Why is southeast Asia so concerned about AUKUS and Australia’s plans for nuclear submarines? (from The Conversation)

James Chin, University of Tasmania

The announcement of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the US and UK (AUKUS) has caught many by surprise. Besides France, which reacted with fury over Australia’s scrapping of a major submarine deal with a French company, few countries were as surprised as Australia’s neighbours to the north, the ASEAN members.

In particular, Indonesia and Malaysia have come out strongly against Australia’s plan to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the US and UK. Even Singapore, Australia’s most reliable ally in the region, has expressed concern.

The Afghanistan debacle has left a bad taste among many Indo-Pacific countries, and some are wondering if the timing of the AUKUS announcement was intended as a show of US power in the region to reassure jittery partners.

Fear of a nuclear arms race

To understand the deep anxiety in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and other ASEAN capitals requires some context on where they are coming from.

First, many of them think there is no such thing as acquiring nuclear-powered submarines without the prospect of acquiring nuclear weapons in the future.

Australia has not joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires parties to agree not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

The Morrison government says the treaty would be inconsistent with its alliance with the US, a nuclear weapon power.


Read more: The nuclear weapons ban treaty is groundbreaking, even if the nuclear powers haven’t signed


However, Australia did ratify the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week Australia has “no plans” to pursue nuclear weapons.

Yet, some ASEAN countries are worried the AUKUS agreement is a clear signal the West will take a more aggressive stand towards China by admitting Australia to the nuclear club.

Both Indonesia (the unofficial leader of ASEAN) and Malaysia fear AUKUS will also lead to a major arms race in the wider Indo-Pacific region.

The potential for conflict in South China Sea

The new agreement also signals that the US, Australia and UK view the South China Sea as a key venue for this contest against China.

The ASEAN nations have always preached maintaining southeast Asia as a “zone of peace, freedom and neutrality”, free from interference by any outside powers. In 1995, the member states also signed the Treaty of Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, which committed to keep nuclear weapons out of the region. Not a single nuclear power has signed on to it.

Although everyone knows China, the US, Britain and France have ignored these protocols by manoeuvring armed warships through the South China Sea — not to mention China’s building of military bases on disputed islands there — ASEAN does not want to see this number grow.

A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile.
A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile during a military exercise in the South China Sea. Zha Chunming/Xinhua/AP

Australian nuclear-powered submarines have the potential to change the dynamics in the South China Sea and make the Chinese much more nervous. There have already been plenty of “close encounter” incidents between the Chinese and US navies in the disputed waters, as well as the Chinese navy and ships belonging to ASEAN members. The region doesn’t need yet another potential “close encounter” to worry about.

The ASEAN states are already very worried about the China-US rivalry playing out in its backyard. And the new AUKUS agreement reinforces the idea that the opinions of the ASEAN members matter little when it comes to the superpowers and how they operate in the region.


Read more: Jokowi’s visit shows the Australia-Indonesia relationship is strong, but faultlines remain


The region has always insisted on the idea of “ASEAN centrality” in their relations with the world — that ASEAN members must decide what is best for Southeast Asia — but as AUKUS shows, nuclear nations play a different game.

Indonesia is especially unhappy with Australia given the new agreement will affect it directly, given their common maritime border.

Morrison had already been forced to cancel his upcoming trip to Jakarta after Prime Minister Joko Widodo said he would be unavailable to meet — a decision that was made before the AUKUS announcement. This will add another layer to the strained relationship.

Is there anyone happy about the deal?

While in public, most southeast Asian governments have expressed uneasiness with AUKUS, there is a school of thought that says the more hawkish voices in the region will probably accept the agreement in the long term, as it will help keep China’s aggression in check.

For those in the “hawk” camp, the number one long-term threat to regional security is China. Many think the strategic balance of power has been tilting too much in Beijing’s favour in the past decade, especially after China started rushing to build military bases in the South China Sea and using its navy to protect Chinese fishing vessels in disputed waters.

So, they believe any moves to remind China it does not have a carte blanche to do what it wants in Southeast Asia is a good thing.

Japan and South Korea are clearly in this camp and their muted reaction to AUKUS suggests they are in favour of a “re-balancing” in the region. Taiwan and Vietnam are probably on this side, as well.

The only downside is that Australia may use its nuclear-powered submarines to bully ASEAN countries. If Canberra uses its nuclear submarines as a bargaining chip, it will simply turn public opinion in the region against Australia.

Implications for Australia-ASEAN relations

If anything, the AUKUS move reinforced the widely held perception that Australia’s mantra of being “part of the region” is, in fact, “empty talk”. Australia has firmly signalled its intentions to put its Anglo allies in the US and UK first.

AUKUS also reinforces the view that Australia cannot be accepted as a regional partner or player. This, of course, is nothing new. For years, the ASEAN bloc has seen Australia as “deputy sheriff” to the US, though this view would not necessarily be shared in public.

So, while AUKUS came as a surprise to many in the region, an alliance of this sort was probably bound to happen. It’s just that nobody expected it to happen so soon.

James Chin, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

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

View from The Hill: For Morrison AUKUS is all about the deal, never mind the niceties (from The Conversation)

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison, whose COVID face masks have the Australian flag emblazoned on them, likes to talk about “the Australian way” of doing things and Australian values.

But it is not “the Australian way” to secretly plan, over a very long time, to deceive a close friend of this country, and then to treat them in a most humiliating and disdainful manner. That does not align with “Australian values” of honesty and fair dealing.

If Australia is really surprised an angry French government has withdrawn its ambassador from Canberra (as well as its ambassador from Washington) it suggests it has no grasp of the proprieties of international diplomacy.

To add insult to injury, on Sunday Defence Minister Peter Dutton suggested the Australian government had been “upfront, open and honest” – the French could have read the signals of our discontent with their $90 billion submarines contract, including in Senate estimates hearings. This latter reference brought to mind then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggesting to Barack Obama that if he’d kept up with the Northern Territory News he’d have known about Australia’s lease of the Port of Darwin to the Chinese.


Read more: C’est fini: can the Australia-France relationship be salvaged after scrapping the sub deal?


As recently as the end of August, Dutton and Foreign Minister Marise Payne held the “Inaugural Australia-France 2+2 Ministerial Consultations” with their French counterparts. In the “bilateral cooperation” section of the communique came the sentence: “Ministers underlined the importance of the Future Submarine program”.

It’s telling that the unveiling of the new AUKUS agreement last week was surrounded by more showmanship than diplomacy. The leaders of Australia, the US and Britain were successfully linked for a synchronised performance. But Morrison apparently did not manage to speak personally to French President Macron when a massive contract was being torn up.

AUKUS carries Morrison’s individual branding. It may be the most significant legacy of his prime ministership; however long he is in office, it will certainly be one of them.

It has all the Morrison hallmarks: his own work, conceived and executed in secrecy, kept to the smallest possible round of colleagues, details to be worked out much later, and little concern for the incidental fallout.

If, 30 years on, historians rate it as a stroke of strategic foresight that greatly protected Australia in a time of Chinese potential aggression, Morrison will deserve all the credit. He says he’s been working for 18 months on this – the mustering of a new Anglosphere in our region – and he has managed to pull it off with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, who both had their own reasons for being receptive.

On the other hand, if after 30 years, AUKUS is judged in the rear vision mirror to have escalated tensions with China to a greater degree than it protected us from Chinese aggression, history’s judgement will be different.

Even as we’re consumed by the short term, it is always worth a look at the long view. Especially when Afghanistan is fresh in our minds – a commitment that was necessary initially, but ended in a fiasco that has restored the Taliban.

Morrison’s planned nuclear-powered subs come without any estimated cost (except they’ll be more expensive than the French ones); or precise timetable (except they won’t be available for a couple of decades); or decision about which boat will be chosen (except it will be American or British), or firm indication of how much building will be done in Australia (except that it won’t be all of it and possibly only a modest amount).

