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[4 Feb 2021 | No Comment | 3 views ]

David Kemp,
A Liberal State : How Australians Chose Liberalism Over Socialism 1926-1966
Miegunyah Press, 601 pp, $49.99 (HB)
Reviewed by ROSS FITZGERALD
There are moments in Australian history when we might have gone down a more radical path.
In the fourth volume of a landmark five-volume Australian Liberalism series,  David Kemp explains how and why we largely rejected it.
A Liberal State: How Australians Chose Liberalism Over Socialism 1926-1966 explores the rise of political liberalism in Australia.
Kemp highlights the sweeping political triumphs of the conservative coalition during the time that Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978) founded the Liberal Party of Australia, and eventually became our longest-serving prime minister.
As Kemp explains, …

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[29 Jan 2021 | No Comment | 8 views ]

Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition 
By Edmund Fawcett, 
Princeton University Press, 554pp, $59.99 (HB)
Reviewed by ROSS FITZGERALD
Since its 19th-century origins, conservatism has represented an important segment of Western political thought and tradition. Especially in Britain, Europe and the US, conservatism, as Edmund Fawcett puts it, has “defied its reputation as a backward-looking creed by confronting and adapting to liberal modernity” from time to time. By doing so, the right has served long periods in office, effectively becoming a dominant force in Western politics.

Yet despite their electoral and political success, conservatives have …

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[11 Jan 2021 | No Comment | 13 views ]

by ROSS FITZGERALD
It has been fascinating to watch how different countries have dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. Some nations have been nothing short of inspirational while the responses of others, the United States among them, have been disastrous.
Especially in democratic countries, these responses represent a profound turning point, the impact of which will be felt for decades in Australia and throughout the world.
In a nutshell, this timely book, published by the nimble Brisbane-based Connor Court, addresses the dramatic impact of recent governmental measures on our fundamental rights, particularly freedom of …

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[31 Dec 2020 | No Comment | 10 views ]

John McEwen: Right Man, Right Place, Right Time
 By Bridget McKenzie, 
Connor Court, 180pp, $24.95 (PB)
review by ROSS FITZGERALD
Thirty-seven years a Country Party politician and 23 days the prime minister, John ‘‘Black Jack’’ McEwen was our longest-serving trade minister, where his primary commitment was protecting key elements of the economy.

An orphan who became a farmer, McEwen was born in Chiltern, Victoria, in March 1900. This brief biography of him is written by Bridget McKenzie, a Nationals senator for Victoria since 2010.
And although McKenzie denies it was her intention, this little book is …

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[19 Dec 2020 | No Comment | 21 views ]

Dissenting Opinions
By Michael Sexton, 
Connor Court, 315pp, $39.99 (PB)
review by ROSS FITZGERALD
Michael Sexton has been Solicitor-General for NSW since 1988. A specialist in defamation law, he has published widely, including one of my favourite books, On the Edges of History (2015).

As Sexton notes, the phrase from which his new book takes its title, Dissenting Opinions, is normally used in the law to describe the judgments of those members of appellate courts who take a different view in a particular case from their colleagues who form the majority and effectively decide the question …

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[10 Dec 2020 | No Comment | 8 views ]

Robert Hadler,
Dark Secrets – The True Story of Murder in HMAS Australia
Wilkinson Publishing: Melbourne, 2020, pp 319, $29.99
ISBN 9781925927436
Review by ROSS FITZGERALD
It’s the story navy recruiters won’t want you to read. In March 1942, with a Japanese invasion imminent, the 840 men aboard the Royal Australian Navy’s flagship were unprepared for the brutal murder of a young sailor by two shipmates who were rumoured to be part of a homosexual cabal.
This murder has been covered before. One of the highlights of Mike Carlton’s magnificent 2016 naval history, Flagship, was his exploration of …

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[23 Nov 2020 | No Comment | 25 views ]

Comrades! Lives of Australian Communists
Edited by Bob Boughton, Danny Blackman, Mike Donaldson,
Carmel Shute and Beverley Symons,
SEARCH Foundation and the Australian Society for the
Study of Labour History (ASSLH), 2020, 440pp
Comrades! Lives of Australian Communists brings together 100 short biographies of members of the original Communist Party of Australia (CPA), active between the party’s founding in October 1920 and its dissolution in 1991.
The stories, outlining the lives of communist women and men, reveal their commitment to creating a socialist world, and their critical role in a variety of working-class organisations and movements for progressive …

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[5 Nov 2020 | No Comment | 25 views ]

Books
Born comics die laughing
ROSS FITZGERALD
The Comedy of Error: Why evolution made us laugh.
By Jonathan Silvertown, Scribe, 2020, 192pp, $29.99
ISBN: 9781922310095

   Evolutionary theory is primarily about survival but, as Jonathan Silvertown makes clear in this intriguing book,  as well as having survival value, laughter allows us to share in the fun.
The need to laugh seems to be universal. When I was a child my Uncle George told me, ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ When, in later life, I told George that he was my favourite relative, he responded, ‘There wasn’t much competition.’ A sense …

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[15 Oct 2020 | No Comment | 68 views ]

Son of the Brush
by Tim Olsen
Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020, pp 485, $34.95
ISBN : 9781743318058 
Review by ROSS FITZGERALD
   Being the son of the revered John Olsen has often been intriguing, and sometimes difficult. 
Olsen, 92, is arguably Australia’s greatest living artist, and is still painting.
His son, Tim, 58, the author of this fine memoir, runs one of Australia’s leading art galleries in Woollahra, Sydney.
In Son of the Brush (a play on the laconic expression ‘son of a gun’ ), Tim Olsen brilliantly encapsulates the contours of what now seems to be his ultimately fortunate life – it’s triumphs its failures, its tragedies and its joys …

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[19 Sep 2020 | No Comment | 51 views ]

RADIO GIRL: The story of the extraordinary Mrs Mac, pioneering engineer and wartime legend by David Dufty. Publisher: Allen&Unwin, 2020, pp 302, $22.99
Review by ROSS FITZGERALD
Florence Violet McKenzie, nee Wallace (1890-1982), usually known as Violet or Mrs Mac, is someone who, up to now, I’d never heard of.
But thanks to David Dufty, an expert in Australia’s military intelligence during World War Two, I now realise how crucial she  was in training our first women code-breakers (initially in signals, not in code-breaking as such) and also, as an early feminist, in persuading the navy to establish the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS).
Importantly, Mrs Mac was Australia’s first female electrical …

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[18 Sep 2020 | No Comment | 62 views ]

Deborah Cassrels, ‘Gods and Demons’ (ABC Books, 336pp, $34.99).
Review by ROSS FITZGERALD
Bali is a special place for Australians. For some of us it’s a touchstone, a much-loved haven.

Until she died in January, my darling wife Lyndal, who spoke Bahasa Indonesian and some Balinese, travelled with me each year to Bali. We always stayed at the Puri Saraswati Bungalows, a home away from home in culturally rich Ubud, next to the Royal Palace.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. Yet despite an influx of immigrants, mainly from Java, Bali remains predominantly …