Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia by Clive Hamilton

Should we be worried?

I recently read this book, against the background of China’s increasing trade war with Australia.  Is Mr Hamilton right, I wondered?  How concerned should we be?

As I read, I am conscious of concerns about foreign ownership of assets within Australia, about the extent of Chinese influence and about political donations.  But is China the enemy?  Or should Australia be re-evaluating foreign ownership rules and tightening political donation rules more generally?

I’m torn.  Many point to human rights abuses in China. True.  But if they were consistent, they would also identify human rights abuses in other countries including Australia and the USA.  There are times when the various forms of representative democracy practiced across the western world seem just as flawed as many claim that the Chinese government is. 

While I think this book is worth reading and I share some of Mr Hamilton’s concerns, I don’t agree that China is Australia’s enemy.  I also feel frustrated when people point to China’s influence in our region.  Many of the countries China is aiding are countries that we would once have provided more aid to.  Should China be condemned for meeting a need that we have ignored?  Sigh.

Yes, I am sure that not all Chinese influence is benign, any more than I am convinced that American influence is.  I am concerned though that much of the reaction against Chinese influence is a reaction against a world which (for the first time in our lifetimes) is looking beyond Europe and the USA to Asia as a source of growing economic power and influence.  I think that many of us find this unsettling.

We need to engage more with China, not less.  And, in all our foreign relationships, we need to be less naïve. Not all interests are benign, common, or shared, but neither are they all exclusive or malign. Yes, I see shades of grey.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


3 fallacies that blighted this year’s COVID commentary — have you fallen foul of any of them? (from The Conversation)

Rachael L. Brown, Australian National University

Throughout the pandemic we have seen a deluge of outright lies, conspiracy theories and pseudoscience from various peddlers of self-interest.

But to a philosopher like me, more vexing than these calculated cases of disinformation has been the amount of sloppy reasoning in public discourse about Australia’s COVID epidemic.

Barely a day goes by without a politician, official or commentator making the kind of basic failure of critical thinking that I teach first-year philosophy undergraduates to avoid.

While these are sometimes deliberate attempts to obfuscate, it is more frequently the well-intentioned who fall victim to these often appealing fallacies. The only antidote is a large dose of scepticism, mixed with some understanding of where our reasoning frequently goes wrong.

Here are three critical thinking errors that were rife in 2020.

Fallacy 1: false comparisons

In arguing against lockdowns, it was not uncommon to hear people decry the “hidden cost” of public health measures designed to curb the virus’s spread. Commonly cited examples include drops in cancer detection or the negative impacts of school closures, particularly on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It is certainly reasonable to ask whether the costs of lockdown outweigh the benefits. But any such reckoning needs to factor in the costs of not imposing a lockdown.

It is a mistake to use the “pre-COVID normal” as the baseline for comparison. We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto. Pre-COVID cancer rates or school grades are irrelevant when thinking about the impact of public health measures in our current circumstances.

What is relevant is the expected outcomes given the impact of the COVID infections that would occur without public health measures in place. In the case of cancer detection, for example, we should expect a drop in diagnoses relative to pre-COVID levels both with, and without, lockdowns in place. During a pandemic, the fear of infection creates a significant extra factor that would make people less likely to visit their doctor for a cancer check.

Similarly, when looking at the impact of school closures, particularly on socioeconomically vulnerable students, we need to factor in the likely impact of increased COVID infections. As has been shown both at home and abroad, the impacts of COVID outbreaks are disproportionately felt by disadvantaged communities.

Read more: The costs of the shutdown are overestimated — they’re outweighed by its $1 trillion benefit

Fallacy 2: failing to see the nuance behind the numbers

Victorians were understandably glued to the daily case numbers during their epic lockdown, while their New South Wales neighbours nervously kept an eye on their own tally. But the focus on numbers can mislead; bald case numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Why, for example, did two such similar states have such contrasting fortunes? Behind the headline numbers were some key differences that can explain why Victoria endured a major second wave, while NSW escaped relatively unscathed. Not all of them involve differences in contact-tracing capacity.

To illustrate, despite similar absolute case numbers over the ten days to October 14, about 60% of the cases in NSW were returned international travellers, compared with none in Victoria. Given that a positive case in hotel quarantine is easier to contain than one at large among the public, Victoria clearly faced a more challenging situation than NSW.

Similarly, there are other features of the demographics of the Victorian outbreak that also set it apart from NSW, such as the average size of the households in which infected individuals live and the source of their infections. The devil is in the detail.

Read more: Finally at zero new cases, Victoria is on top of the world after unprecedented lockdown effort

Fallacy 3: thinking everything happens for a reason

The ancient Greeks blamed unexpected bad outcomes in their lives on Tykhe, the goddess of chance, and the Romans similarly blamed Fortuna. In our largely secular modern world, however, we typically assume a bad outcome to be a sign of failure rather than simple bad luck.

But in a pandemic, not only can relatively small differences in situations lead to large differences in outcomes, but these small differences often come down to dumb luck. This is especially true when talking about very small numbers of cases, as we have in Australia now.

At such low numbers, bad luck and chance are likely to play a big role in our fortunes. South Australia, for instance, may have been plunged into lockdown as a result of dodgy ventilation in a hotel corridor.

It is easy to interpret any jump in case numbers as indicating a failure of the public health measures in place. But this overlooks the role of other factors: whether a COVID-positive person lives with one other person or six, or whether they work in aged care, or from home, where they shop, whether or not they developed symptoms while infected, and whether or not they self-isolated as a result. All of this can make a significant difference to the potential number of others whom they infect with the virus.

It is also harder to trace the contacts of someone working outside the home, compared with someone working from home and only leaving to go to the shops once a week. No two infections are truly equal.

Read more: Exponential growth in COVID cases would overwhelm any state’s contact tracing. Australia needs an automated system

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned by a sudden spike in cases, and it doesn’t mean we can’t ask questions about what went wrong. But it also doesn’t mean it necessarily warrants any shift from our current public health measures.

It’s an uncomfortable thought, but luck is a huge part of where we find ourselves today, and where we could be in the future.

Rachael L. Brown, Director of the Centre for Philosophy of the Sciences and Senior Lecturer at the School of Philosophy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Unbound by John Shors

‘Maybe there’s a balance to life, to fate.’

1548, the Middle Kingdom of China is ruled by the Ming dynasty, who replaced the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in 1368.  The Mongols continue to threaten, and while the Great Wall provides protection, it needs constant maintenance.

In this novel, Mr Shors has recreated a version of the legendary Chinese love story of Meng Jingnu and her beloved Fan Xiliang.  Fan leaves, for a period of three months, to work on the Great Wall.  But he does not return, and after he is missing for twelve months, Meng sets off to find him.  Meng has unbound feet, extremely unusual for any woman of rank during this period.  It is only because of her unbound feet that Meng, disguised as a man, can consider undertaking this journey.

Meanwhile, at the Great Wall, Fan works alongside a young Mongol captive, Bataar.  General Yat-Sen holds their lives in his hands.

The story shifts between Meng’s journey to the wall and Fan’s life on it.  There are other stories as well: the concubine Yehonala, Bataar’s father Chuluun and Meng’s co traveller Ping.

Meng’s journey is eventful.  Fan’s existence at the Great Wall is fraught with danger.  Meng’s letters to him have been intercepted by Yat-Sen whose greed and jealousy lead him to destroy what he cannot possess.

And the ending?  I finished the novel satisfied.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Fifth Season by Philip Salom

‘The four seasons only exist because of each other.’

Jack moves to an Airbnb in a small Australian coastal town called Blue Bay.  He reorganises the Airbnb to his own requirements.  The owner, Sarah, when she visits, hopes that he has taken a photograph so that he can return everything to the way it was.  Jack’s intention is, over a period of three months, to work on a book about what he thinks of as ‘found bodies’.  The bodies may be found, but their identities are lost.  Anonymous people found dead: the Somerton Man, the Gippsland Man, the Isdal Woman, bodies found on beaches, in cars, in hotel rooms.  The anonymity of these people, the story behind their lives and deaths occupies the public mind as well as the much more personal grief of those who love and miss them.

‘The Fifth Season might be Time, which holds the seasons together.’

Jack meets a number of people in Blue Bay, and befriends Sarah, the owner of the Airbnb.  Sarah’s  sister Alice is missing.  Sarah paints murals of her sister, and of other missing people, across the country hoping that their likenesses will enable them to be found.

But not everyone wants to be found.  Sometimes, going missing is a choice.  Some stories are complicated and difficult to understand. And Jack himself is grappling with his own continuing existence.

This is a novel which invites the reader to enter a community, to reflect on individual stories of life, to think about who goes missing and why, and about the impact on those left behind.  Is it ever possible to return to the way things were, before people go missing, before furniture is rearranged? So many questions.

This is the first of Mr Salom’s novels I have read.  I will add his others to my reading list.

‘And in time, what begins as memory becomes history.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Shelter by Catherine Jinks

To be published on 5 January 2021.

‘I first saw her spotlit by headlight, a pink plush rabbit tucked under her arm.’

Meg’s own experience with an abusive partner helps her to decide to help another woman who is fleeing, with two small children, from an abusive partner.  Meg knows that she left it too long to leave her own partner, Keith, and as a result she is essentially estranged from her daughter Emily.    

Nerine, the mother, seems incredibly stressed.  Her daughters, Analiese and Colette are anxious and afraid.  Meg thinks that she can help.  Her home (aptly named ‘The Bolt Hole) is remote, and Meg has plenty of supplies to keep the family out of sight.  Meg will provide the three of them with shelter for a few weeks until another woman is able to offer them shelter.

But Nerine is convinced that her husband will find her, and when strange things start happening around Meg’s home, Meg is concerned.  Meg is in a dispute with her own ex-husband: is he trying to intimidate her, or is Nerine right?

What a bleak, heartbreaking, and incredibly beautifully written story this is.   The characters are well-developed, the issues are real, and the tension is high.  Nothing is straightforward, and while I worked out a few of the twists, I was not at all prepared for the ending.  If you read this novel, be prepared to ride an emotional roller-coaster. 

 Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



A Canopy of Stars by Stephen Taylor

A chance encounter, an unlikely romance …

London, 1823.  David Neander, a young Jewish immigrant, is on trial for his life at the Old Bailey.  His crime?  He has been charged with the theft of half of a sheep carcass.  Julia Carmichael is in the public gallery that day: she clerks for her lawyer father but is unable to sit in the court.  While waiting for her father’s case, she sees David’s case.  She sees the case of a young man, with limited English, found guilty and condemned to death.  Julia decides that she wants to help him. Can she save his life?

The story moves between David and Julia in London in 1823 and David’s previous life in Frankfurt (1819) and Dortmund (1821).  In London, David is granted a retrial, but the odds seem to be stacked against him.

In those chapters set in Frankfurt and Dortmund we learn about the discrimination David has faced, and the tragic consequences for his family of antisemitic riots in Frankfurt.  Heartbreaking.  But David does not want to share details of his past with Julia, which makes it difficult for her to try to organise his defence – especially when the same judge who sentenced him to death is presiding over his second trial.

While I enjoyed this story, which takes some details from a case of theft in 1790, the characters never really came to life for me.  For example, even allowing for fictional licence, I found it difficult to accept Julia having quite as much autonomy as the story allows.  I found David’s story heartbreakingly sad, but I struggled at times to ‘see’ the character behind the description.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

End of Year Memento Mori

25 December 2020

Once again, I am tempted by Lisa who wrote:  I last did this meme in 2018, so I thought I’d give it another run in 2020.  I found it via Stuck in a Book, who got it from Rick who keeps putting out memes/tags on a vlog somewhere.   What fun!

1) What’s the longest book I read this year and the book that took me the longest to finish?

My longest book for the year, at 958 pages,  was In the Name of the Father by Michael Francis McDermott.  The book that took me the longest to finish was my reread of  Race of Scorpions (The House of Niccolò #3) by Dorothy Dunnett because I am leading a two chapter a week reread.  The reread continues, but I have raced ahead to the end!

2) What book did I read in 2020 that was outside of my comfort zone?

A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli (translated from French by Sam Taylor)

A profoundly moving story which is outside my comfort zone because reminders of how we ‘other’ people who are different always makes me uncomfortable.

3) How many books did I re-read in 2020?


4) What’s my favourite re-read of 2020?

My favourite reread of 2020 is The Spring of the Ram (The House of Niccolò #2) by Dorothy Dunnett.

5) What book did I read for the first time in 2020 that I look forward to re-reading in the future?

Love Is Strong as Death: Poems chosen by Paul Kelly

6) What’s my favourite short story or novella that I read in 2020?

Mother Tongue by Joyce Kornblatt (167 pages)

The Years, Months, Days by Yan Lianke (translated from Chinese by Carlos Rojas) (112 pages)

7) Mass appeal: which book would I recommend to a wide variety of readers?

The Survivors by Jane Harper

8) Specialised appeal: which book did I like but would be hesitant to recommend to just anyone?

Lowitja – The authorised biography of Lowitja O’Donoghue by Stuart Rintoul

And, of course, the minute I post this I will think of other books I should have included 😊

Best wishes for the festive season, everyone!

#AWW2020 My Completion Post

This year I have read (and written reviews) for 109 books by Australian women.  Eleven fewer than last year. Of these, 31 are non-fiction (bold) and I had noted that 8 were written by Indigenous women (italic)

  1. Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan

2.    When the Apricots Bloom by Gina Wilkinson

 3.    CRY: The Tears of a Girl from Birkenhead by Trish Ollman

 4.    A Girl from Birkenhead by Trish Ollman

 5.    White Throat (Clementine Jones #2) by Sarah Thornton

 6.    The Survivors by Jane Harper

 7.    Mother Tongue by Joyce Kornblatt

 8.    Songwoman by Ilka Tampke (Skin#2)

 9.    Searching for Charlotte by Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell

 10. The Wreck by Meg Keneally

 11. Dancing in My Dreams: Confronting the Spectre of Polio by Kerry Highley

12. A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

 13. A Life Worth Living by Louise Guy

 14. My Tidda, My Sister by Marlee Silva

 15. The Edwards Street Baby Farm by Stella Budrikis

 16. The Cartographer’s Secret by Téa Cooper

 17. The Dressmaker’s Secret by Rosalie Ham

 18. The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

 19. The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home by Joanna Nell

 20. Here Until August by Josephine Rowe

 21. Dolores by Lauren Aimee Curtis

 22. An Unusual Boy by Fiona Higgins

 23. The Warrior, the Voyager and the Artist: Three Lives in an Age of Empire by Kate Fullagar

 24. The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey

 25. A Clue for Clara by Lian Tanner

 26. The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

 27. Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

 28. Diving into Glass by Caro Llewellyn

 29. The Family Inheritance by Tricia Stringer

 30. The First Time He Hit Her by Heidi Lemon

 31. The Killing Streets by Tanya Bretherton

 32. Something in the Wine by Tricia Stringer

 33. The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

 34. In Search of the Woman Who Sailed the world by Danielle Clode

 35. Fresh Cuttings (selected by Sue Abbey and Sandra Phillips)

 36. The Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

 37. Top End Girl by Miranda Tapsell

 38. Women and Leadership by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

 39. The Wasp and the Orchid by Danielle Clode

 40. Billings Better Bookstore and Brasserie by Fin J Ross

 41. Hunting the Wild Pineapple by Thea Astley

 42. Painting in the Shadows by Katherine Kovacic

 43. The Night Swim by Megan Goldin

 44. Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles

 45. The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

 46. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey (Gemma Woodstock #2)

 47. Where The Dead Go by Sarah Bailey

 48. A Treacherous Country by K.M. Kruimink

 49. Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

 50. Darkness for Light (Caleb Zelic #3) by Emma Viskic

 51. The Goldminer’s Sister by Alison Stuart

 52. The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

 53. The Safe Place by Anna Downes

 54. Deadman’s Track by Sarah Barrie

 55. Sticks and Stones by Katherine Firkin

 56. I Choose Elena by Lucia Osborne-Crowley

 57. Dragon’s Gate by Vivian Bi

 58. Pride against Prejudice by Ida West

 59. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

 60. The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer

 61. The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay

 62. When Grace Went Away by Meredith Appleyard

 63. One Life: My Mother’s Story by Kate Grenville

 64. Finding Ullagundahi Island by Fabienne Bayet-Charlton

 65. Royal Canberra Hospital by Janet Newman and Jennie Warren

 66. See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Violence by Jess Hill

 67. Present Tense by Natalie Conyer

 68. Prey by L.A. Larkin

 69. The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke

 70. The House of Youssef by Yumna Kassab

71. The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman

 72. Poison and Light by Gillian Polack

73. Community of Thieves by Cassandra Pybus

74. Sustenance by Simone Lazaroo

75.Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

76. After She Wrote Him by Sulari Gentill

77. The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester

78. Riptides by Kirsten Alexander

79. The End of Cuthbert Close by Cassie Hamer

80. Euphoria Kids by Alison Evans

81. Sheerwater by Leah Swann

82. Where Fortune Lies by Mary-Anne O’Connor

83. Where the Truth Lies by Karina Kilmore

84. Long Way Home by Nicola Marsh

85. Back on the Wool Track by Michelle Grattan

86. Troppo by Madelaine Dickie

87. Charlotte Pass by Lee Christine

88. Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer

89. The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

90. Dead Man Walking by Kate McClymont with Vanda Carson

91. Red Can Origami by Madelaine Dickie

92. The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

93. Perhaps a Little Madness by C. J. Martin

94. The River Home by Hannah Richell

95. The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

96. Just an Ordinary Family by Fiona Lowe

97. The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks 

98. Nothing New by Robyn Annear

99. Asbestos in Australia (edited by Lenore Layman and Gail Phillips)

100.   Island Story by Ralph Crane and Danielle Wood

 101.  The Changing Room by Christine Sykes

102.   The Shining Wall by Melissa Ferguson

 103.   The Cherry Picker’s Daughter by Kerry Reed-Gilbert

 104.   Shepherd by Catherine Jinks

 105.   Storytime – Growing up with books by Jane Sullivan

 106.   Field of Poppies by Carmel Bird

 107.   Watershed by Jane Abbott

 108.    The Bee and the Orange Tree by Melissa Ashley

109.   Saltwater by Cathy McLennan


And in 2021?  I hope to include more non-fiction and more books by Indigenous women.

A Year in First Lines

Two of my favourite book bloggers Brona and Lisa have led me into temptation with this meme that takes the first line of each month’s post over the past year to see what it tells you about your blogging year.


Maurice Blackburn: Champion of the People by David Day

‘Maurice Blackburn: a modest man who had devoted his life to the betterment of his fellow Australians.’


Asbestos in Australia (edited by Lenore Layman and Gail Phillips)

‘From Boom to Dust.’


Red Hail by Jamie Killen

‘Blood falling from the heavens.  Sure sounds like Red Hail to me.’

2020 Aussie Author Challenge

I set out to complete the EMU Level of this challenge:

Read and review 24 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 10 of those authors are female, at least 10 of those authors are male, and at least 10 of those authors are new to you; Fiction or non-fiction, at least 4 different genre.

And here is my list of (currently, as at 1 March 2020) 26:


After She Wrote Him by Sulari Gentill

‘This is my life, not just a story, …’


The Silence by Susan Allott

‘How can someone be missing for thirty years and no one notice?’

Creatively managing anxiety in Coronavirus Lockdown

Like many others, my concentration has suffered as a consequence of Coronavirus. It’s an anxiety thing. And, even though we are doing comparatively well here in Australia, this pandemic still has a long way to run. Sadly.


Mr Campion’s Séance by Mike Ripley

‘You’ve finished it?  The new book?’


Life in the Victorian Asylum by Mark Stevens

‘What we offer in return for your co-operation is the very latest in lunatic healthcare.’


Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

‘It’s about a murder.’


In Search of the Woman Who Sailed the world by Danielle Clode

‘Who was Jeanne Baret?’


The first US presidential debate was pure chaos. Here’s what our experts thought (from The Conversation)

A Clue for Clara by Lian Tanner

‘I have suffered many setbacks in by bid to become a famous detective.’


CoDex 1962 by Sjón (translated by Victoria Cribb)

Open this novel, step into a world of complex storytelling, and wonder…


Suspicious Minds by David Mark

‘Eight months ago… A nice house in a nice neighbourhood.’

So, in March and October I had two posts on the first of the month.  Of the twelve book review posts, six were of books by Australian authors.  This does not surprise me as I’ve read and reviewed well over one hundred books by Australian authors this year. 

What do your first lines say about you?  I wonder what next year will look like …

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan

‘It wasn’t enough that she lived in her sea of waking dreams.’

The world around her is being destroyed by fire and extinction. At eighty-seven, her body failing, Francie is ready to die.  But her three children, Tommy, Anna, and Terzo want her to live.  They are sure that medical science and appropriate support at home will be enough.

‘And, after all, wasn’t living preferable to dying?’

As readers, we know the inevitability of death.  As readers, in Francie’s room in the Royal Hobart Hospital, we can see the paradox in a struggle to keep Francie alive while all around her the world is burning, collapsing, being polluted.  What is it we notice around us?

Anna, torn between fighting to keep her mother alive and the inconvenience of it all, notices a finger is missing.  No one else does that Anna is incomplete, not even when her knee disappears a few months later.

But Anna persists.  There are reasons for her persistence.  Tommy would let Francie go (he knows about pain) but Terzo is determined.

But this is not just a story about prolonging human existence no matter how cruel that process can become.  It is also an allegory about the suffering world filled with metaphor about existence.

‘They had saved her from death, but only, thought Anna, by infinitely prolonging her dying.’

Anna becomes interested in trying to save the critically endangered, orange-bellied parrot.  She travels to Melaleuca, on the west coast of Tasmania, where these parrots breed.  Will her efforts make any difference?  Or is it too late?

What an amazing novel.  I am led to places I don’t want to go, to confront a reality that I wish I could ignore. I weep for Francie and for Tommy, I want to shake Anna and Terzo.  But most of all, I want people to realise how inhumane we have (collectively) become while we claim (paradoxically) to care about humanity.

‘She was trying to outrun herself and failing.  Words collapsing their job of conveying meaning meaningless in the face of all that was happening.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith