Books in review
In this issue:
- Reviewing the Performance – The Design of the Sydney Opera House, by Ken Woolley
- The Unknown Nation Australia after Empire, by James Curran & Stuart Ward
- Anglo-Catholic in Religion: TS Eliot and Christianity, by Barry Spurr
- Public Relations Campaigns, edited by Mark Sheehan & Robina Xavier
- The Failure of Free-market Economics, by Martin Feil
- The Rainbow Beach Man, by John Ramsland
- The Big End of Town, by WR Widerberg
The Watermark Press, $60
Country-NSW based Watermark Press is to be congratulated on a book they correctly describe as “probably the most important book ever written about the Sydney Opera House.” The author is one of Sydney’s most distinguished architectural alumni and one who has made a significant mark on the built landscape as a thinker and maker of buildings. His interest in the House is profound and he approaches it, in this book, from the inside out in terms of function and form.
The highlight of the recent ceremony in the Great Hall where Woolley was awarded an honorary doctorate ceremony was the speech* he made in which he observed, inter alia, “The great irony is that the foundation philosophy of modern architecture albeit rarely achieved, simplistic and probably impossible was that form follows function. That is not to argue for functional determinism, but it is incontestable that a building should perform the activity for which it is intended.” He wasn’t referring to the House at that moment, but he could have been.
The recent NSW government announcement of $152m funding for “improvements” to the House is a bitter-sweet pill to swallow for anyone familiar with the building and with Dr Woolley’s views on it. His proposal, first seen in 2009, for a dedicated and fully functioning opera theatre, adjacent to the current building, would have been a truly visionary way to spend $152m (as a down payment on the final cost). Unfortunately, modern state governments are not known for their Joe Cahills’ and the band-aid solution will prevail.
To fully understand why so many books have been written about the House and why it fascinates and charms successive generations, despite its cock-eyed malfunctions: Reviewing the Performance is illuminating, peppered as it is with Max Dupain’s sublime photographs and Woolley’s own drawings.
*The full text of Dr Woolley’s speech is available on the SAM website.
James Curran & Stuart Ward
Melbourne University Press $39.99
While Australia snuggled up to the sheep’s back and basked in the benign sunshine as a child of Empire, the ground of its identity were shifting. The winds of change had blown through Africa and after initial indignation, Britain began taking back its flag and saluting new ones with undignified haste. And still Australia dreamed of “home”.
This book, recently launched by well known republican Malcolm Turnbull (BA ’77 LLB ’78), examines Australia’s curious position, post-Empire, as it obstinately clung to the hem of Mama’s gown while she tried, politely, to shake it off and walk away.
The dilemma for Australia’s blurred identity continues and Curran (Senior Lecturer in History at the University and 2010 Fulbright Scholar) and Ward document and examine the conundrum of how we got here from there – or not – and why the aging Anglo-Australian rump is so reluctant to grow up.
Says Curran: “The task of remodelling the national image touched every aspect of Australian life where identifiably British ideas, habits and symbols – from foreign relations to the national anthem – had grown obsolete. But how to celebrate Australia’s past achievements and future aspirations became a source of public controversy as community leaders struggled to find the appropriate language and rhetoric to invoke a new era.”
Lutterworth Press £25
The author is Associate Professor of English Literature at the University and the book brilliantly combines his special fields of interest and expertise: poetry, biography and religious literature.
Few Eliot biographers have successfully tackled his relationship with religion. American-born, Unitarian-raised, Eliot moved to Britain after Harvard; Converted to Anglicanism and UK citizenship in 1927. Spurr analyses how these crucial factors influenced the poetry, prose and plays until his death in 1965.
Eliot remains one of the most read and significant poets of the 20th century. Les Murray, winner of the 1996 TS Eliot Award, has said of Spurr’s earlier Studying Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan), “You can't teach poetry unless you love it. Barry Spurr clearly does. He knows not to demean or exploit it. Poetry taught me poetry, but it was a teacher who turned me on to it and gave me the initial orientation I needed. This book suggests that Barry Spurr is another teacher of that rare kind.”
The same can be said of this wider-ranging and more ambitious book, in its illumination of the fundamentals that informed the life and work of TS Eliot.
In conjunction with the release, Professor Spurr will contribute a series of 1000-word essays on topics emerging from his work on theology and literature to the interactive religion forum. Find out more
Edited by Mark Sheehan & Robina Xavier
Oxford University Press, $66
Although Sheehan’s (MPA ’01) book is intended as a teaching text, anyone who is ever likely to be on the receiving end of a professional PR campaign could do themselves a favour and become familiar with it, and a bit of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli too.
Martin Feil, illustrations John Spooner
With the world economy in continuing flux and as economic pundits continue to give themselves indigestion as they swallow previous profundities, Feil (BA ’69 BEc ’73 MEc ’76) is a poacher turned gamekeeper in the field of Australian economics. He freely admits this in a most entertaining, enlightening and accessible book on the greatest mystery of our time, which was, as HM the Queen so succinctly put it, “why did nobody notice?”
From the time Feil enthusiastically joined the economic workforce, government after Australian government has come under the spell of the small government/market forces thinking espoused by Smith, Friedman and Hayek (Friedrich, not Salma). Rather than creating a dynamic export-oriented manufacturing sector, however, it actually caused the gradual gutting of Australia’s manufacturing capacity. Feil also notes that while overseas corporations were declaring their commitment to Australian manufacturing, they were simultaneously pulling a swifty on politicians and bureaucrats alike.
Feil is not a nostalgist, though. Finally, he proposes ideas for rejuvenating industry policy: dump free-market economics, stop relying on consumer imports and regenerate manufacturing by value-adding here rather than shipping out our raw materials. Our new national motto should be: “Australia is not a quarry.”
Free-market ideologues and disciples of unrestrained capitalism risk apoplexy, or worse, by delving into Feil’s book, so I commend it to them without reservation.
Ramsland OAM (MEd ’72) is a prolific writer whose books on aspects of film history, sports history and Aboriginal-European relations have been well received. His latest is a celebration of one of the best-known elders of the north coast area of NSW.
Les Ridgeway was born into the Great Depression when adversity was universal and, for an Aborigine, all-pervasive; yet he went on to become one of Charles Perkins’ recruits to the new Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Les’s eventful life and family ties are colourfully documented in words and photos, including his ancestors Billy Ridgeway, “King of Port Stephens” (on a colonial breastplate), and Mary Ann Bugg – Captain Thunderbolt’s companion.
Otford Press, $29.95
Bill Widerberg (BA ’55 DipEd Psych ’56) is perfectly positioned to write a noir-ish thriller about murky big biz. A blurb tells the would-be reader, “David Preston’s big chance comes when offered a job running one of Sydney’s big breweries. Success comes at a price. Unwilling to be drawn into corrupt financial dealings, David resigns, then makes a takeover bid for the company. Suddenly, not only is his career at stake, but also his life.”
The thing is, Widerberg was the man who took the Queensland brewery Toohey’s from also-ran to the position where most Australians seemed to “feel like a Toohey’s or two”. And subsequently, he also got to see Bond Corporation from the inside until he was fired “due to differences with the board.” All this undoubtedly accounts for the authenticity Big End’s world within a world – where the law and due diligence are for other people and the higher up you are, the greater your sense of entitlement and impregnability