Australian politics, society & culture

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December 2012 – January 2013

In this Issue: 

THE NATION REVIEWED

It turns out that Gillard’s White Paper is not really about the Asian Century after all. Asia’s ascent to wealth and power instead serves simply as a narrative backdrop to spin a reassuring story about a country with a bright future and a government that knows what it is doing.

In the Monthly comment, ‘White-papering the Cracks’, Hugh White sizes up the government’s blueprint for Australia’s future economic prosperity and regional engagement. Despite the hype around its release, the White Paper’s simplistic, steady-as-she-goes recommendations reflect a government in denial about the implications of China’s ascendancy.

Plus, in ‘A Less Perfect Union’, Peter Conrad wonders whether the best is really yet to come for Barack Obama; in ‘Lights Out’, Ashley Hay is awed by day-time darkness in Far North Queensland; in ‘Messages for Gough’, Michael Gurr raises a glass in honour of Whitlam’s ‘It’s Time’ speech; in ‘Environmental Flows’, Bob Brown pays tribute to those who stood against the Franklin Dam; in ‘Notes from a Small Town’, Chloe Hooper rocks out with the kids of Trafalgar; and in ‘Spire Dreaming’, Jo Lennan walks the grounds of Oxford with a pioneering Aboriginal scholar.

 

THE MONTHLY ESSAYS

In McTernan’s view, which holds that ministerial statements should be decipherable by his elderly Scottish mother, Gillard used too much jargon when talking policy. She also needed to humanise herself by making known her passions for education and immigrant success, including her own, which McTernan reckons is one of the great ‘only in Australia’ stories.

In ‘The Strategist’, Nick Bryant profiles librarian-turned-spinner John McTernan, Julia Gillard’s communications director. Depending on who you talk to, McTernan is either a flinty hard man fond of low blows or a charismatic mastermind who has radically changed Labor’s fortunes.

Such is the Fitz style: attention-grabbing and entirely unapologetic in its gung-ho nationalism. FitzSimons gives the impression that he would lead the boys over the top if given half a chance, his red bandanna lighting the way for the rebels marching behind him.

In ‘Lest We Inflate’, Mark McKenna charts the rise and rise of heroic war stories. The proliferation of this genre, led by Peter FitzSimons’ blockbusters, speaks of an obsession with national myth-making that comes at the cost of historical understanding.

Plus, in ‘Free Agent’, Peter Conrad meets Anna Funder, once more a stranger in a strange land; in ‘On the Nose’, Malcolm Knox recounts the bit of biffo that changed the business of cricket; and in ‘MP’, Robert Forster remembers surfing legend Michael Peterson. 

 

VOX

In a field of two, even the kid with a pet rock is capable of taking home a ribbon. Excited with second place, he hurries to his mum in the shade, clutching the rock. “She asked me what I fed it,” he reports of the judge’s comments in the ring, “and I told her: I don’t feed it anything!”

Cate Kennedy finds at her local agricultural show that everyone – from the bearded dragon in a pink tuxedo to the bloodhound ballerina – is capable of winning best in show.

 

SUMMER READING

The shimmering horizons; mirages that promise water that can’t be; the car manifesting on the highway in the distance indeterminate, unsure. A bike rider, sometimes a walker, pulling a small trailer. Mostly road trains. An animal hesitating. Camels.

Hitting the road with Alex MillerCharlotte WoodFrank MoorhouseLally KatzGail BellRobyn Annear and John Kinsella.

 

ARTS & LETTERS

With every interview Coetzee has refused to grant, every prize-acceptance speech he has chosen not to deliver, every question he has rejected, the literary world has worked harder to build an understanding of the man on the far-from-solid foundations of his fiction.

In ‘On His Terms’, Alexandra Coghlan comes to grips with JC Kannemeyer’s JM Coetzee: A Life in Writing. Despite the elusive novelist’s co-operation, Kannemeyer never quite manages to pin him down. 

Spotify is either the saviour of the music industry, a malign plot to turn musicians into unpaid serfs or a damn good idea doomed to failure. You can’t use it without experiencing an Alice-through-the-looking-glass glimpse of where music is heading now that it has become data.

In ‘Streaming’, Richard Guilliatt ponders the fate of music and its fans in a future where the world’s myriad recordings are available instantly.

Plus, in ‘What the Boom Won’t Leave Behind’, Malcolm Knox surveys mining literature; in ‘As It Comes’, Luke Davies goes with the flow of Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone; and in ‘A Modern Mensch’, Elmo Keep admires the hilarious honesty of Louie.