotten Aboriginal inhabitants. The author, who is a curator at the National Museum of Australia, believes that the cities must reach out to understand and care for rural Australia. Although hard to classify, it is a book that should be read by anyone engaged in trying to comprehend locality.

Hilary Golder

Politics, Patronage and Public Works: The Administration of New South Wales. Volume I, 1842-1900

Sydney: UNSW Press, 2005.

Pp. xi + 268                 Hardback                     ISBN 0 86840511 6               


Too much political history is written on the Superman principle: the government makes a decision and, zap!, the policy is put into effect. Historians are not usually interested in minute administrative processes, and the over-bureaucratisation of higher education probably adds little to their enthusiasm for studying pen-pushers and bean-counters. In any case, it is easy to assume that, since New South Wales was created as a direct arm of the British state, the new settlement must have inherited a ready-made system of day-to-day government. A little reflection on the central and local institutions of Georgian England is enough to realise that the colony was, in large measure, on its own as it set out to keep track of its own problems.

Hilary Golder’s excellent book tells what was really going on. By making 1842 her opening vantage point, she is able to describe the administrative structure on the eve of the introduction of popular election, which widened the scope for settler pressure on government. This is important, since in addition to demonstrating how the special needs of the colony shaped its administration, she is also concerned with the counterpoint theme of the ways in which the system that evolved influenced the expectations of the colonial population. Looking backwards from 1842, she explores how the imperative of keeping track of most of the population (government back home was not concerned to monitor individuals at all) and the need to allocate and register land holdings pushed governors and officials into creating a novel and highly centralised structure. The running of a penal colony could not be indefinitely entrusted to quill-wielding convicts, since those literate enough to work as clerks had probably been transported for embezzlement or forgery. Hence an independent civil service had to be developed, at least in outline. Thanks to the beneficence of distance, tight budgetary control from London could be circumvented by creating a revolving system of temporary posts, while the creation of ad hoc boards made it possible to recycle the same officials, some of whom worked very hard indeed. Similarly, the British model of volunteer landowners dispensing justice in the localities broke down in New South Wales, where an antipodean squirearchy never took root, and somebody had to interpose between the floggers and the flogged. From police magistrates to postmasters, government was everywhere. The more it imposed control, the deeper it had to accept responsibility, for instance in providing basic care facilities for the sunset years of those transported for life. In one of the many striking phrases that enliven the text, New South Wales was “part gulag, part welfare state” (p. 24).

            Golder stresses that the key point about the advent of responsible government in 1856 was that it was unaccompanied by the moderating discipline of a party system. Politicians were but loosely constrained by the defence of principle and turned instead to the plundering of jobs, while insecure and factionalised ministries were only too willing to use patronage to buy votes. In 1857, the entrance test for clerkships was scrapped by Charles Cowper, premier of the colony’s second ministry (and, later, also head of its fourth and seventh cabinets). This was just the moment when the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms were adopted to smarten up the civil service in Britain. Apologists argued that the intention was identical, to prise the bureaucracy from the control of a narrow aristocracy. But since in Australia this aristocracy was defined in terms of its education, Cowper was hardly laying the foundations of a meritocracy. Legislators were encouraged to hope for snug retirement berths, while their votes were assured, for a session or two, by lavishing minor appointments upon their kin. A simple entrance test was re-introduced in 1871, but the well-worn device of the temporary appointment made it easy to evade.

            Indeed, it is remarkable that the structure of government worked as well as it did. Some appointments were notorious sinecures: the offspring of one cabinet minister had a hot line to Henry Parkes, and so nobody even asked him to do any work. It was, of course, Golder’s sub-theme which provided the pressure to force the system on deliver. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, the colonial state took on more responsibilities, in areas such as education (where it was ahead of Britain) and especially the railways (which remained a private sector responsibility in the old country). Individual politicians needed comfortable jobs, but whole communities demanded efficient services. But, perversely, the voters who wanted branch-lines with trains that ran on time also imposed a low taxation regime upon their rulers, and ministries constantly sought to curb the cost of the monster of their own nurturing. By 1878, around four percent of the male workforce was on various government payrolls. Half-hearted attempts at reform began in the 1880s, but legislators had to realise that they were a large part of the problem. Political courage was required to create an impermeable barrier between the snouts and the trough for, by 1893, there were 30,000 full-time or part-time government employees  this at a time when around a quarter of a million male adults qualified to vote, and not all bothered to cast their ballots. Parkes had led the way in reforming the railways in 1888, and in 1895 George Reid carried legislation to establish an independent Public Service Board. Golder argues that by that time, there was simply too much patronage for politicians to handle, and appointment and promotion by merit had already become the norm. Golder questions the effectiveness of the new Board, which created its own mythology of Augean stables to be cleaned. With a weary nod to modern “down-sizing”, she doubts whether posts eliminated in the drive against waste were really unnecessary. Then as now, it does seem a coincidence that many of them disappeared simply because the incumbent happened to retire during the so-called “reign of terror” of the Board’s early years. Massive reductions in public employees were claimed, but Golder shows that the Board simply reclassified the large unskilled labour force working on the roads and railways. The roads and the railways were still repaired, but the men doing the spadework ceased to be counted as civil servants. The rigorous new system was tough on the nephews of politicians but it also “tidied away” loopholes that had enabled, for instance, widows to take over their husbands’ post offices. Unfortunately, the statistician T.A. Coghlen, the driving force behind the new Board, believed that a professional public service was by definition a masculine public service.

            This impressive book is evidently based on massive archival research, much of it among files that can hardly generate delight. Yet Golder has a light touch, deftly selecting her evidence so that we are not bludgeoned by her scholarship. Illustrative episodes are helpfully side-lined into “boxes” to avoid breaking up the flow. This economy of referencing may explain the absence of omission to a pioneering exploration by John W. Cell, in his 1970 monograph, British Colonial Administration in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: The Policy-Making Process. Cell used the formation of the Donaldson ministry in 1856 as a case study of the problems encountered by colonial politicians in taking control of the machine of government. Many of the questions that he posed about the manipulation of the bureaucracy Golder has now answered.

            It is a pleasure to encounter a book that really is a hardback, robustly bound and also handsomely designed. In particular, contemporary illustrations have generally reproduced with a high degree of clarity. However, the text occasionally has a crowded appearance, caused by restricted spacing between sentences. Oddly, full stops vanish altogether from initials, an unsightly device in a land where so many men were known by two initials and a surname. Presumably, six pages from the end, somebody’s spell-checker failed to persuade that there is no letter “a” in “ideologue”. These minor shortcomings are only worth mentioning because the second volume ought to match in appearance the ground-breaking quality of the research. It is certainly eagerly awaited.


Julia Horne

The Pursuit of Wonder: How Australia’s Landscape Was Explored,

Nature Discovered and Tourism Unleashed

Carlton, Vic.: The Miegunyah Press (imprint of Melbourne University Publishing), 2005             Pp. viii + 351.               Hardback         ISBN 0 522 85166 5


Academe is an uncharitable trade. Some may think it dismissive to call Julia Horne’s book a semi-coffee table volume which would make an excellent Christmas present may seem dismissive. It is not so intended. The point of this handsomely illustrated work is to demonstrate how landscape in Australia was subject to an imaginative process of mental construction. Horne presents her argument with a touch of the tongue-in-cheek. Chapter titles are redolent of an eighteenth-century novel as “Making Tourism Australian: In which European ideas about travel, art and the origins of tourism, and how they became Australian, are examined.” A couple of episodes are fictionalised, although the author’s scholarly qualifications ensure that we can take on trust that they are genuine conflations from archival sources. Horne’s own personality is never far from the surface. She appears formally on the last page, leading visitors along a nondescript track in the Blue Mountains so that they can suddenly experience the same wonder at the view from Wentworth Falls that made Charles Darwin realise that there was something indefinably different about Australia. Some intellectual effort was required to see beauty in this strange southern continent. Travel enabled men to be men and, strikingly, women to celebrate femininity. The romantic era was seeing grandeur in mountains, and beauty in caves. Australia borrowed these sentiments from Europe and adapted its mountain resorts from the hill stations of British India. Somehow the compulsion to filter the experience of travel through the medium of writing helped make Australia’s forests beautiful and its weird ferns majestic. I have a feeling that this is a book that can be read again and again, each time with fresh insight into the complexity of its arguments. Meantime, it is a hot tip as the ideal Christmas gift for the intellectual bush-walker.


Martyn Lyons and Penny Russell, editors,

Australia’s History: Themes and Debates

Sydney: UNSW Press, 2005               

Pp. xx + 197                Paperback        ISBN 0 86840 790 9               $39.95


This is a collection of ten essays written both by established historians and younger scholars. The editors have aimed to assemble assessments of the present state of historical research on various topics, and have tried to counterbalance the “usual preponderance of Sydney and Melbourne” (p. xx) by commissioning essays on and from other parts of Australia. Anna Haebich surveys the contested field of Aboriginal history, while Penny Russell delves below the heroic story of settler society. Regina Ganter’s “View from the North” refreshingly asserts that, far from being marginal, Australia’s north coast has long enjoyed links with the Indonesian islands such as Sulawesi (Celebes to the old-fashioned). She illustrates her argument with three helpful maps, and I am a touch disappointed that she did not go the whole hog and swivel at least one of them, to shock our conventional view that north must always be at the top. David Walker reprises the argument of his Anxious Nation: Australia and the Rise of Asia 1850-1939 (1999). A lively sketch of Western Australia by Charlie Fox points to a paradox: the West has steadily become more like the rest of the country, but it has a potential “Indian Ocean buzz” whose mere existence undermines much of the rhetoric about Asia-Pacific destinies. Catriona Elder tackles the massive question of immigration in a fast-moving overview. Richard White examines national symbols, Melanie Oppenheimer and Brice Scates the impact of war, and Alison Holland uses citizenship as a way into understanding how Australia moved from colony to multiracial society. In outlining the themes of “Cities, Suburbs and Communities”, Seamus O’Hanlon faces the problem that readers in Thebarton will not be excited by examples from Bankstown. His unifying themes relate to general questions about home ownership and housing stock. “We have aimed to illuminate the contemporary concerns of Australian historians for an audience of interested non-specialists in the field, the majority of whom may have little previous knowledge of Australia’s rich history,” say the editors (p. xx). In reality, that is almost exactly what the book cannot achieve, partly from the novelty of the topics, but also because each essay is economically written, to a length of about five thousand words, presumably with the undergraduate attention span in mind, leaving little scope for the story-so-far. It might have been more useful to have re-cast the Introduction as a two-century twenty-minute overview history, incorporating the four pages allocated to a not-very-useful Timeline which unluckily dates the election of the second Menzies government to 1948. But the idea behind the collection is excellent and this volume should become the flagship for a series. The person-of-the-match award goes to Regina Ganter for daring to go whether others fear to tread and supplying those welcome maps.

John Hirst

Sense & Nonsense in Australian History

Melbourne: Black Inc. Agenda, 2005

Pp. vii + 325                Paperback        ISBN 0 97507 699 X              $34.95


John Hirst is not only a distinguished historian but also an outstanding essayist in a great tradition. He has an almost Orwellian ability (if not Orwell’s political outlook) to turn a cliché inside out and ask what it really means: thus, Australia is a “new” country, but does this mean it is recent in settlement or novel in design? This publication is to be welcomed for bringing together nineteen superbly written pieces, both reflective and polemical, plus a brief envoi which looks affectionately towards the future. “I do not have the temperament of a liberationist”, Hirst writes (many would say, “confesses”). “When authority is attacked my instinct is to come to its defence.” (p. 6) But most Australian history has been written by those whom he calls “left-leaning progressive people” (p. 1). Given the predominant outlook of the mainstream, it would easy to dismiss Hirst through syllogistic labelling. Conservatives tend to be male chauvinists, racists and monarchists. Since Hirst writes from a conservative point of view, he must bear the sins of all similar deviants. Hence even though he may occasionally seem to lay a decorous punch on the liberal consensus, his success is by definition illusory because his underlying principles can be dismissed, by left-leaning progressives, as fallacious.

But Hirst cannot be so simply pigeon-holed. I have never met him and would be disqualified on gender grounds from forming an opinion, but he does not sound like a male chauvinist. Rather his quarrel with Australia’s feminist historians (of course, to presume to quarrel at all is suspect) is that they refuse to contemplate the existence of companionate marriage in colonial Australia: they can see only patriarchy and power, discounting the possibility that men and women shared their lives because they enjoyed one another’s company, and shared out their responsibilities along lines that they felt made sense. Far from being a racist, his charge against the official proponents of multiculturalism is it is they who have defamed the so-called “Anglo-Celtic” population nucleus. Not only does it distort historical reality to lump the founding groups together in such a way, but it is entirely contradictory to define the civic culture to which all Australians should subscribe in precisely terms of the values of decency and democracy that were nurtured by the much-traduced host community.

            Several of these essay deal either directly or by implication with Aboriginal issues. Hirst insists that the term itself is a construct, a by-product of European settlement. Black people in 1788 did not define themselves under any such umbrella classification, nor, presumably, would they have expressed their claims in the modern-day language of human rights. Hirst is happy to respect the innate value of pre-contact cultures (note the plural), although he notes a disturbing tendency for successive versions of official publications to omit any reference to violence or cruelty in indigenous societies. He also dismisses the notion of an Aboriginal “civilisation”, since civilisation is by definition inseparable from urbanisation. In any case, he sees it as far too late to attempt to restore the traditional ways of life. Rather it would be far more honourable to face up to the appalling conflation of alcohol, deprivation and violence which passes for the Aboriginal lifestyle in Australia’s country towns.

In light but scathing prose, he forces us to confront one of the dafter fantasies of an alternative story of colonisation. The first white people to arrive would have sat down to negotiate with the black inhabitants, through an unspecified representative structure, using an undetermined common language based on an idealised set of shared values. The Europeans would have explained that they planned to introduce several million woolly animals (a scheme which in reality only began to dawn on them a couple of decades after colonisation had started). These creatures must be off-limits to spearing even though they would eat most of the grass and damage drainage systems, but this would not be a problem for the indigenous people since the land would now “belong” to the incomers. The settlers would throw in horse-riding, try to do something about smallpox (no promises mind you), and they would appreciate a helping hand in the supply of sex, water and local knowledge generally. The fantasy assumes that the Aborigines would have replied that this was all a jolly good idea, and Australians of all colours would have lived happily ever after. Hirst poses the awkward question. “What would have happened if the Aborigines on being fully appraised of the invaders’ intentions had refused to negotiate any of their land away?” (p. 83) It seems unlikely that the First Fleet would have headed back to Portsmouth.

            This argument comes from the one previously unpublished essay, “How Sorry Can We Be?”, which contests the view that Australians of European descent should apologise to the descendants of the first inhabitants for past injustices. On general grounds, I am sympathetic. Telling people who believe they have a grievance that you are sorry they have been badly treated may simply reinforce the stridency of their own victimhood. But I am less easy about one strand of Hirst’s argument. “We are all a long way from 1788”, he argues. If we must cast a moralistic eye upon the early days, we can only conclude that “according to their lights the settlers were right to invade and the Aborigines were right to resist them.” (p. 87) The problem with this line of argument is that it assumes a dividing line between something called the past and something called the present. This unspoken assumption runs counter to other aspects of Hirst’s theorising, for instance his claim that when he teaches about classical Athens, he is introducing his LaTrobe students to one strand of Australia’s history (and not a recent multicultural one either).

Obviously the conventional wisdom has moved from Proposition A, the Aborigines make no observable use of the land and so have no right of ownership, to Proposition B, the Aborigines have (or had) innate rights of possession even if they did not cover Australia with useful facilities such as holiday homes. Even so, the conventional wisdom does not account for everybody. Presumably there were a few freaky people back in good king George’s glorious days who subscribed to Proposition B, although they do not seem to have washed up in early New South Wales. Nowadays there almost certainly remains a stubbornly larger minority who subscribe to Proposition A, although they have the good sense to do so only in the secret company of fellow chauvinists and monarchists. So we are dealing with an intellectual continuum, not a violent break. Somewhere along the line, there must have been what is now called the tipping point. Perhaps it may be that the death of an elderly racist in Rockhampton at 8 p.m. on March 22nd 1962 swung majority opinion from reactionary A to progressive B. (We shall never know just when the point tipped, but I should guess more recently than 1962.) We may be “a long way from 1788” but we are not living on a wholly separate planet. Indeed, Hirst himself comes half way to that position, by allowing that an apology is due to Aboriginal people who were taken from their families and subjected to forced assimilation, simply because the victims of that policy are still around. Past and present form a continuum from which we cannot wholly escape.

I am more persuaded by another strand of Hirst’s argument against privileged status for modern-day Aborigines, in which he invites us to imagine a family of youngsters who have one indigenous great-grandparent. One teenager identifies with that side of her heritage, as she has every right to do, but her siblings decline to classify themselves as Aboriginal. Why, he asks, should that young woman possess rights not claimed by members of her own family?

Hirst’s standpoint is that many modern-day Aborigines are partly European in ancestry. But equally we can invert the assumption, and posit that many thousands of people who take for granted that they are of dinkum Anglo-Celtic stock themselves have an Australian ancestry stretching back thousands of years. If we assume an average thirty-year interval between birth and parenthood (a generous time-span since part-Aboriginal females were probably vulnerable to sexual exploitation at least from puberty), then we are six generations from the explosion of pastoral frontiers in the 1820s. Imagine children born then to a white father and a black mother: if their descendants bred entirely within immigrant stock for the next 180 years (unlikely, it may be thought), their present-day bloodline would be less than one percent Aboriginal. It is a fair bet that, as with the embarrassment that grandfather was an old lag, somewhere down the line that black forebear would have quietly excised from the family folklore.

No doubt to the frustration of the racists, physical appearance is not a reliable guide to forebears. The white Australian leader who most notably looked as if he had Aboriginal ancestry was the ageing Henry Parkes, the product of one hundred generations of Warwickshire. Estimating how many modern-day Australians unknowingly have indigenous ancestry is a guessing game, but even with modest projections (and remembering the production of first-generation mixed-race Australians was not confined to the 1820s), the potential implications are startling. There must be hundreds of thousands of people and maybe even several million who are part-, even if only a tiny part-, Aboriginal  and without knowing it. Short of apartheid-style mass DNA testing, we shall probably never know how many and who they are. But, if we deduct the immigrants and their children, a remarkably large proportion of the host population may well be of (slightly) mixed blood. What does this do to the idea of a white-to-black apology? Who would be saying sorry to whom?

If Hirst is not the identikit conservative, he is definitely the typical provoking historian. As practitioners of our craft, we love paradox, and in his career he has delivered it in spades. He began by turning upside-down that hell-on-earth, the outdoor prison called New South Wales. Previous historians had approached it through the prism of a penal settlement, but he viewed it as “a normal British colony” (p. 4) which just happened to have a convict labour force. It is an invigorating revision, although one might question the first adjective. Later he turned his attention to the causes of federation, dismissing (rightly) the interpretation that it was the outcome of a squalid bargain inside the boss class, arguing instead that it was the idealists, the dreamers, the poets who brought the Commonwealth into being. It is hard to credit that Hirst is right but (and I write as someone interested in the causes of federation), it is exceedingly hard to disprove his thesis. (One reservation is sparked by Hirst’s own argument that it was possible to be a “gentleman” in Australia while energetically engaged in the very ungenteel pursuit of money. Similarly, when Alfred Deakin was not being a free-trader, he doubled as a mystic, and other workaday public figures imagined themselves to be literary giants, with Parkes himself pushing to the gut-wrenching limit as a self-proclaimed poet. If everyone was a. poet, the claim that it was the poets who achieved federation becomes more tolerable, even if less illuminating.)

But there is one more throw of the paradox about John Hirst, a culminating disavowal of identikit conservative nastiness. He believes Australia should become a republic, and he has publicly supported that cause. On most issues he maintains the tone of a great essayist, one that quietly combines passion with an indulgent view of the sheer absurdity of human folly. But the mask slips occasionally when he reveals his irritation at the tactics used by opponents to win the 1999 referendum. O for the pen of a John Hirst to dissect a campaigning organisation that was so determined to fight for democratic symbolism that it incorporated itself as a limited company to prevent its own supporters from tinkering with its platform! “Towards the Republic” is the only essay in the book that rarely rises above flat narrative but, as he says, the issue is not going to go away, and maybe that should worry his admirers. One day, and not far distant, John Hirst may actually find himself on the winning side. Perhaps that will indicate that Australia is at last experiencing a brief interval of sanity, but in cosmic terms there will surely be something wrong if he finally finds himself among a majority in what he affectionately terms “this bugger of a country” (p. 103).

The eighteen previously-published sections are reprinted without their original references. Only sad people read footnotes, but I did miss them. Possibly the apparatus of referencing has been omitted to disguise the fact that some of the essays were originally written for learned journals, others for campaigning periodicals. Yet there is no real difference between the methodology and the quality of argument between Hirst assailing Geoffrey Blainey’s Tyranny of Distance in [Australian] Historical Studies and his chiding of the left-progressives in the pages of Quadrant for failing to appreciate that Australia did indeed face a Communist threat during the Menzies years. But if Hirst is intellectually consistent, he escapes simplistic categorisation. Some conservatives write history because they believe we are immutably shaped by our past and should learn to kiss our fetters. John Hirst believes that we can take stock of our inheritance, discard the dead wood and so ensure that the future will enjoy a healthier relationship with the past. If we grasp why Australians of earlier days revered a distant monarchy and feared the populations of Asia, we can appreciate just how much times have changed, thus ushering in a republic and a multi-ethnic society. He closes with a vision of the streets of Sydney in fifty years from now, bustling with “a new people who will have darker skins”, citizens no longer tagged by their ethnic origins but all of them simply and equally Australian. “I am sorry I will not live to see that day, for the Australians are going to be a beautiful people.” (p. 313) 


Zoë Laidlaw

Colonial Connections 1815-45:

Patronage, the Information Revolution and Colonial Government

Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005

Pp. xii + 241                Hardback         ISBN 0 7190 6918 1               £50


Although Zoë Laidlaw’s well-researched book focuses upon New South Wales and the Cape Colony in the first half of the nineteenth century, it made me think of the sixteenth-century Tudor Revolution in Government, and the late twentieth-century explosion of the Internet. G.R. Elton argued that Thomas Cromwell introduced a wholly new administrative system into Henry VIII’s England. Elton’s critics contended that Cromwell had simply started a new set of books. Forty years ago, as an example of historical debate and methodology, this was the biggest show in town, and many an Honours degree fed off the controversy. But a proto-Eltonian interpretation had long dominated the orthodox historiography of the Colonial Office. This view held that the permanent under-secretary (alias head pen-pusher) R.W. Hay presided over a charming shambles, for instance with incoming documentation sometimes filed by colony and sometimes by correspondent. Happily both for Victorian efficiency and historical research, a wholly new system of regularity was imposed after 1836 by Hay’s replacement, James Stephen  like Thomas Cromwell, a firm Protestant with an intensely tidy mind. He was of course the father of Leslie and Fitzjames and grandfather of Virginia Woolf  a famous intellectual dynasty whose brains operated on permanent overdrive. Unfortunately their throbbing craniums also vibrated an obsessive streak which, it seems, with James Stephen took the form of unyielding hostility to unauthorised correspondence. In Hay’s time, every colonial official with a grievance had showered letters and vitriol around the desks of Downing Street. Stephen ordained that all communications must come through the governor, and that the governor alone had permission to write privately to the secretary of state.

            Historians liked this revolution in colonial government. Issues could be traced through ordered documents, decorated with another Stephen foible, juicily idiosyncratic scribblings called “minutes”. Here was policy in formation, decisions in the making, the pure ore of imperial history in easily mined form. But Laidlaw urges us to look behind the documents, and appreciate that Stephen’s refusal to recognise the importance of unofficial networks actually risked a massive reduction in the influence of the Colonial Office. Even if Hay was not in control of the paperwork, he knew what was going on around his empire. Like Malvolio, Stephen made the mistake of assuming that if he were virtuous, there would be no more cakes and ale. The networks remained in existence, but Stephen’s self-denial meant that they were no longer accessible to the Colonial Office. Laidlaw shows how Sir Richard Bourke had used his son, Dick, as his unofficial lobbyist in London. The Macarthurs were past-masters at the game, running rings around the emancipist Australian Patriotic Association in the late eighteen-thirties. If necessary, Hay could have gone back-of-Bourke and got the low-down on New South Wales issues from his own sources. Thanks to his self-denial, no such alternative channel was available to James Stephen. What could save his new system from irrelevance?

            It is here that the Internet analogy comes into play. Laidlaw identifies an “information revolution” as the basis for renewed Colonial Office hegemony in the administrative processes. Collection of statistics had been a growing fad for decades, and the Colonial Office was in hot pursuit of tabulated figures from the eighteen-twenties. After 1815, parliamentary committees developed as an aggressive tool for prising open the hidden corners of society and government, publishing much of the revealed data in lengthy reports. But the material was hardly reader-friendly, and required some more accessible format to punch home its message. Enter Robert Montgomery Martin, who made himself into a one-man web-site, with a series of fact-packed books culminating in 1839 with his publication of the collected statistics of empire. He estimated that he had amassed around three million raw figures, and had added an equal number of basic calculations by way of tabulation. Another R.M. Martin innovation was to produce maps which coloured British territory in red. The legacy, according to Laidlaw, was “a transition from a conception of Britain’s foreign possessions as primarily a collection of diverse colonies” to one of an integrated empire, which in theory might be run from the centre according to uniform principles (p. 195).   

            Laidlaw’s argument extends in several directions, and is presented as having formative implications for the imperial policy in the later nineteenth century. It will require reflection and testing on a broader canvas. Her comparative approach suggests that the informal networks operated more effectively for New South Wales than for the Cape. Given that Britain’s African foothold was predominantly run by the military and naval officers whom she sees as one of the most influential home-based networks, it may be that there was an element of benign accident in the smooth functioning of Australian lobbying. Will the analysis apply more generally? Laidlaw refers to the activities of John Beverley Robinson, chief justice of Upper Canada, who lobbied in London energetically on the future of the province throughout 1838-40. Robinson was a fossil survivor from another age and it is by no means clear that he advanced his various causes by turning up in person. Eventually Lord John Russell bluntly ordered him to go home. Another reservation may be that Laidlaw tells us a good deal about how lobbyists sought to influence officials in Downing Street, but much less on the wider formation of opinion through the press and parliament.

Laidlaw’s information revolution may also prove to be less momentous than it seems. In fairness, she qualifies her claims, acknowledging that statistical information was often out of date, inaccurate and assembled under so many inconsistent headings that genuine comparison was impossible. Thus in practice officials grasped that solutions which seemed to work in one colony would not necessarily transfer elsewhere. Moreover, the Colonial Office had been collecting tables of figures for some years before Stephen took charge. In theory, statistics formed a mighty engine of control; in practice, the Colonial Office never got the engine into gear. As a result, officials in distant dependencies spent a great deal of time compiling in returns which nobody in London knew how to use effectively. (Inmates of British universities will find this has a familiar sound.)  Furthermore, to borrow again from the Internet analogy, the publication of colonial statistics meant that ministers and their civil servants were no longer in sole control of the power of knowledge. This may help to explain why, in important respects, the Colonial Office did not tighten its control over significant components of the empire in the decades which followed, as Laidlaw’s theory seems to postulate. Indeed, the reverse was the case, with responsible government coming to most of the main settler colonies within a decade of the close of her period of study. If we step back a little and see the tiny cadre of Downing Street clerks with their red tape and their blue books in a broader perspective, we may perhaps qualify the notion that a coherent entity called the “Colonial Office” existed at all. Laidlaw refers to ministers as “the political staff” (p. 174), but the secretary of state and the parliamentary under-secretary operated in a different world and were subject to wider influences  including, again, parliament and the press. Indeed, some of the political critics of the Office in the eighteen-thirties, such as Earl Grey and Benjamin Hawes, would later come in and run the place. On the big subjects, it was their decisions that drove imperial policy  and the information revolution had helped to form their opinions before they walked through the doors of number 14 Downing Street.

Two minor grumbles. At one point, Laidlaw refers to Edward Macarthur’s connections with “Mr Estcourt, the MP for Oxford” (p. 133). It is always a sign of defeat when a historian has to mister-fy some personality from the past, and in any case, there were three Oxford constituencies: the borough, the county and the university  in rising order of prestige. T.G. Bucknall Estcourt was member for the University from 1827 to 1847, when he was succeeded by Gladstone. Personally respected rather than politically regarded, he took an interest in police issues, and by extension this may explain why he was a useful contact for a New South Wales lobbyist. However, Estcourt’s high toryism meant that he could hardly be influential after 1830. It took a couple of minutes to identify him from Shanacoole reference sources. Presumably the same works are available in the libraries of his constituency where Laidlaw wrote her doctorate. As it happens, Estcourt was not very important  but he might have been, and it is the task of the historian of networks to hunt down such people. The other complaint? A misplaced apostrophe on page 201. To mention it all is a backhanded compliment to Manchester University Press, for from most other publishers one would simply wince and shrug.

Zoë Laidlaw has written an intriguing book. I look forward to its sequel.


A Humble Backbencher: The Memoirs of Kenneth Lionel Fry

Charnwood ACT: Ginninderra Press, 2002

Pp. 165.           Paperback.                   ISBN 1-74027-153-X             $25.00


For ten years from 1974 Ken Fry was a Canberra backbencher in a double sense, representing the northern suburbs of the national capital in the Commonwealth parliament. Although his cogent and humane memoirs, written at the age of eighty, lack the support of diaries, they are valuable both in recollection and comment. Fry’s grandparents emigrated in the 1880s and eventually became orchardists near Bathurst. A century later, parliamentary travel helped him explore his family links across the world, and he discovered a young relative called Stephen who was a rising actor. Ken Fry’s life and values were dominated by service in the Second World War. Army life embodied the ideal form of Australian mateship, a theme that he later explored as mature student in Manning Clark’s ANU History Department. As a parliamentarian, he was struck by the fact that the ALP’s ex-servicemen were almost all in the left faction of caucus, although their radicalism was definitely not shared by the RSL at large. The Japanese war also left him with a strong sympathy with the peoples to the north of Australia, which would later make him a campaigner for the cause of East Timor. A post-war venture into poultry farming failed at about the time a state by-election first brought him into conflict with the NSW Labor machine: as so often, it is easier to understand why idealists should join the ALP than to comprehend how they managed to remain within its ranks. In 1968 Fry moved to a public service post in Canberra. It says much for the unique openness of the political culture of the fast-growing capital that within two years he was a member of the fledgling ACT Advisory Council and after six the city’s second MHR. A late starter in politics, his role was to become organiser and conscience of the left, which ensured that he never mustered the numbers to enter the ministry. He is detached in his attitude to Whitlam and Hawke, and surprising muted about Malcolm Fraser (who, he reveals, liked to slip ice-cubes into the pockets of companions while relaxing in the members’ bar). His memoirs contain useful reflections on the role of the backbencher, along with a predictably decent emphasis on the importance of the humanities in higher education.

Alan Fewster, ed.,

Capital Correspondent: The Canberra Letters of Edwin Charles 1936-37

Charnwood ACT: Ginninderra Press, 2002

Pp. viii + 159.  Paperback.       ISBN 1-74027-133-5              $27.50



In May 1936, sixteen year-old Edwin Charles headed for Canberra to begin a career in the Commonwealth public service. A twenty-five hour train journey from his home at Murwillimbah, the nascent capital had a population of barely eight thousand and at first the lad was homesick in the hard-up world of hostels and snowy winters. ‘Canberra might be beautiful, but it’s ridiculous. … It gives me the creeps.’ But these eighteen months of letters home show that he soon threw himself into his new life. The fact that he was writing to his parents only partly explains the apparent asexuality of this independent teenage existence: it was an innocent world, in which chaste boys and girls played tennis, swam in the Molonglo, went to dances, church and the cinema. The sight of a plane in the sky was an event. When an MCC touring team called to play a Country XI, the Governor General invited the three amateurs to stay at Yarralumla while the pros bunked down at the Hotel Canberra. Hitler did not exist, the Abdication was a distant backdrop, the Coronation an excuse for a fireworks display. In Commonwealth politics, Menzies was the coming man, but already there were whispers that he had been too arrogant to risk his precious skin in the Great War. If one of the attractions of being a historian is that you get to read other people’s letters, then this collection is certainly attractive, with the additional merits of being skilfully edited and generously illustrated.


James Jupp,

The English in Australia

Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004

Pp. viii + 216.               Paperback        ISBN 0 521 54295 2



James Jupp reminds us that census data shows Australia to be the ‘second most English country in the world’, both in the family origins of its own population and by comparison with other countries of settlement. In this overview, he attempts to identify and assess the impact of the ‘invisible immigrants’, as Charlotte Erickson called their English and Scots counterparts in the United States. The task is conceptually difficult. European settlement in Australia occurred at precisely the moment when Englishness in the home islands was deliberately merging itself into a ‘British’ identity. As a result, there is a lack of distinctive and genuinely collective symbols to represent England, and two of those few, cricket and the Anglican Church, have operated in specifically Australian channels down under. Indeed, cricket illustrates a further twist in the definitional problem, by which Australians evolved a sense of themselves within a professedly ‘British’ context while sharply rejecting a hotchpotch of perceived ‘English’ characteristics, stretching through the social spectrum from hauteur to whingeing Pommery. Jupp’s approach to these problems is to combine sensible comment with extensive examples, sketching the migration process while highlighting individuals who have contributed to social and political development. It does, however, leave many questions still to be answered. Take the question of regional concentrations. There was some continuing West Country quality to the New Plymouth colony in New Zealand, largely because it struggled to attract newcomers, but elsewhere in the antipodes local groupings were largely of Irish or Scots origin ─ which points up Jupp’s own reservations about including the South Australian Cornish under a general English heading at all. Even to define English influence in terms of birthplace is open to challenge. John Quick, one of the visionaries of the federation movement, left Cornwall as a baby. Wimmera-born Robert Menzies imbibed an imagined England through his Cornish grandfather. In any case, what was English influence? In a slightly tongue-in-cheek chapter, Jupp refers to the ‘tragedy of English food’, but it may be doubted whether Scots and Irish influences on Australian cuisine were any tastier. In passing he also suggests that ‘part of the English inheritance has been urbanisation in large coastal cities’. Of course there are superficial links: four mainland state capitals have a beachside suburb called Brighton, while eccentric Perth has a Scarborough, but this is surely the result of parallel developments in a worldwide trend. In England every Birmingham has its Coventry, every Manchester its Bolton, a system of satellites and urban hierarchy markedly absent in Australia. We have to dig deeper to solve the problem. What did the staff of Farmer Brothers mean when they praised their founder in 1874 for the possession of ‘unobtrusive’ virtues ‘which are never wanting in an English gentleman’? What prompted Dan Deniehy’s comment in 1854 that Henry Parkes ‘has not too much of the Englishman in him, but of “Englishmanism” about him’? Deniehy, the locally born Irish Catholic, accepted that the distinction was ‘subtle’ but he was confident that it would mean something to the ferociously Scots Presbyterian John Dunmore Lang ─ and this at a time when Parkes was confidently reshaping the Australian identity in his own democratic image. One possible way into the maze might be through shuffling the variables. Jupp reminds us that Catholicism did not override nationality in the case of the emigration promoter Caroline Chisholm. John Bede Polding might provide fertile ground for study. This ‘thorough Lancashire man’ was despatched as Australia’s first Catholic prelate with a thinly disguised government mandate to subordinate the turbulent Irish to English Benedictine calm. After a discouraging third of a century, he still urged the Vatican that an English successor could transcend the quarrels of Orange and Green and ‘would be more acceptable and, should difficulties arise, more conciliatory’. But perhaps any point in the question is simply fading away. Jupp concludes on a bleak note, with the once-central English becoming regarded as foreigners, marginalised along with the increasingly irrelevant distant monarchy. This is a useful and thought-provoking study which should form the basis for further evaluative study.


Ann Curthoys and John Docker

Is History Fiction?

Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2006

Pp. viii + 296.   Paperback.       ISBN 0 86840 734 8               $39.95.


Ann Curthoys and John Docker have written a fluent and cleverly constructed book about history. It is intriguing to find that the authors begin with Herodotus and Thucydides, whom they place in apposition. They like Herodotus, whom they see as an outsider figure, spraying out narratives and characterisations from a range of cultures and leaving his readers to decide which were ‘true’. He also acknowledged the role of women in shaping the past. Thucydides was more masculine, more focused, more interested in state structures and more determined to explain events. Together the two ancients illustrate the ‘doubleness’ of history, as narrative and as analysis. The authors then proceed to weave a whole range of historians, from Ranke to Hexter, into this classical contrast. On the way they take account of debates over history as a science and as a source of meaning, while comfortably discussing the impact of developments such as feminism, postmodernism, Holocaust denialism and various ‘history wars’ fought in the United States, Japan and Australia. Given the potential for impenetrable tedium displayed in so many books about history, the sheer readability of this book is welcome. Let’s hope it will not be pigeon-holed as a merely Australian history book, since the authors consciously adopt a trans-national approach. Naturally, drawing upon their own interests, there are Australian insights, such as the reflection that European Australians were the true nomads, not the stay-at-home Aborigines whom they so dismissively tagged. One way of taking the authors’ work forward might be to define the boundary, if there is one, between the present and the past. An opening epigraph quotes Dorothy Bird Rose, who says that Aborigines believe that white people ‘don’t know what to remember and what to forget’, so that they ‘don’t know how to link the past with the present’. So far as Aboriginal Australia was concerned, white people were all too efficient at forgetting for far too long. But what is the present? Is it the fleeting moment, or some moving block of current time that can be entirely distinguished from the past? Curthoys and Docker provide plenty of food for thought. One minor complaint: spacing after full stops is cramped, and this printing glitch spoils the reader’s pleasure.


Geoffrey Brennan and Francis G. Castles, eds,

Australia Reshaped: 200 Years of Institutional Transformation.

Cambridge, CambridgeUniversity Press, 2002.

Pp. x + 302.                 ISBN  0 521 81749 8 hardback, 0 521 52075 4 paperback.


Australia Reshaped begins with an Introduction by the editors which is unusually critical of the eight essays that follow. The ten contributors have all participated in a decade-long ANU research project on the reshaping of Australian institutions. This volume rounds off the project but does not seek to summarise its achievements. The concept of an institution has been broadly defined. The subtitle is slightly misleading, since most contributions focus on the twentieth century. The editors suggest that the material can be grouped under three headings.

Chapters 2 to 4 deal with the relationship between institutions and external environment. Castles explains why institutions matter, and suggests how Lijphart's typology of democracies can be interpreted to illuminate Australian governmental approaches to welfare provision and wage levels. Brennan and Jonathan Pincus examine economic institutions, arguing that it was always fallacious to assume that governments could control the economic domain, and that globalisation and the long-term decline of commodity prices have merely exposed the pretence. Continuing the theme of globalisation, John Braithwaite contends that Australians have been more successful in the field of government than in the business arena. This he attributes to perennial shortfall factors, first of labour and more recently of imported capital. Australian business has to be persuaded to invest in people through the promotion of social justice, which in turn will require acceptance of a tax system capable of funding the development of human capital.

Chapters 5 to 8 are about 'effective inclusion'. John S. Dryzek takes as his theme the familiar label of ANU seminar series to assess Australian democracy as 'work-in-progress'. From the starting point that modern democratic theory emphasises inclusion, he speculates on ways in which the environment itself might become a 'player' in the process. Intriguingly, he speaks favourably of 'benign exclusion' as a means of making democracy effective. Marian Sawer asks similar questions from the standpoint of women, suggesting that Australian federalism tends to operate in a pro-feminist spirit. Geoffrey Stokes sees three strategies in Aboriginal policy: paternal exclusion, liberal inclusion and indigenous self-determination. Despite its enlightened attractions, the last represents a massive challenge to Aboriginal people themselves, both in defining themselves in a society that disavows racial classification, and in adapting their own structures to relate to European-derived democracy. In one of the few contributions to go back as far as 1788, Martin Krygier seeks to explain why the rule of law emerged from the unlikely background of Australia's convict origins, but failed effectively to include Aboriginal people under its protective umbrella. The imposition of British notions of property involved refusal to recognise any form of Aboriginal title, thereby rendering discriminatory the supposedly equal application of the white man's criminal law.

The editors place the final essay, by John Ure, in a category of its own. He analyses themes in the utterances of three very different Australian leaders, Deakin, Menzies and Keating. At issue here, as Ure accepts, is the role of political rhetoric, prompting the question whether there is a specific prime ministerial style and vocabulary necessary to convey the notion of leadership.

The editors decline to assess the direction of Australia's institutions, still less to recommend how they might be reformed. Instead, they highlight two issues and suggest one thematic continuity in the book. The issues are the centrality of deregulation, and the challenge of Aboriginal inclusion. The first has repercussions well beyond the economic sphere, while the second should be seen less as a specific question of finding the right policies than as part of a larger problem of altering the institutional framework to accommodate indigenous concerns. The underlying theme is the relationship between the elite and the masses, the governed and the governors. There is an element of knowing paternalism in some of the prime concerns voiced in this collection, such as empowerment of the environment, restitution to indigenous people - indeed, the entire role of 'institutions' so defined as to be independent of real people. Democracy is not necessarily wise, and wisdom does not always appeal to the masses. There may be a larger role for populist rhetoric here than it seems.


Jenny Hocking,

Lionel Murphy: A Political Biography

Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1997.

 Pp. xii + 359. Hardback         0 521 58108 7.


As a politician. Lionel Murphy never had any recognition problem. Nature gifted him a bulbous nose which was interestingly rearranged in a car crash. When Canberra astronomers discovered an unusually sinuous nebula, they jokingly named it in his honour. Detractors (he had many) alleged that his real name was Isaacs, and that he had changed it to win the support of a powerful electoral lobby. In fact for Murphy, a passionate man, being Irish-Australian was more than a mere ethnic classification. He will always be associated with the 1973 ASIO 'raid': in reality, an abruptly announced by the new Attorney-General to the headquarters of the security service in Melbourne. Intended to dramatise the new Labor government's grip on power, and its determination to end a perceived cosy attitude to right-wing terrorists, the ASIO raid ended the Whitlam government's honeymoon by making it look both high-handed and, worse, still oppositionist in mentality. The next year, Murphy's legal opinion that Rex Connor's massive borrowing was purely 'temporary' was at the heart of the 'Loans Affair'. In this episode, Murphy acted on his belief that Australia's notoriously conservative constitution could be interpreted for Labor's ends. Soon after, Whitlam shunted him to the High Court. Arguably, Murphy made two more fundamental contributions to his country. From 1967, as Labor leader in the Senate, he asserted, even exalted, the role of the upper house, through a theory of bicameralism which the Coalition parties manipulated with devastating effect in 1975. As a judge, although locked in conflict with the Chief Justice, Barwick, and plagued by vexatious legal actions, he helped steer the High Court towards a recognition of Aboriginal rights that culminated in the 1992 Mabo case. By then, Murphy was dead. Jenny Hocking's biography grew out of her role as co-author of a movie script about him. There are occasional cameo scenes and flashbacks but, as Hocking points out, the subject was a private man and it is a challenge to get inside his world. Her tone is sympathetic. She evidently to give, as far as possible, equal coverage to all phases of Murphy's life and some may feel that this balanced approach has produced an abbreviated and apparently unquestioning approach to the controversial events of 1972-74.


John Gascoigne, with the assistance of Patricia Curthoys,

The Enlightenment and the Origins of European Australia

Cambridge, CambridgeUniversity Press, 2002.

 Pp. xiii + 233. Hardback                     0 521 80343 8.


Gregory Melleuish

Cultural Liberalism in Australia: A Study in Intellectual and Cultural History

Cambridge, CambridgeUniversity Press, 1995.

Pp. viii + 226.   Hardback 0 521 47444 2; paperback 0 521 47969 X.


John Gascoigne has written an important and illuminating book, which Cambridge University Press has handsomely produced. Not so long ago, textbooks portrayed the eighteenth-century Enlightenment as a Franco-Scottish affair, with the occasional despot thrown in. Now we have come to think of an English and American Enlightenment as well: Gascoigne himself has reinterpreted the 'Unreformed Cambridge' of the century before 1789. Now he turns to Australia from 1788 to the 1850s, offering a tightly argued and richly documented scholarly manifesto which insists that Enlightenment ideas left a 'deep imprint'. The book is organised into three sections. The first, 'Contexts', considers religion and politics. The second and third are grouped under the title 'The Possibilities of Improvement', moving through the land and the mind and the less hopeful topics of convicts and Aboriginal people.

            So notable a book deserves the compliment of rigorous criticism. First, Gascoigne's definition of the Enlightenment is broad. While this reflects recent scholarship, it sometimes creates a broad net, especially in the discussion of religion, where both Evangelicalism and atheism are swept up in the analysis.  Secondly, there is some problem with the periodisation. Looking at seventy years of the Australian experience is defensible as intellectual history, since ideas do not operate in sound-bite time. However, the grouping of disparate examples from different decades occasionally gives the impression of sleight-of-hand. A more serious criticism is that there is only passing recognition of that perennial obstacle to attempts to trace continuity in reformist ideas, those three decades of repression from the early 1790s that seemed to drive British liberalism underground. The hiatus was all the more obvious in colonies founded as prisons and run by the military: even Wentworth had to launch his path-breaking demand for civil rights in 1819 from secure exile in England. Thus it is possible to be impressed by Gascoigne but hold to the general view that, after about 1830, political issues arose in New South Wales through appropriately modified transfer from Britain and with a time-lag somewhere between a year and a decade.

The umbrella classification and the long time-period thus become two aspects of the same problem. Yes, we can hear the voice of Tom Paine at Eureka, but it makes more practical sense of the diggers' protest to associate it with the near-contemporary ideas of Physical Force Chartism than to trace it back to The Rights of Man. Given that prisons formed a crucial test-bed for Benthamite principles, it is ironic that Utilitarianism, that key expression of English rationality, made so little headway in the dismal first forty years of Australia's career as a penal hell. It was not until 1833, a year after Bentham's death, that Governor Arthur claimed to have successfully introduced the principle of classification into Van Diemen's Land, and a further six years before Maconochie's short-lived experiments on Norfolk Island. The phrase ancien régime is not much evident in Gascoigne but, in penal terms at least, the New South Wales that began in 1788 and was left to fester barely supervised through the Revolutionary Wars was at least as much a product of the bad old days as the child of Voltaire and Priestley. The attack on transportation, so long and fruitlessly voiced by Bentham himself, made little headway until the Molesworth Committee, an enquiry that is surely best tagged as a product of the Reform impulse of the 1830s.

Such a study faces a particular problem of evidence, since only a minority, arguably unrepresentative, intellectualised the world around them. As index clusters confirm, we encounter the same few people time and again: Watkin Tench, the reflective and surely atypical Marine officer on the First Fleet, Governors Macquarie and Bourke in New South Wales, John Lillie and John West in Van Diemen's Land. However, the history of ideas must operate on the assumption that theories articulated by the few suffuse the inchoate thinking of the many. A more fundamental challenge would ask how far imported or adapted theory was really required to make sense of the antipodean world. To take an absurd example, convicts were notoriously disrespectful of private property, but this does not prove they read Rousseau. It was quickly apparent to the least cerebral European that small groups of Aboriginal people were virtually incapable of either resisting or adapting to the sudden shock of colonisation. It was easy to conceptualise them as lacking advanced social structures, and sooner or later somebody would say 'Hobbes'. Bar-room talk would naturally assert that colonists who fenced or farmed the land were more entitled to claim ownership than nomads, and eventually somebody would say 'Locke'. But scattered references do not prove that Hobbes and Locke were crucial in the formation of a colonial mind-set: indeed, the striking point may be not how often, but how rarely, the first generations of white Australians appealed to European political theory. Lastly, it is worth stressing that Enlightenment intellectual processes were diametrically opposed to our own. Modern non-Marxist discourse holds that if a theory consistently fails to conform to the facts, it must be modified or abandoned. For the eighteenth-century expert, theory was dogma and examples were judged accordingly. Thus Enlightenment belief in human equality might seem to favour Aborigines, but Enlightenment assumptions of human perfectibility proved disastrous. When Aborigines spectacularly failed to conform to structured expectations that they would start moving onward and upward, they automatically relegated themselves to sub-human status.

To a remarkable extent, the rational and confident qualities that Gascoigne associated with the Enlightenment appear in Melleuish's categorisation of Cultural Liberalism. The distinguishing nuance is that Cultural Liberalism sought the greatest happiness of the human soul. His focus is on the twentieth century, by which time such ideas had become naturalised in Australia and formed part of its national identity. Seeking to examine just how that elusive ephemera, a tradition, actually operated, Melleuish looks afresh at such figures as Shann, Eggleston, the Palmers, Barnard-Eldershaw, Hancock and Childe, sometimes in unexpected groupings. Melleuish is convinced that Cultural Liberalism is dead in Australia, to the impoverishment of debate about the direction of Australia. The tradition appears to have been crushed in the Manichean choice posed by the Cold War between Catholicism and Communism. Thereafter, one was re-branded by Vatican II, and the other collapsed under its own weight, leaving successor ideas such as deregulatory economic liberalism while the 1990s campaign for a republic was mere 'bunyip nationalism'. (The unpersuaded may note that Cultural Liberalism appears to have vanished at about the same time as that other nod towards external value systems, the cultural cringe.) For Melleuish, the coup-de-grace came from two writers, Manning Clark and James McAuley, whom some will now see as merely fascinating diversions from the intellectual mainstream. For Manning Clark, Australia was not just a colony, but rather the cosmic battleground of great forces, one of which was Enlightenment, the 'cool reason' that he imaginatively glimpsed struggling against 'dark passion' in the face of Arthur Phillip. This definition was narrower than Gascoigne's, while Cultural Liberalism offers more spirituality than his world of rationality. Yet it may be that Gascoigne has taken up Melleuish's challenge to rediscover a tradition of enrichment of the human condition by resurrecting Clark's focus on a lost legacy of eighteenth-century thought.


Mark McKenna

An Eye For Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark 

Carlton, Vic.: The Miegunyah Press, 2011, pp. x + 793, Hardback, ISBN: 978-0-522-85617-0

Manning Clark was professor of History in Canberra from 1949 until his retirement in 1974-5. Some found the man and his writings inspirational; to others, he was a mountebank. Mark McKenna has produced a magnificent biography, in which even the unanswered questions (how did Clark qualify for a funeral in a Catholic cathedral?) are deliberately left hanging. Big books sometimes scoop awards before second thoughts consign them to semi-oblivion. If McKenna's book should recede from prominence in years to come, it will be because he has extracted the opium from the tall poppy of his perplexing subject.

            Since McKenna never met Clark but understands him well, so it seems egotistical to outline my own slight encounters with 'Manning', as he was known to friend and detractor alike. In the 1970s I was a research fellow in History in the Research School of Social Sciences -- part of the original Australian National University of 1946. Clark's appointment had been to Canberra University College, an offshoot of Melbourne. In 1960 it was merged into the ANU, a clumsy solution which subordinated the teaching departments as the School of General Studies. There was little contact with 'our colleagues across the creek', as the SGS staff were dubbed with formal politeness: the divide was purely mental, for no creek separates the Coombs and Haydon-Allan Buildings. My senior colleagues distrusted Clark: in a moment of impish confidentiality, J.A. La Nauze remarked that he was not really a historian but a novelist. Among the younger crowd, mention of his name triggered ribaldry about the 'fatal flaw', Clark's formula for skewering the personalities he portrayed. I wanted to meet the author whose Short History of Australia I had first read across the world, although even then I had been puzzled by the confidence with which he had described his subjects. You might deduce character from portraits by Raeburn or Reynolds, but how could you discern 'darker forces' in Arthur Phillip from a giant cigarette card of a corner-shop painting?

            I was warned that Clark might not welcome me, since -- a rash and brash young Pom -- I dived into the controversy over the founding of New South Wales. In fact, I found him friendly and, when I edited a collection of readings on the Botany Bay debate, he permitted the inclusion of his Historical Studies article. My last contact was a postcard approving the transfer of book's small income to the Menzies Centre in London: 'Readers are better than royalties.' My lingering image of Manning Clark was of an amiably narcissistic eccentric, defined by his goatee beard and a wide brimmed and jauntily angled hat.

            I first handled McKenna's biography in wine-connoisseur fashion, skimming the pages and looking at the photographs. Here was my first shock. The early Clark was usually hatless, and definitely clean shaven, not the Manning of memory, but a doppelganger for the herbivorous primary school teacher who steered me through the Eleven Plus. The beard, grown on a visit to Russia, was a tribute to Lenin, while McKenna believes that the hat was an echo of Thomas Carlyle, author of a grand narrative history of the French Revolution. Both the identifiers that a cartoonist would have highlighted were artificial add-ons. More than in most biographies, McKenna's task has been to separate the superficial from the core reality.

            Through his mother, Clark was descended from Samuel Marsden, the Anglican chaplain in early New South Wales. This link probably explains his sense of ownership of early Australian history: he was transfixed with veneration when shown Marsden's signature in the Admissions Register of Magdalene College Cambridge in 1964. Clark the historian was tough on Marsden -- as he was censorious of his own faults -- but he probably back-projected himself into his forebear. In Volume II of his massive History, published in 1967, Marsden (like Clark) was in his fifties, the age 'when honour, the respect of his fellow-men, and recognition of his achievement should have been his.' Instead, his hard labour of twenty-seven years (about the time Clark had been in Canberra) had yielded Marsden only the 'curses not loud but deep' of his enemies. Clark's father, a working-class Londoner who retained a Cockney accent, became an Anglican clergyman thanks to a mentor, Reverend James Manning, after whom Clark himself was named.

            In 1921, Clark's mother suffered a breakdown, and the six year-old Manning and his siblings were sent to maternal grandparents for several months. Decades later, Clark discovered that his father had begotten a child by the housemaid -- but there were clues to a sex scandal, enough to explain his fixation with fatal flaws. Clark once related that his grandmother remembered the pastoralist John Macarthur visiting her family home, adding with Manningesque flourish: 'So young is Australia!' Although he was capable of colonising memories, for instance annexing his wife's experience, in her students days in Bonn, of Kristallnacht, the overlap was possible: Catherine Hope was born in 1825 (and lived to be 92); John Macarthur died in 1834. Perhaps during those bewildering months when his parents separated, the frightened child anchored himself to the reassurance of Australia's earliest years?

            Clark suffered from epilepsy, with attacks severe enough to make him drop out of school for some time when he was fifteen. Epilepsy is an affliction still wrapped in embarrassment, and McKenna effectively disentangles the slight evidence. It drew Clark to Dostoyevsky, a fellow sufferer, and excused him from wartime military service. Epilepsy also disqualified him from the Rhodes Scholarship, but in 1938 he went to Oxford by other means. Although he spent only a year at Balliol, where he recalled Edward Heath as contemporary, Clark briefly took the place by storm. In the freshmen's cricket match, he 'kept wicket remarkably well', and impressed with fluent array of strokes with the bat. He was immediately selected for the University team, and played three matches against county sides. Unfortunately, Clark was a Twenty20 player sixty years ahead of the game. Against Yorkshire, he was 'itching to "have a go"' but, despite the prediction of The Times that 'he looks to have plenty of runs in him', his performances in both innings were disappointing: Leyland bowled him for 12 -- after he had been dropped in the deep -- and Verity for 10. Alarmingly, too, he was 'far from being a good judge of a run', over-keen on snatching a risky single. His downfall came against Middlesex, where there was a faint chance of batting out a draw if Clark could build a stand with the University's last specialist batsman. Instead, he made a poor call and ran his partner out. Being dropped meant more than 'wounded pride' (172): a cricketing career that collapsed inside two weeks was a public humiliation that probably explains why he was keen to leave Oxford. For Cricinfo, it was a life sadly wasted: 'He returned to Australia in 1940 to teach history and played no more serious cricket.' If there is one element in McKenna's biography where I should have liked more, it is cricket. Clark coached at Geelong Grammar, and later played in recreational matches. Yet, in all his explorations of the Australian soul, Clark wrote very little about the game. The Short History was written for Americans, but does that explain why it is one of the few overview studies to omit mentioning Bodyline?

            Clark was not simply a selfish person, but the cynosure of his personal universe. It was immaterial that his parents could not read the annual letter that he taped to their gravestone: the devoted son was the admiring audience of his own star performance. He treated the naming of his six children as an exercise in memorialising his muses. It took some insensitivity to attempt to call his son 'Wolfgang' in 1940; left to Clark, a later child would have become 'Dimitri Alyosha'. As lecturer, tutor and mentor, he could be inspirational, but he despised the routine administrative detritus, writing 'lordly one-line references' (507) and dismissing essays with enigmatic mottos. Bright undergraduates saw through the pose. Greeted in passing with a pretentious Latin tag, one student upstaged Clark by riposting that it sounded better in the original Greek. He did not like that.

            McKenna's biography is a portrait of a marriage. Typically for the era, Dymphna Lodewyckx, daughter of a Flemish intellectual, sacrificed her career to become wife, mother and helper. Clark's attitude to her was ambivalent, ranging from pathetic dependence to the unleashing of angry criticism in his diary -- often simultaneously. She left him three times, the first time after Clark's shattering affair at the milestone age of forty, subsequently in response to his symbiotic interconnections between publication and flirtation. Although her children were hostages that drew her back, she kept a bag permanently packed for a final exit. In 1973 Clark denounced the limitation of women's roles to kitchen and bed. A year earlier, when a student had protested against gender bias in his department, he told her she had a nice arse and did not need first class honours, pinching her principal asset as he spoke. McKenna argues that post-Pill Canberra was a sexual jungle, but male academics were not all bed-hoppers, and in the liberation culture, 'no' was supposed to mean 'no'. Did Clark exploit his god-professor status? Distastefully, he boasted of his behaviour, although some of his bragging was fantasy. He told a colleague that he delighted in putting his hand up skirts to fondle suspender belts. She lacked the heart to explain that women had been wearing tights for years.

            Clark's scholarly standing forms a major theme in McKenna's study. It is too easy to dismiss him because his monumental History of Australia is now derided. The Short History brought the Australian past to readers both at home and overseas. Clark was arrogant in claiming that he invented Australian history, but the Select Documents did offer the first production-line course structures in the subject and -- inaccuracies aside -- they remain rich in material. Publication of the magnum opus spanned twenty five years of rapid change: Menzies was prime minister in 1962, Hawke by 1987. Despite their faults, the first two volumes of the History formed part of the new national culture of the 1960s. His popularity made him a public intellectual and an ALP guru. It was Clark who spotted that December 2nd 1972 was the anniversary of the defeat of a ramshackle coalition at Austerlitz, a coincidence that appealed to Whitlam's Napoleonic self-image. I recall sitting in the stalls during a Barry Humphries one-person show, watching Edna Everage lobbing her trademark blooms to the Canberra identities in the front rows, with the refrain, 'wave your gladdie, Manning'. In-groupish and off-putting, the cameo perhaps helps explain why the Right came to hate him, taking posthumous revenge with the preposterous charge that Clark was a Soviet agent.

            At first reading, I devoured McKenna's book, wishing it to go for ever. Then I set out again, having taken my reviewer's oath to niggle and grump, but my impressions hardly changed. One of Clark's colleagues once published a work of florid prose that was unkindly characterised as 'pidgin Manning': McKenna empathetically engages with Clark without once lapsing into echoes of his grandiose style. Could this massive study have been shorter? There were discursions where I endorsed R.M. Crawford's plea for 'plain blokes who have never read a word of Dostoyevsky' (336). In time, this biography might merit an abridged edition, if only because Clark will fade in memory. The determining factor has been the enormous size of the Manning Clark archive. Most biographers must uncover episodes their subjects preferred to conceal. By contrast, Clark preserved even the evidence of his infidelity. He annotated documents to guide future interpreters, evidently assuming that biographers would celebrate his greatness, while simultaneously resolving his contradictions. McKenna has avoided the danger of becoming a 'ventriloquist' (39). Sheer bulk creates problems not just of quantity but of meaning. It is easier to memorialise crises than to immortalise contentment: it is the laughter in their parents' marriage that his children remember. Clark's correspondents were sometimes mystified by the contrast between his angst-ridden letters and his cheerful demeanour. After his death, some readers of his diaries could not recognise their writer. Hence the fundamental question about this paper mountain: does it reveal an inner Manning or an invented Manning? After 700 pages, McKenna ends with an intriguing cameo. On a Canberra road on a sunny afternoon two years before Clark's death, a colleague caught a momentary glimpse of husband and wife driving in the other direction, sealed in the silent capsule of a saloon car, 'their faces cascading with laughter' (703). Were Manning and Dymphna mocking the elaborate imposture they had perpetrated on the world? It is an enigmatic conclusion to a magnificent biography.

Ged Martin

National University of Ireland Galway



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