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[23 Nov 2020 | No Comment | 3 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 | 17 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 | 31 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 …

Columns, Reviews »

[19 Sep 2020 | No Comment | 40 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 | 44 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 …

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[24 Jul 2020 | No Comment | 202 views ]

One of the best non-fiction books of the year is an elegant memoir by Paul Bugden who, from 1995 at the height of the AIDS epidemic, ran Bugdens Bookshop in Kings Cross for almost 20 years.

Released this month, Tales of an Accidental Bookseller tells the true story of a struggling actor and aspiring filmmaker who, amid great personal loss and tragedy, finds redemption in the most unlikely place – the second hand book trade.

Tales of an Accidental Bookseller is available for $29.99 from bugdensbooks@bigpond.com

It is an enthralling and fascinating read.

Professor Ross Fitzgerald AM is the …

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[9 Jul 2020 | No Comment | 273 views ]

The Insider : The scoops, the scandals and the serious business within the Canberra bubble
by Christopher Pyne
Hachette Australia, 
$34.99, pp 321,  ISBN 9780733643422 

review by ROSS FITZGERALD
The trouble with political memoirs is that it’s very hard to get the balance right between the book-length version of an after-dinner speech, with its jokes and stories; and an elaborate re-telling of recent history, invariably told to make a hero of the author. Christopher Pyne’s account of his part in the post-Howard years occasionally prompts a chuckle and sometimes has interesting things to say. By …

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[4 Jul 2020 | No Comment | 268 views ]

UNDER FIRE : HOW AUSTRALIA’S VIOLENT HISTORY LED TO GUN CONTROL
By Nick Brodie
Hardie Grant, 289pp, $29.99
ONE PUNCH : THE TRAGIC TOLL OF RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE
By Barry Dickins
Hardie Grant, 182pp, $29.99
reviewed by ROSS FITZGERALD
From the beginning of white occupation, guns and booze have played a pivotal role in our culture, from the so-called Rum Rebellion in January 1808 to Martin Bryant’s murder of 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania, in April 1996.

Bryant’s consumption of booze was excessive: a bottle and a half of liqueur, plus port wine and other sweet …

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[30 May 2020 | No Comment | 436 views ]

‘Cry Me a River: The Tragedy of the Murray-Darling Basin’
By Margaret Simons
Quarterly Essay 77
Black Inc, 250pp, $22.99
reviewed by ROSS FITZGERALD
The Murray-Darling Basin is often in the news and seldom for the right reasons. It is troubled by drought and climate change and the unquenchable thirst of agriculture. Yet belief in it is an article of faith for politicians, causing regular scraps over its management and its future.
In ‘Cry Me A River’, journalist and author Margaret Simons chronicles the results of her decision to take a close look at it herself. …

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[28 May 2020 | No Comment | 448 views ]

The Defeat of Literary Censorship
The Trials of Portnoy : How Penguin brought down Australia’s censorship system
by Patrick Mullins
Scribe Publications, 2020, pp 329, $35
Review by ROSS FITZGERALD
It took a book about masturbation to bring down Australia’s repressive regime of literary censorship. Philip Roth’s hugely controversial, highly sexualised novel Portnoy’s Complaint is a book about the habit that in the 1960s scarcely dared speak its name.
Unseemly subject matter in the eyes of some, but that’s the point really. Patrick Mullins, author of Tiberius with a Telephone, the award-winning biography of Liberal prime minister ‘Billy’ McMahon now explores how, in August 1970, Penguin Books Australia published Portnoy’s Complaint.
  Philip …

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[1 May 2020 | No Comment | 466 views ]

             A smaller man
              Malcolm Turnbull, A Bigger Picture, Hardie Grant, 704 pages, $55.
              Review by ROSS FITZGERALD

Never trust a person who keeps a diary. After all, who keeps a diary other than someone who wants subsequently to tell a story where the diarist is the hero, while everyone else, almost invariably, falls lamentably short of the hero’s expectations and deserts?
 
And so it turns out with Malcolm Turnbull’s political memoir. Like the lawyer he once was, the diary entries …