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[12 Nov 2016 | No Comment | 69 views ]

Victory at Villers-Bretonneux: Why a French Town Will Never Forget the Anzacs
By Peter FitzSimons
William Heinemann, 764pp, $49.99 (HB)
Writing about defeats is an honourable and necessary part of any war historian’s job, but it’s refreshing to read about a victory.
‘Victory at Villers-Bretonneux’ is the third instalment in Peter FitzSimons’s fine trilogy about the experiences of soldiers on both sides in World War I.
Having previously written about Gallipoli and the twin battles of Fromelles and Pozieres, FitzSimons now deals with what was arguably the Anzacs’ greatest triumph, the second battle of Villers-Bretonneux, …

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[29 Oct 2016 | No Comment | 31 views ]

Passchendaele: Requiem for Doomed Youth
By Paul Ham
William Heinemann 565pp, $45 (HB)
Passchendaele serves as an emblem signifying all the tragedy and suffering of World War I.
The battles at and around the small Flemish town were fought from July to November 1917. It was the worst year of the war for Allied forces, a time of catastrophic loss and unimaginable carnage on the battlefields of the Western Front.
Written with the aid of three researchers — Glenda Lynch in Australia, Simon Fowler in Britain and Elena Vogt in Germany — Paul Ham’s …

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[29 Oct 2016 | No Comment | 15 views ]

COMIC HISTORY
True Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia, Volume 2
DAVID HUNT
BLACK INC., $32.99
David Hunt is an Australian historian, comedy writer, and children’s book author. His ‘Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia’ was shortlisted for the 2014 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and for the Australian Book Industry Awards. He is in the fine tradition of writing gleefully and outrageously about our past, present and future.
In ‘True Girt, the second volume of his unauthorised history (which makes me think of Manning Clark), Hunt states that he will have succeeded with this book …

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[15 Oct 2016 | No Comment | 39 views ]

Review
Richard Brooks: From Convict Ship Captain to Pillar of Early Colonial Australia
By Christine Maher
Rosenberg Publishing, 248pp, $29.95
As captain of the convict transport ship ‘Alexander’, Richard Brooks sailed in a convoy of seven vessels bringing incoming governor William Bligh to Sydney in 1806. Four years earlier Brooks, a rum trader, had presided over arguably the worst single voyage in a convict ship coming to Sydney Cove, that of the ‘Atlas’. A third of the convicts — 73 people — died from disease and neglect, with the latter in large part because …

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[11 Oct 2016 | 2 Comments | 68 views ]

Chris Mitchell, ‘Making Headlines’
Melbourne University Press 2016, $32.99
Reviewed by Ross Fitzgerald
For years from the mid-1990s onwards I wrote a regular column for Chris Mitchell when he ran Brisbane’s ‘Courier-Mail’ and then, from July 2002, when he was editor-in-chief of ‘The Australian’. This was the case until he retired from his extremely demanding editorial position in December 2015.
My experience is that Mitchell genuinely believes in freedom of speech and in the free play of ideas. Indeed, I can’t remember a single instance when he tried to prevent or influence me …

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[7 Oct 2016 | No Comment | 34 views ]

BIOGRAPHY
Phillip Schuler
MARK BAKER
ALLEN & UNWIN, $32.99
Two books, both entitled ‘Gallipoli’, have stood the test of time. The first, published in 1956, is by Alan Moorehead. The second, published in 2001, is by Les Carlyon, who breathed new life into Moorehead’s magnificent account of the ill-fated campaign.
Now we have a third excellent book about Gallipoli that takes the form of a biography of one of the finest war correspondents Australia has produced and who eventually died as a soldier, aged 27, on Flanders Fields on June 23, 1917.
This remarkable human being …

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[10 Sep 2016 | No Comment | 44 views ]

Evatt: A Life
By John Murphy
NewSouth, 451pp, $49.99 (HB)
Deeply flawed but intellectually brilliant, yet often foolish, grandiose and out of control, former federal Labor leader Herbert Vere “Doc” Evatt is one of 20th-century Australia’s most puzzling, complex and contradictory political figures.
Written with the aid of research assistants Carla Pascoe and Bill Garner, Evatt: A Lifemakes excellent use of many archives, in particular the voluminous Evatt collection at Flinders University in Adelaide, which perhaps surprisingly contains few private papers. However, as previous biographers of Evatt have noted, he rarely wrote or replied …

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[3 Sep 2016 | No Comment | 44 views ]

The Drowned Man: A True Story of Life, Death and Murder on HMAS Australia
By Brendan James Murray
Echo Publishing, 384pp, $32.95
One of the highlights of Mike Carlton’s magnificent naval history ‘Flagship’, which I recently reviewed in these pages, is its exploration of the murder of a young, homosexual crew member that took place on board HMAS Australia in March 1942. Now an entire book, although not quite as fine a work as Carlton’s, has been written on the subject.
In many ways a 70-year-old naval mystery, the details of which have never …

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[27 Aug 2016 | No Comment | 44 views ]

Review
1787: The Lost Chapters of Australia’s Beginnings
NICK BRODIE
HARDIE GRANT, $29.99
In many history books, including some of my earlier works, the time before European settlement of Australia is often presented as a prefatory chapter that begins 50,000 years before the present. In such accounts it is only when the so-called “Dreamtime” finishes that a history proper is seen to begin.
As a result, a great slab of past human experience is, as Nick Brodie explains, “relegated to archaeology and hermetically sealed by the founding of a British colony”. But, as Brodie maintains, …

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[30 Jul 2016 | No Comment | 59 views ]

Book Review
‘Flagship’: The Cruiser HMAS Australia II and the Pacific War on Japan
By Mike Carlton
William Heinemann Australia, 642pp, $49.99 (HB)
Author and broadcaster Mike Carlton has a lifelong commitment to Australian naval history. ‘Flagship’ is his third book in a magnificent four-part series that began with ‘Cruiser’ (2011), continued with ‘First Victory’ (2014) and which will end with a final, so far untitled work that is yet to be completed.
‘Flagship’ deals with HMAS Australia II, a ship fast, spacious and modern by the standard of the times. It centres on the …

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[16 Jul 2016 | No Comment | 27 views ]

MEMOIR
Whole Wild World
TOM DUSEVIC
NEWSOUTH, $29.99
According to Walkley Award-winning journalist Tom Dusevic, plying his trade is a demanding business, rather like bricklaying with a deadline. Dusevic usefully puts it thus: “Sentences are laid down like courses, one on top of the other, aiming for plumb on shaky ground.”
As those of us who have crafted a memoir know, conjuring up a sustained exploration of one’s past, including that of one’s parents and siblings, is an even more difficult task.
Set in suburban Sydney in the 1960s and 1970s, Dusevic’s memoir tries to …