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Here are my four best books for 2022

10 December 2022 56 views No Comment


My favourite book for 2022 is Grainne Cleary’s Why Do Birds Do That? (Allen & Unwin). If readers wonder why birds in Australia behave as they do, and what are their peculiar habits, the answers are to be found in this beautifully produced paperback.

As a wildlife ecologist who promotes citizen involvement, Cleary argues that the ability of certain species, “including some that are threatened, to thrive in our gardens means that gardens help to support and maintain their needs”. Hence it is incumbent on Australians to make our gardens more wildlife friendly. It is important not just to know which birds frequent our gardens, but to maintain and improve the habitats that support them. 

Another brilliant book, Mike Carlton’s The Scrap Iron Flotilla (William Heinemann Australia) tells the story of HMAS Vendetta, Vampire, Voyager, Stuart and Waterhen, which were sent by prime minister Robert Menzies to beef up the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.

Josef Goebbels contemptuously referred to them as a “load of scrap iron”.’ But after the Nazis invaded Greece in April 1941, the five old destroyers rescued thousands of Allied troops. When Germany’s wily “Desert Fox”, Erwin Rommel, held at bay 14,000 Australian soldiers, they ran “the Tobruk Ferry”, bringing supplies of food, medicine, and ammunition by night and rescuing wounded soldiers. Although only HMAS Vendetta survived World War Two, this tale of naval courage and endurance is inspiring. 

A highlight of Philip Deery’s Spies and Sparrows: ASIO and the Cold War (Melbourne University Press) is the story of one of ASIO’s most effective agents. In 1951, suburban Adelaide housewife Anne Neill joined the Communist Party of Australia. While working diligently as a CPA member, Neil penned hundreds of security reports about her comrades and their activities. She was so dedicated that, when her handlers suggested she take a holiday, Neill responded, “No. Communists don’t take holidays!”

In 1952, after attending the World Peace Congress in Vienna as a CPA representative, she visited Moscow. Having an ASIO operative, “inside the belly of the beast”, was a considerable coup. 

In November 1953, Neill attended Soviet National Day celebrations at the Russian embassy in Canberra. There she had private meetings with Vladimir Petrov, who a few months later defected with his wife Evdokia.

Although the timing raised suspicion among some comrades, Neil continued work as a seemingly loyal communist and a devoted ASIO agent. But in 1958, after the mother of a CPA committee member expressed suspicions that Neill was working undercover, her handlers pulled the plug. The confidant was a secret ASIO agent herself!

John Howard’s A Sense of Balance (Harper Collins) deserves a wide readership. It is fascinating to learn that Howard thought that “Labor made a huge blunder” in replacing Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard. He also argues that no coherent policy case was advanced by Malcolm Turnbull as to why Tony Abbott should be deposed as Liberal leader and thus PM.

The day after the 2016 election, Howard attempted to persuade Turnbull to make Abbott defence minister. According to Howard, this would have given the country an energetic and articulate minister, “with a deep commitment to our defence personnel. It would also have kept Abbott within the tent”. 

This book does gloss over the widespread perception that, after Turnbull replaced Abbott as PM in September 2015, the Liberal Party seemed to stand for nothing. 

But the older he gets, the better John Howard is as a writer.

Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor of History & Politics at Griffith University. His most recent publication is My Last Drink: 32 stories of recovering alcoholics, coedited with Neal Price (Connor Court:Brisbane, $29.95).

My Last Drink: 32 stories of recovering alcoholics is also available from Amazon and Booktopia.

The Weekend Australian, 10-11, 2022, Review,  Books p 20. 

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