The Idea of Australia by Julianne Schulz

‘Culture is the real barometer of change. Politics often follows.’

After reading enthusiastic reviews of this book by those whose opinions I value, I bought a copy for myself. I read slowly, to think about some of the important albeit uncomfortable questions Professor Shultz raises.

I agree with at least some of Professor Schultz’s conclusions, especially with this: ‘the idea of Australia is a contest between those who are imaginative, hopeful, altruistic and ambitious, and those who are defensive and inward-looking.’

Perhaps, now that we have had a change of government, there is reason for optimism. Perhaps. I agree that we need to acknowledge and better understand our past so that we can make sense of the present and build a positive and inclusive future. But I worry that the current economic climate and the ongoing pandemic will make this even more difficult.

We need to consider the long-term underlying issues while at the same time reacting to urgent emerging needs. We need to plan as well as react.

I would recommend this book to every Australian.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

School: The ups and downs of one year in the classroom by Brendan James Murray

‘School feels like the whole world when you’re in it.’

Reading this book took me back almost fifty years, to my own experience of what is now called Year 12. The pressure (mostly self-imposed) was inexorable, the stakes were high, and most of the teachers were terrific. But this was in Tasmania, at a time when the high school retention rate was low and very few of us ventured beyond Year 10. Those of us who stayed to complete Year 12 were focussed on university. Some of our teachers were very recent graduates and only a handful of years older than we were.

See, I have already digressed. A bit. This book is about teaching and learning, about the challenges and experiences of teaching, about navigating learning and life. Mr Murray writes of a single school year, of the journey through four terms. He focusses on the journey of some of his students, as well as reflecting on his own experiences as student and teacher.

In parallel with Mr Murray’s year of teaching I was remembering my own six years of secondary education: the first four years at a public high school, the last two years at (what was then called) Launceston Matriculation College. I remembered the teachers who inspired me, including the one who made maths exciting, sadly followed by those who killed my interest entirely. I remember teachers who made economics, English and history fascinating. Their enthusiasm, knowledge and interest encouraged many of us to want to learn more. By contrast, those who recited facts and figures without context quickly extinguished enthusiasm.

The best teachers combine enthusiasm and knowledge and encourage their students to think and question. Mr Murray reminds me of some of the teachers I had all those years ago. A terrific read
And, yes, while I do enjoy (most of) Peter Carey’s work, I prefer to read Richard Flanagan and Steven Carroll.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Australia’s Great Depression by Joan Beaumont

‘Most Australians can tell you something about the Great Depression.’

Both sets of my grandparents were adults during the Great Depression. My maternal grandparents were born in 1889 and 1893, my paternal grandparents were born in 1907 and 1909. My grandfather fought in World War I, was invalided out of the AIF in 1917, married in 1918 and became a tram driver in Launceston until he retired in 1952. He and my grandmother had a flourishing vegetable garden and lots of fruit trees on their smallish house block. My other grandparents were newly married in 1929. My grandfather worked as a labourer. By the time I was born, in the 1950s, he worked as a boiler attendant at ‘The Pulp’ (the APPM) in Burnie. He also had a flourishing vegetable garden and kept hens. I remember that he hated eating rhubarb: he had eaten it far too often during the Great Depression.

Reading this book took me back sixty years. Neither set of grandparents believed in credit, both were careful with their money, and my grandmothers were terrific recyclers of just about everything. Their lives were affected by World War I, the ‘Spanish ‘flu’ epidemic, the Great Depression and World War II. I was too young to appreciate this sixty years ago and picked up this book with interest.

Ms Beaumont focusses on the period from 1929 to 1932 as the time of economic hardship, with the years 1933 to 1937 being seen as the years of recovery. In 1932, over one third of the Australian workforce was out of work. In that regard, my grandparents were fortunate, but many others were not. Many lost their homes as well as their jobs.

What made the Great Depression particularly bad in Australia? High levels of debt after World War I, and the collapse of wheat and wool prices made Australia vulnerable. Because of the threat of national insolvency, there was little room for policy flexibility. Instead, austerity measures were adopted as well as deflation. There were violent protests in the streets, and various paramilitary movements. Fortunately, our democratic institutions and our people survived.

‘What were the sources of resilience, individually and collectively, that sustained Australians through yet another shock to afflict this one generation?’

Ms Beaumont writes of the economic and political decisions taken by both state and federal governments, as well as the ways in which voluntary organisations and communities helped. Rural areas fared better than urban areas, and many men travelled around the country in search of work.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Australia’s twentieth century history. And yes, I can see some parallels between the Great Depression and today.

‘History can only be written if records of the past have survived.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Women of Little Lon (Sex Workers in Nineteenth-Century Melbourne) by Barbara Minchinton

‘In the 1880s, Little Lon was Melbourne’s premier sex-work precinct.’

I did not know, until I read this book, that prostitution was not technically illegal for most of the 19th century. Instead of being charged with soliciting or prostitution, women (most sex workers were female) could be charged with ‘being drunk and disorderly’ or ‘behaving in a riotous or indecent manner’. Little Lon (Little Lonsdale Street) was not the only site of brothels in central Melbourne but thanks to C. J. Dennis, in ‘Songs of a Sentimental Bloke’:

‘Wot’s in a name? Wot’s in a string o’ words?

They scraps in ole Verona with the’r swords,

An’ never give a bloke a stray dog’s chance,

An that’s Romance.

But when they deals it out wiv bricks an’ boots

In Little Lon., they’re low, degraded broots.’

Little Lon became more infamous for drunkenness, gang violence and prostitution than Little Bourke Street.

In this book, as she describes the economy and the community centred around sex work, as well as the hazards, Ms Minchinton mentions many women by name. But the most powerful part of the book, for me, was Part 3, in which Ms Minchinton writes about five quite different women who demonstrate different aspects of the business of sex work. Some of these women were quite wealthy, with their own real estate empires. Many of the brothels were owned an operated by women. Some of the women may have turned to sex work because of financial necessity but others enjoyed the freedom provided at a time when most women could only choose domestic work or marriage (which would usually involve domestic work).

I found this book fascinating and while I appreciate the challenge Ms Minchinton had in trying to trace lives through public records, I found it interesting to learn about the different women involved.

‘When it comes to reforming sex-work legislation today, the history of Melbourne’s nineteenth-century industry offers one important lesson: while sex workers need the same protection from violence and exploitation as other workers, the more salient issue is the ongoing stigma and discrimination that sex workers suffer as a result of other people’s moral disapproval. Until sex workers and the services they provide are accorded legitimacy and respect, they will require a regulatory model that addresses the ugly moralism passed down from the nineteenth century.’


Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Larrimah by Caroline Graham, Kylie Stevenson

‘There was a time when Larrimah mattered.’

Larrimah, I read, is a flyspeck on the map of the Northern Territory. It is on the Stuart Highway, 75 kilometres south of Mataranka and 95 kilometres north of Daly Waters. It was from this hot, barren place that Paddy Moriarty and his dog Kellie went missing at dusk on 17 November 2017. Neither Paddy nor his dog have been seen since.

‘Stories are usually sprawling, murky things.’

Journalists Caroline Graham and Kylie Stevenson won a 2018 Walkley award for their podcast ‘’Lost in Larrimah’, and then visited Larrimah to assist them in writing this book. While they did not find Paddy or solve his disappearance, they found plenty to write about in Larrimah. After Paddy disappeared, Larrimah only had eleven human residents. The menagerie at the Larrimah Hotel (aka The Pink Panther Pub) includes an eyeless croc and it is fair to say that each of the humans that lives in Larrimah is a character.

Ms Graham and Ms Stevenson share some of the history of Larrimah (how and why it was established) and some of the stories they were told as they stayed in Larrimah, including speculation about what happened to Paddy and why.

I was intrigued by the mystery of Paddy’s disappearance, interested in the history of what seems to be a dying town and fascinated by some of the characters who live there. I am glad I read this book during a comparatively cool spring in eastern Australia: I doubt that I could be comfortable in the outback heat. Will we ever know what happened to Paddy? This year, the NT Police announced a $A250,000 reward for information. I wonder.

This book is an interesting blend of a mysterious disappearance and history, of people and place.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Farewell to 2021 in federal politics, the year of living in disappointment (from The Conversation)

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

Some will recall it as 2021. For more, it will be Year 2 of COVID. Either way, it will have been a time of disappointment for many. And the nation’s politicians need to bear a large share of the responsibility for that feeling.

It’s easy to imagine a different scenario. As 2020 ended, there were disappointments, too, with parts of Sydney in lockdown. But most imagined that, with vaccines on the way, our future would be brighter.

While there had been a tragic second wave of infections in Victoria that reflected poorly on its Labor government, the country’s decision-makers had taken advantage of Australia being an island nation, imposed external and internal border controls, and established an effective tracing system.

There had been some failures, and several hundred fatalities, and many Australians abroad were treated harshly. But governments succeeded in their primary duty of preserving our safety, and they seemed to have done well in propping up the economy in tough circumstances.

By the end of 2020, mistakes had been made – particularly in Victoria – but by and large governments had protected Australians from the worst of the pandemic. James Ross/AAP

What an opportunity this scenario offered!

An efficient vaccination program delivered rapidly in the first half of 2021, targeting vulnerable groups first, then extending quickly to the rest, would have provided substantial protection from COVID’s Delta strain when it arrived. The construction of quarantine facilities could have allowed the safe return of Australians stranded overseas.

Instead, the federal government mismanaged vaccine procurement, muddled its messaging, did nothing much about quarantine and stuffed up the “rollout” – both of Australia’s national dictionaries embraced “strollout” as their Word of the Year.

Millions unnecessarily spent much of 2021 locked down. Some paid with their lives, and others with their health, jobs and businesses. The economy has suffered another multi-billion-dollar shock.

It would be easy to blame the Morrison government. After all, its indolence and squalor became increasingly plain during 2021.

But there is something more alarming at the heart of these failures: a basic frailty in national government. So energetic when chasing down “welfare cheats” and in persecuting whistleblowers, Australia’s federal government is just no longer very good at the hands-on delivery of anything of serious complexity.

The JobKeeper scheme acclaimed as a national saviour in 2020 was revealed this year as an efficient scheme whereby the already filthy rich could become even filthier and richer.

Unleashed in haste, it lacked basic mechanisms for checking whether those claiming its benefits had actually suffered their anticipated losses. The result has been an unprecedented looting of the country’s treasury, all within the law.

Hailed in 2020 as a national saviour, JobKeeper was soon revealed to be a way for the already rich to become even richer. Mick Tsikas/AAP

JobKeeper contributed to a larger narrative that has gathered a hold: that the Morrison government lacks honesty and integrity. Its resistance to creating a proper anti-corruption commission is widely seen as prima facie evidence of its own fear of what one would find.

Scott Morrison instead raises the furphy of ICAC’s treatment of the former New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, as an objection to a federal body on anything like that model.

Australian conservatives and some on the Labor side, too, have long resolutely opposed the concept of a bill of rights, yet now we find just one right being elevated above others – religious freedom – which in the hands of the government amounts to an enhanced right to discriminate against sexual minorities.

Predictably, its effort has done little more than draw adverse attention to the expansive right that already exists to do just that in the Sex Discrimination Act, the result of lobbying of the Hawke Labor government by the churches.

The Morrison government is certainly interested in accountability, but not in the accountability of politicians to voters. Its preferred version is the accountability of the people to their political masters. So, far from protecting whistleblowers against government illegality and wrongdoing, it prosecutes them with vigour. It sought to impose US Republican-inspired voter ID laws to deal with a problem that only it seems to believe exists.

And it wants to make it easier for politicians to sue members of the public who say objectionable things about them on social media.

The same politicians who tell you that they believe resolutely in protecting women’s right to be free of sexual harassment maintain a workplace in Canberra, with its adjuncts in their electorate offices, that would disgrace the most rancid feudal regime.

Women have been harassed and even assaulted with impunity. Ministers have slept with staffers. Staffers have filmed themselves masturbating on desks. There is no recourse for the victims of this regime unless, like former Liberal staffers Brittany Higgins and Rachelle Miller, they go to the media.

Women have been treated disgracefully within Parliament House. This year some brave women, such as Brittany Higgins, called it out. Lukas Coch/AAP

The reckoning in these matters has arrived, but the prime minister repeatedly displayed his inability to understand what is at stake. On one occasion, he began a media conference expressing his sympathies with the plight of women but ended up issuing a thinly veiled threat to the female journalist most prominent in reporting of the issue.

Which brings us to Morrison himself.

The idea that he routinely lies now clings to him like a politician to a freebie. The extraordinary attack on him by French President Emmanuel Macron, over the mismanagement of the submarine contract and the AUKUS agreement, confirmed a sense of Morrison as a small-time Sydney politician morally and intellectually out of his depth, and lacking in the necessary gravitas or judgment to deal with complex international affairs and major world leaders.

It seemed odd, at the beginning of 2021, that we still didn’t have a single book about him. Was he too uninteresting to bother?

Now we have several, but the turn in Morrison’s fortunes was so rapid that it defeated the efforts of authors to keep up. When Wayne Errington and Peter Van Onselen’s How Good is Scott Morrison? went off to the printers, the authors were convinced he was a shoo-in for the next election. By the time it appeared in the bookshops, the edited extract that appeared in The Australian suggested they were rather less sure.

The year saw a remarkable leeching of Morrison’s standing and authority, not least in relation to state and territory leaders.

But they too had their problems: Berejiklian lost her job when ICAC announced it had launched an investigation into her conduct. Daniel Andrews in Victoria suffered a serious back injury at the beginning of the year and faced large “freedom” protesters waving the Eureka Flag at the end of it. Mark McGowan seems a little less shiny than a year ago, as Western Australia’s severe border restrictions extend into 2022.

And we have a federal election to come.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese, having kept his powder dry for years, is beginning to drip-release policies, seeking just enough distance over issues such as climate policy for product differentiation without frightening the horses. He seems to wish to slip quietly into office rather as numerous Labor state and territory opposition leaders have done over the past 25 years.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese: hoping to slip quietly into office? Dean Lewins/AAP

Morrison is now transformed from goofy Scomo into biblical Moses, leading his people out of the COVID desert into the Promised Land of “Freedom”.

But he still must try keeping the increasingly wild right flank of his Coalition government solid while attending to the threat that independent and Labor candidates pose to metropolitan Liberal seats.

His government ended the year by losing two ministers to scandals, with another announcing his retirement at the next election. Morrison’s grip on the Coalition party room was now so loose that it called into question his grip on the House of Representatives itself.

The election result seems less certain than in the months before the 2019 election when it was all rather obvious that Labor and Bill Shorten were heading for a famous victory.

Readers will understand if I refrain from offering a prediction.

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

It’s about opportunity: a lesson on capitalism for the party of capitalism – Pearls and Irritations

Morrison’s theme that can-do capitalism beats don’t-do government is nonsense. Labor can respond by exalting government’s role, writes Michael Keating. Scott Morrison is signalling that his campaign for the forthcoming election will be built around the theme of ‘‘can-do capitalism’’ in contrast to ‘‘don’t do government’’. According to Morrison: ‘‘We’ve got a bit used to Continue reading »

Source: It’s about opportunity: a lesson on capitalism for the party of capitalism – Pearls and Irritations

A Little Bird by Wendy James

‘Bad news might be real life, but believe me, no one wants to hear about it anymore.’

A relationship break-down, her father’s illness and a job offer bring Jo Sharpe home in 2018 to the small drought-stricken town of Arthurville in remote, rural Australia. Jo has mixed feelings about returning: her mother and baby sister left Arthurville in 1994 and apart from one letter, neither have been heard from since.

Jo’s job on the ‘Chronicle’ is to produce six pages of good news each week. Not as easy as you might think given that the town is gripped by drought, but Jo settles in, rekindling some old friendships and making new friends. But being back in Arthurville rekindles Jo’s desire to find out why her mother left, taking her sister but leaving Jo behind. Her father, ill and ill-tempered, does not want to revisit the past. And then Jo finds some papers which, while they may shed some light on the past, raise plenty of questions.

The story shifts between Jo in 2018 and 1994, where Jo’s mother Merry is the narrator. As the two narratives unfold, we learn of secrets held, of ill-feeling and misunderstandings. And at the heart of it all is someone who would rather kill than concede ground.

I enjoyed this story with its complex, flawed characters and with a few twists that kept me guessing until very near the end. Ms James has published eight novels so far, and as this is only the third I have read, I have five others to look forward to.

If you enjoy domestic thrillers in a rural setting then I can recommend this,

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Lawson by Grantlee Kieza

‘The life and times of Henry Lawson.’

I confess to knowing very little about Henry Lawson before reading this book. Sure, I have read ‘The Drover’s Wife and a few other pieces, and vaguely knew that he had written pieces published in The Bulletin. But I knew nothing about the man himself.

 Henry Lawson (1867-1922), short story writer and balladist, was born on 17 June 1867 at Grenfell, New South Wales. He was the eldest of four surviving children of Niels Hertzberg (Peter) Larsen, Norwegian-born miner, and his wife Louisa, née Albury. Peter and Louisa were married in 1866 and changed their surname when registering Henry’s birth. Henry Lawson died on 2 September 1922 in Abbotsford, New South Wales.

Mr Kieza writes of Henry Lawson’s upbringing by unhappy parents, of the bullying he faced, his minimal education and of his deafness. But this shy man was clearly perceptive, able to capture the aspirations and struggles of the ordinary Australians around him. His short stories and poems reflect this. Sadly, Henry Lawson was a deeply troubled and self-destructive man. An unsuccessful marriage, emotional highs and lows fuelled by an addiction to alcohol all took a toll on his health, his relationships, and the quality of his writing.

I finished this biography, resolving to read more of Henry Lawson’s work, especially his short stories.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Henry Lawson: Australia’s ‘People’s Poet’.

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith