Christmas Books: Robert Murray

I have just read, belatedly but very much liked, Ian Hancock’s John Gorton: He Did It His Way (Hodder Headline, 2002). I chose it partly for a crash-reading program as background for a history of Australia I am writing and partly by chance selection in the local library. Hancock wrote it in close consultation with Sir John Gorton towards the end of the former Prime Minister’s long life.  It is an excellent example of a political biography, packed with information and good to read. Though an authorised biography it has its share of warts. Hancock once worked for Gorton and conveys, in a way few do, a gritty “insider” look at non-Labor politics and names lots of names, not always favourably (and not all deceased). Though he deals mainly with events forty years and more ago, he leaves the impression that the main change is in the names. (Gorton was Prime Minister 1968-71.)

David Day’s Andrew Fisher, Prime Minister of Australia (Fourth Estate, 2008) is also good, bringing to life a little remembered, but important Prime Minister, perhaps the first Labor government leader in the world to last any time (most of 1910-15) and the instigator of, for example, the Transcontinental railway, national currency, Commonwealth Bank, coat of arms and the defence forces.

Yet another from the same reading program was Richard Broome’s Aboriginal Australians: A History since 1788 (Allen & Unwin, 1982-2010). Quadrant readers will probably disapprove of it: The bias is what might be termed “pro-Aboriginal”, in that Broome accepts the anti-colonial, “invasion” view and presents Aboriginal; culture as equivalent to western. This not my view, but nevertheless the tone is fair minded, informative and accurate. There is little of the vague, righteous waffle, guesses and exaggeration that characterise so much on this subject.

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