If any of these aspects returns to bite, blame will (or should) rest on Morrison’s head, whether he’s around or not.

Then there’s the French relationship to manage. How long their fury will last is anybody’s guess. But given their interests in the region, it is no small thing to deliver this rebuff in what can only be seen as a crass manner.

Marise Payne may not be of great use in repairing the tear in the relationship. Her diplomatic credibility is one of the immediate casualties of the affair, especially after the recent ministerial talks. One can only imagine how the feisty Julie Bishop would have reacted to being left so compromised.

With Australia’s ambition for a free trade agreement with the European Union in mind, Trade Minister Dan Tehan, flak jacket packed, is off to Paris next week.

Also important is the message that’s been sent to some key regional countries. Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed concerns. The risk is Australia could be seen as an unexpectedly capricious player in the way it operates.

AUKUS is a mark of the supremacy of the hawks in Canberra. Although Morrison said he started planning it with former defence minister Linda Reynolds, it is a precise fit for current minister Dutton.

In thinking about defence strategy, governments of both complexions have circled around questions of long range capability, of which nuclear-powered submarines are part.

But it was not until Morrison, in the lead up to the 2020 defence strategic update, started to push Reynolds and the defence establishment to contemplate the acquisition – and potential use – of such weaponry that the real momentum came. In Dutton, Morrison has a defence minister who not only shares his instinct on this, but has a full time focus on it.


Read more: C’est fini: can the Australia-France relationship be salvaged after scrapping the sub deal?


Some months ago the secretary of the home affairs department, Mike Pezzullo, himself a hawk, wrote of hearing the “drums of war”. It was obvious well before that Australia was preparing to refurbish and expand its own drum set in the face of an assertive China already targeting Australia economically.

Dutton and others have increasingly dropped the government’s earlier attempt to avoid naming China as the potential enemy, even if we haven’t quite got back to the red arrows from the north of those 1960s depictions.

One problem with the subs deal is that, given the pace at which things move, a China-US military blow-up over Taiwan (if it comes to that) could be done and dusted, with god knows what consequences, by the time the boats are in the water. No wonder the talk now is of leasing a sub or two to fill in the gap, given the inadequacy of the Collins-class submarines we now operate.

It should be noted, incidentally, that some commentators expert in these things say the French nuclear-powered subs (as opposed to the conventionally-powered ones we’re ditching) would be more suitable to our needs than the US or UK boats.

The government says the problem is they’d need their nuclear power refuelled every seven to ten years offshore (because Australia wouldn’t have the nuclear facility), while US and UK subs are powered for their lifetimes. That would not seem a great difficulty, but obviously reworking the French deal would not have delivered the big technological and other advantages of going the full monty with the AUKUS partners.

AUKUS will bring Australia a whole lot of other US weaponry and more boots on Australian ground.

This takes us to the future of the Port of Darwin. Just as the Coalition has botched for years its attempts to get new submarines, so the Northern Territory awarding a Chinese company the lease of the Port of Darwin was a massive snafu.

It’s no good the federal Coalition saying it was all the NT government’s fault. The defence department knew about it and wasn’t worried.

Now the Morrison government has a review of the lease in train. In light of AUKUS, with enhanced military assets in the north and our assessment of the Chinese, it would seem a logical absurdity to let the lease stand. And yet quashing it would be another demonstration of Australia’s unreliability on done deals. It’s a mess.


Read more: ANZUS without NZ? Why the new security pact between Australia, the UK and US might not be all it seems


AUKUS will no doubt have a good many more consequences. One (not formally or totally linked of course) is expected to be a more ambitious climate policy from Australia, which Joe Biden has been urging on the Morrison government for the Glasgow climate conference.

Morrison in coming weeks will want to deliver to Biden (and Johnson), although we don’t know the extent of that delivery, or whether Barnaby Joyce will find himself struggling with any collateral fallout among his own people.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The Art of the Engine Driver (Glenroy Series #1) by Steven Carroll

‘They are walking down the old street again, Rita, Vic and Michael.’

A summer evening in the late 1950s, in a newly developing suburb of Melbourne. We join Rita, Vic, and Michael as they walk down the (unsealed) street to engagement party of Patsy Bedser at the home of her father George. And as we walk with Rita, Vic, and Michael, we meet the other neighbours and have glimpses into each of their lives. Michael dreams of the future, Vic wants to be the engine driver on the Spirit of Progress, and Rita wants change. As they walk, they see a comet overhead. As they walk, we learn more about the neighbourhood and its history, about the dreams and disappointments of those who live there. We learn a little about the past and see something of the future.

And later, after the party, after a train accident the consequences of which seem likely to cost Vic his dream, Rita makes a difficult decision.

‘Driving is a gift. Physical. Something you’ve either got or you haven’t.’

This is the first novel of the six books in the Glenroy Series and for some reason, I read the last four first. So, I am heading back into the past, to the beginning of the story. It’s like catching up on the family history of old friends and revisiting familiar territory. I didn’t grow up in Melbourne, but I grew up in a similar new suburb on the (then) outskirts of Launceston in the early 1960s. New suburbs, new dreams, old secrets. Somehow, Mr Carroll manages to hold the story in the present while referring to the past and providing glimpses into the future. And while I know how the Glenroy Series ends, I need to read ‘The Gift of Speed’ to see what I have missed.

If you have not read this series, I recommend it. And, if you can, read the novels in order. These are beautifully written contemplative novels.

‘What happens to all that life? All that time? Where does it all go? One moment you feel like you’ve got all the years in the world to live, and the next you feel like you’ve lived them.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AussieAuthor2021

Teaching a ‘hatred’ of Australia? No, minister, here’s why a democracy has critical curriculum content (from The Conversation)

Lucas Walsh, Monash University

Australian Education Minister Alan Tudge says he does not want students to leave school with “a hatred” of their country because the history curriculum for years 7 to 10 “paints an overly negative view of Australia”. The minister is critical of proposed changes to the Australian Curriculum. He sees teaching about the contested nature of Anzac Day and its commemoration as a particular concern.

Two interwoven threads run through current debates about the minister’s view.

First, public debates about the curriculum like this are arguably a sign of democracy at work. Suggesting that some things, such as Anzac Day, are sacred and beyond critical inquiry is not.

Second, at the heart of this discussion is how children should learn about history and how this relates to their development as Australian citizens.


Read more: Gonski 2.0: teaching creativity and critical thinking through the curriculum is already happening


What is the Australian Curriculum?

The Australian Curriculum applies to all primary and secondary schools, affecting over 4 million students. It sets “the expectations for what all young Australians should be taught”.

Developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the curriculum is reviewed every six years. In the current review, public consultations have ended and the revisions will be finalised by the end of 2021.

The history curriculum seeks to promote understanding and use of historical concepts. These concepts include:

  • evidence – obtained from primary and secondary sources to support a hypothesis or to prove or disprove a conclusion
  • historical perspectives – comprising the point of view, beliefs, values and experiences of individuals and groups at the time
  • interpretations – contestable explanations of the past about a specific person, event or development, typically as a result of a disciplined inquiry by historians
  • significance – assigned to an issue, event, development, person, place, process, interaction or system over time and place.

The minister’s response to the proposed revisions follows a recent tradition of objections to aspects of the curriculum. Critical exploration of Australia Day – perspectives of which vary depending on one’s point of view – has been another source of debate.


Read more: Australia is only one front in the history curriculum wars


Three related issues arise in relation to Tudge’s concern.

History is neither static nor unproblematic

First, history is not static. This means one can expect the curriculum to change as new discoveries, insights and perspectives emerge over time.

Second, we would hope to foster learners who are curious, critical and well-informed about Australia’s rich (and sometimes troubled) history.

The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration outlines education goals for all Australians. These goals include development of critical thinking and intercultural understanding. All education ministers signed the declaration.

Students should learn about events such as Anzac Day and Australia Day, their historical origins and different meanings when viewed from various perspectives. It’s a valuable way of developing both critical thinking and understanding of people who are different from ourselves.

Acknowledging this to an extent, Tudge told ABC Hack he is “not concerned” about the curriculum in relation to “the arrivals of the First Fleet, people should learn about that, and they should learn the perspective from Indigenous people at that time as well”. What he doesn’t like is that certain events are critically explored:

“Instead of ANZAC Day being presented as the most sacred of all days in Australia, where […] we commemorate the 100,000 people who have died for our freedoms […] it’s presented as a contested idea [but] ANZAC Day is not a contested idea, apart from an absolute fringe element in our society.”

Setting aside who that “fringe element” might be (some historians?), this implies a settled, uncritical view of history. Tudge suggests the curriculum is “asking people to, instead of just accepting these for the things which they are, such as ANZAC Day, to really challenge them and to contest them”.

Commemorating sacrifice is compatible with critically reflecting on the conditions in which that sacrifice occurred and how that sacrifice is memorialised. Further, the assertion that the challenging of ideas produces hatred is as problematic as uncritically accepting things for whatever the minister thinks “they are”.


Read more: The past is not sacred: the ‘history wars’ over Anzac


“We’ve got a lot to be proud of,” Tudge said, “and we should be teaching the great things that have happened in Australia, as much as we should our weaknesses and flaws and some of the historical wrongs.”

History is often a messy contestation and confluence of violence and discovery. Pride has its place too, but pride can withstand critical inquiry, and perhaps even be strengthened by it.

Tudge says he wants “to make sure there’s a balance” of perspectives. That’s precisely the point of the revised curriculum.

Debate is a good thing

Finally, having a robust and vibrant debate about the curriculum, in which people take an active interest in what is taught, is a sign of healthy democracy. Such debate can only be strengthened when young people are encouraged to recognise that people have different points of view and history is not set in stone, as the curriculum seeks to do. It’s one key dimension of developing active, informed citizenship.


Read more: Young people remain ill-equipped to participate in Australian democracy


The Australian Curriculum is founded on the idea that:

“Education plays a critical role in shaping the lives of young Australians and contributing to a democratic, equitable and just society that is prosperous, cohesive and culturally diverse.”

The minister’s objection to proposed changes to the curriculum inadvertently illustrates why it should be taught: it’s not about hatred, but a sign of healthy democracy while meeting Australia’s educational goals.

Lucas Walsh, Professor and Director of the Centre for Youth Policy and Education Practice, Monash University

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

We’re sick of COVID. So government messaging needs to change if it’s to cut through (from The Conversation)

Shutterstock

Ernesta Sofija, Griffith University and Natalie Reyes Bernard, Griffith University

Most people want to do the “right thing” when it comes to following public health measures, such as wearing a mask or not mixing with friends and family.

Yet after what feels like a never-ending 18 months of lockdowns and COVID-19 saturated government messages, we’re all just a bit over it.

So government communications must adapt to our changing needs and emotions to reach people suffering pandemic fatigue. Here’s how government messaging needs to change at this stage of the pandemic.


Read more: Sick of COVID-19? Here’s why you might have pandemic fatigue


Pandemic fatigue is real

Pandemic fatigue describes how, over time, we can naturally lose motivation or become complacent about following COVID-19 public health advice or seeking information about it.

Certain groups — such as health-care workers and young malesare already experiencing it. You might be feeling it too.

Gradual exhaustion and inability to engage with government public health messaging is not unusual and is part of a complex interplay of factors, including those relating to risk and control.

Perception of risk

First, someone’s motivation to follow COVID-19 health advice relates to how likely they think they’ll be infected or have serious disease.

Despite increasing rates of the disease in the community, as time goes on, some people start to consider the personal, social and economic consequences of restrictions greater than the actual risk related to the virus.

A degree of control

Second, the need for self-determination, or controlling what happens in your life, begins to set in. The urge for freedom may incite certain groups to act out.


Read more: Public protest or selfish ratbaggery? Why free speech doesn’t give you the right to endanger other people’s health


Pandemic fatigue is a concern

Pandemic fatigue is a concern as people are more tempted to cut corners, putting themselves and others at risk. So governments must recognise the potential consequence of monotonous messaging, making it all too easy for people to switch off.

They must acknowledge what makes it hard or easy for people to adopt protective behaviours.

And as pandemic fatigue sets in, we also need to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Governments can provide this by explaining how specific actions taken can make a difference to overall outcomes.

Without fostering hope, the public’s commitment to limiting the impact of this crisis is likely to continue to slide.

Here are four ways government messaging needs to change to stave off pandemic fatigue.

1. Understand people

Governments must identify and understand population groups who have notable pandemic fatigue, such as people with lower education, young males or health-care workers.

Then they need to tailor and test new evidence-based messages with these target groups. It’s best to have fewer quality messages hitting the right spot than many lower quality messages distributed widely.


Read more: Why telling stories could be a more powerful way of convincing some people to take a COVID vaccine than just the facts


2. Engage people as part of the solution

We know one of the main drivers of resistance to following government public health messages is the need to feel in control and have a sense of autonomy. Governments must engage people by reframing messages as much as possible to be positive and hopeful.

By using personal stories as motivators, collective words like “we”, a two-way dialogue and trusted voices in the community, governments can engage and inspire communities to have self-determination.

When we studied Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s communications during the first wave of the pandemic, we found he used limited personal stories and empathetic language.

But Norway’s government recognised the community as experts of their own lives and engaged them in creating solutions, for example, flexible ways of reopening kindergartens.


Read more: Even with a vaccine, we need to adjust our mindset to playing the COVID-19 long game


3. Allow people to live their lives but reduce risk

As the pandemic progresses, the “all or nothing” approach to public health advice may be overly daunting, and risks alienating and demotivating people.

So government messaging should move beyond “do not” to “doing things differently”, allowing us to incorporate the things we value into our “new” way of living.

This acknowledges people will want to hug others and celebrate birthdays, and advises how to minimise the risks when doing so.

For instance, the Netherlands government released specific guidance for people seeking intimacy during the pandemic, advising people find a “cuddle buddy” rather than being intimate with several partners.

This harm reduction approach recognises abstinence is not an option for many.

4. Acknowledge and address people’s hardship

While lockdowns and other stringent measures are crucial to control the spread of virus, they have taken a toll on the mental health and well-being of populations across the globe and affected everyday life through loss of jobs and security.

Governments should acknowledge this hardship through messages of empathy and hope. They should also create opportunities to ease the feelings of life being put on hold.

Norway’s health minister provided a great example of this, where he acknowledged the hardship young people faced, thanking them for their contribution to society. He also called on them to come up with safe solutions for university events.

This seemed to have had a positive impact with young people in Norway more likely to follow COVID-19 restrictions than those over 50.

Yes, communicating in a pandemic is hard

During such a prolonged crisis, there is no “one size fits all” communication strategy. An initial analysis of national pandemic responses around the world showed many leaders found it hard to balance communicating public health measures with the growing impatience to return to some sense of normalcy.

And by the end of Australia’s first wave, we showed Morrison’s communication was dominated by political and economic actions. Repeating the same old themes may contribute to pandemic fatigue.

Now it’s time for government messaging to adapt and adjust to our level of fatigue, taking into account ways in which current methods may actually be contributing to levels of disengagement.

If governments don’t do this, people may miss or purposefully avoid public health advice. And that makes it harder for us to ever recover.

Ernesta Sofija, Lecturer, public health and health promotion, Griffith University and Natalie Reyes Bernard, Research assistant, Griffith University

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

When Things are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent

This is Ms Bent’s debut novel, and will be published on 28/7/2021. I am certain that this will be one of my most memorable reads for 2021.

‘This is the sound of my heart talking to me.’

I picked up this book and was taken into a world of both heartache and wonder. Sisters Marlowe and Harper share a deep connection. Marlowe has left their home in Hong Kong to pursue studies in the UK. She is poised on the edge of winning a prestigious award: the Royal Zoological Award when she receives news from home. Harper, born with a congenital heart defect, lives with their father and ‘stepmonster’. Marlowe returns home when she receives the news that Harper’s heart is failing. She will do anything, everything she can to save Harper. Harper is ruled ineligible for a heart transplant because of her disability, but Marlowe cannot accept this.

Marlowe and Harper tell their story in alternate chapters. Marlowe’s distress is heightened by Harper’s quite different perspective and her wonder about the world. Harper has a story to tell, of life with what she calls ‘Up Syndrome’. She and boyfriend Louis have their own special place in the world, a place which not everyone accepts or supports.

This is Ms Bent’s debut novel, a beautifully written story, which demonstrates both the power of love and the need for acceptance.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2021

#AussieAuthor2021

The Mother Wound by Amani Haydar

‘The last time I saw my mum alive, she was vibrant.’

In March 2015, Amani Haydar’s father killed her mother, Salwa Haydar. He also injured his youngest daughter, Ola, during his frenzied attack. Pregnant with her first child, Amani had to go to the Kogarah Police Station to give a statement. Her father had turned himself into the police.

Why did Haydar Haydar kill his wife of 28 years, the mother of his four children? While the Haydars had recently separated after an unhappy marriage, Amani recalled that while her parents had fought a lot, her father had never bashed her mother.

In this memoir, Ms Haydar writes of her family’s experiences of war in Lebanon, of her parents arranged marriage, of her grandmother’s brutal killing during the 2006 war. Culture and context are important, as is the complexity of intergenerational trauma.

In the six years that have passed since Salwa Haydar was murdered, Ms Haydar has reassessed what she knew of her parents’ relationship, and the different faces and layers of domestic violence. She wonders if she should have realised earlier that her mother was at risk? There may not have been an history of what she recognised as physical domestic violence but there certainly was of emotional abuse and of coercive control.

How can Ms Haydar’s book be both terribly sad and tremendously uplifting? How can anyone move beyond the trauma of losing two parents to looking for ways to make a difference for others as well as for herself? And, importantly, how does Ms Haydar negotiate the ‘othering’ experienced when negative stereotypes (both in relation to domestic violence and to Muslims) are applied? Ms Haydar and her sisters have also had to deal with being ostracised and abused by family members who support her father.

‘Storytelling cracks the crust of shame imposed on victims and shifts the burden to where it rightfully belongs: spitting and smouldering in the palms of the abuser.’

This is a difficult book to read, and I admire Ms Haydar’s courage in confronting so many issues to write it. There is despair here and grief. There is also hope, support, strength, and resilience. Ms Haydar invites us to look at the stereotypes of victims as well, reminding us that it is okay to be angry. Ms Haydar recounts the trauma of her father’s trial, with its victim-blaming and false accusations against her mother.

In 2018, Ms Haydar had an entry in the Archibald Prize. Her painting is a self-portrait in which she holds a photograph of her mother, who holds a photograph of her own mother. I find this moving and uplifting. Three strong women, together.

This is not an easy book to read, but it is important. Highly recommended.

‘We are in a process of breaking cycles, and we are imperfect.’

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

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2021

#AussieAuthor2021

Scales of Gold (The House of Niccolò #4) by Dorothy Dunnett

‘To those who remembered him, it was typical that Nicholas should sail into Venice just as the latest news reached the Rialto, causing the ducat to fall below fifty groats and dip against the écu.’

In 1464, Nicholas vander Poele returns from Cyprus to Venice. His stay is brief: he has financial concerns and is under threat by several powerful business rivals. He sets sail for Africa:

‘The country where there is gold in such abundance that men prefer to barter in shells.’

 Nicholas is intent on trade and exploration, and Africa offers possibilities. Africa: the legendary home of the Fountain of Youth, the myth of Prester John, descendant of Sheba and Solomon. It will prove to be an arduous journey, full of danger and hardship for Nicholas and his companions. They will make it (some of them) to Timbuktu, a great Muslim centre of learning and trading. Not all aspects of the mission will be successful, suffering will accompany discovery for some.

This, the fourth instalment of the House of Niccolò, will end in Europe with a cliff-hanger which had me tearing my hair and gnashing my teeth. And so, I moved straight onto book five, ‘The Unicorn Hunt’.

I loved this book, with its journey of self-discovery (for some) and exploration. Nicholas continues to develop, as do the intrigues around him. Another complex, intricately plotted novel in a series which is best read in order. I have read this series at least three times, and each time I discover new possibilities.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird

‘The Plague virus required the absence of a specific gene sequence.’

Yes, this is another pandemic novel. But this is one with a difference, and it certainly held my attention.

This novel, set in the near future, leads us into a world where a new virus has emerged – a virus which seems to only affect males.  The story opens in Scotland in 2025, when a new and mysterious illness emerges with a high mortality rate. Dr Amanda MacLean reports the illness but is dismissed as being hysterical. By the time her warning is heeded, the virus has become a pandemic. While not all men die, all the victims are men.

The virus results in a new world, one in which women will dominate. But what form will the world take and how will the survivors adapt?

The story unfolds through several different viewpoints and eight different stages. Ms Sweeney-Baird takes us from before the pandemic, through the panic and despair into survival and recovery as a vaccine is developed. But be warned: recovery cannot be (at least not yet, if ever) to the pre-pandemic world. The path into the future requires new strengths and abilities in order to adapt, and also requires the past to be remembered.

I really enjoyed the way in which Ms Sweeney-Baird developed the world of her novel. No, I did not particularly like a world in which males became a small minority, but the impact of this virus and the changes required to the world consequently made me think. How would such a world work?

I finished the novel and returned to the real world. One in which a pandemic is real and now in its second year.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Ringed Castle (The Lymond Chronicles #5) by Dorothy Dunnett

‘Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin.’

Sixteen-year-old Philippa Somerville, wife in name only to Francis Crawford of Lymond and Sevigny, returns to England. While awaiting a divorce from Lymond, she is keen to find answers to some of the mysteries about his past. Meanwhile, Lymond himself is in Russia, with Güzel. His mission? To help Tsar Ivan create a modern army.

Now an accomplished young lady, Philippa is summoned to the English Court, to serve as a lady in waiting to Queen Mary. She is surrounded by both friends, (a couple of whom would compete to marry her once she is freed from marriage to Lymond) and foes (including Margaret Lennox).

Lymond and his highly skilled band of mercenaries have their own challenges in Russia. Self-interested factions compete for Ivan’s attention in a volatile court. Lymond has no intention of returning to England but does so at the Tsar’s command.

Philippa’s investigations into Lymond’s past reveal mystery about his parentage. And, once he is in England and the Tsar’s envoy, he is bound to cross paths with Philippa.

This is the fifth instalment in the Lymond Chronicles. It is also where I started my Lymond journey after my failed attempt to read ‘Game of Kings’ in 1974. This novel caught and held my attention from beginning to end, especially the descriptions of the Russian Court and the Tsar we have come to know as Ivan the Terrible. I enjoyed the history, the drama, the wonderful descriptions of people and place. Once I finished ‘The Ringed Castle’, I went back to the beginning and read my way through the series. I am now on (I think) my third re-read of the series and still enjoying the journey.

Dorothy Dunnett remains my favourite historical novelist. I continue to enjoy (and to learn from) these novels.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith