Belconnen, ACT. 31/3/2017

A beautiful clear morning here in Canberra.  Cool, and windy, but not a hint of rain.  I left home just before 6.30 am,  when it was still dark.  Twenty minutes into my walk, looking back east across Weetangera,  I could see the morning sky begin to glow.

Ninety minutes into my walk,  I was at the north-western end of Florey.  The sun was shining brightly,  and the path looked so inviting.  Time to turn for home.

Paul Keating: the big-picture leader by Troy Bramston

‘Leadership is about two things: courage and imagination.’

Paul Keating was Australia’s 24th Prime Minister, and held office from 20 December 1991 to 11 March 1996. He won office (from Bob Hawke) in a Labor Caucus ballot, and lost it (to John Howard) in a federal election.  Paul Keating was Treasurer from 1983 to 1991.  He was first elected to Parliament in 1969, aged 25.

While a number of books have been written about Paul Keating, according to the book blurb, this is the first biography Paul Keating has co-operated on in more than two decades.  Troy Bramston has drawn on around fifteen hours of interviews with Paul Keating, has had access to his personal files, and interviewed many people who know and worked with him.  Troy Bramston has also had access to Labor archives and other records.  All of this makes for a hefty 786-page book.

There are biographical details, a chronology of Paul Keating’s political life, and snippets of the personal, but the primary focus is on leadership.  It’s a book that I, as an admirer of Paul Keating and with a keen interest in Australian political history, had to read.

Some twenty-one years after the end of the Keating government, it’s interesting to read about.  The achievements I primarily remember from the Hawke/Keating years were the reform of the financial system and the economy, the floating of the dollar.  While those reforms have undoubtedly benefitted Australia, many of us also remember a period of very high mortgage interest rates, of economic recession.  But what I see as Paul Keating’s most important achievement was his speech in Redfern in December 1992, at the launch of Australia’s celebration of the 1993 International Year of the World’s Indigenous People.  Especially this aspect:

‘ .. the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.’

The passage of the Native Title Bill 1993, on 21 December 1993, is a credit to Paul Keating, Gareth Evans and the others who worked so tirelessly to make it happen.

Paul Keating always had a vision for Australia’s future.  He wasn’t always able to deliver on that vision, but he never stopped articulating it.  I’d have liked more detail as to how Paul Keating did some of these things, in addition to the detail provided of what he actually did.  Surely it wasn’t all intuitive and instinctive?  Surely the structures of government were part of the delivery mechanism?

And what about today?  Where are the political visionaries today?

‘Leadership is not about being popular, it is about being right and about being strong.’

True.  But I think it is also about being effective, about ensuring that the necessary mechanisms are in place so that they can outlast the individual leader.

Whether you like Paul Keating or loathe him, it’s worth reading. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Australian politics, to anyone interested in political leadership.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Cloud Warrior (The Amtrak Wars Book 1) by Patrick Tilley

I’ve been reading a bit of science fiction and science fantasy lately.  I used to read a lot of these types of fiction last century, but had gradually drifted away.  A friend gave me this six book series: she was clearing out her home after the death of her husband and gave me all of his books.  There are quite a few treasures in that collection, but for now I’m enjoying The Amtrak Wars.

Cloud Warrior by Patrick Tilley

‘Ten centuries ago the Old Time ended when Earth’s cities melted in the War of a Thousand Suns.’

‘Cloud Warrior’ is the first of a six book series set in a post-apocalyptic USA.  The nuclear apocalypse happened a thousand years earlier.  There seem to be at least two different societies occupying the USA.  One society is technologically advanced and lives underground.  The other lives above ground (the overground) and is considered by the underground society to be mutated, savage and stupid.

Our view of this world is through the eyes of Steve Brickman, a pilot (cloud warrior) from the underground society.  The underground society wants to take over control of the overground at some time in the future, and in the interim hunts and kills the overground dwellers (whom they call mutes).

Both societies have their own versions of history: each sees the other to blame for the War of a Thousand Suns.  But are the mutes as stupid as the underground society thinks?  There are rumours of mute magic, but the officially the underground society do not accept this.  And yet …

Steve Brickman graduates near the top of his class, and is assigned to a land train to hunt mutes.  But, when Steve crashes in mute territory he finds that there is far more to the mute society than he’s been taught.  He’s kept alive by the mutes because of a prophecy and finds himself questioning some of what he’s been told.

I was given this series by a friend who was moving home and clearing out some books.   Which is lucky, because I can read them in order without having to search for them.  I’m half way through the third book, and enjoying them.  While aspects of the world Mr Tilley has created are easy to grasp, there are nuances it took me a while to appreciate.  Steve Brickman is impulsive at times and not always easy to like.  A number of the mute characters (especially Mr Snow and Clearwater) have engaged me completely.

If you’ve not read this series and enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, then this may be a series for you as well.  Fortunately, if the paperbacks are too hard to find there is now a Kindle edition.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Five Greatest Warriors by Matthew Reilly

Every so often, I just want to escape into a book and be swept up in the action.  Every so often, I just want to be a spectator as an adventure unfolds.  I’m finding that Matthew Reilly’s books are perfect for this.  I find them fun!

The Five Greatest Warriors by Matthew Reilly

‘No fight is over till the last punch is thrown.’

In ‘The Five Greatest Warriors’ Jack West Jr and his team are (still) on a quest to save the world.  And this quest will involve a lot of travel and plenty of action.  They discover a rhyme about five mysterious but unnamed warriors.  Each of these figures provides a key to knowledge which is required to follow the steps necessary to save the world.  But, Jack West Jr and his team are not the only ones seeking this information, and not everyone wants to save the world.  Time is running out.

Can Jack West Jr and his team prevail?

I’m reading these books out of order (I’ve yet to read ‘Seven Deadly Wonders’ and ‘The Six Sacred Stones’, I started with ‘The Four Legendary Kingdoms’) so I’m not (yet) across all of the finer detail of Jack West Jr’s backstory, but it really hasn’t affected my enjoyment of this book.  The story is so outrageous, so action-packed, so full of loathsome villains and likeable heroes that it creates its own escapist momentum.  It’s unbelievable, but so much fun.  Just when I think that all is lost, Mr Reilly introduces another unbelievable twist, another highly improbable turn.  My advice is: don’t try to work it out, don’t try to even think about what is possible, just enjoy the trip.  If you need your fiction grounded in reality, then the Jack West Jr series is probably not for you.  Me, I’ll continue to work backwards.  And by the time I’ve read the first two books in this series, maybe the fifth one will be available?  I hope so.

Great escapist fun.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith