Books in review

By Colleen Cook

In this issue:

Dancing With Warriors – A Diplomatic Memoir

Cover illustration of Dancing with Warriors

Philip Flood
Arcadia $34.95

This memoir encapsulates the intricacies and challenges, as well as the rewards, of a diplomatic life. Philip Flood’s father had hoped he would have a successful career in the private sector. Instead, the author began learning to engage in the “dance” that is diplomacy.

Flood (BEc ’58) shares with us the world of foreign affairs, from his overseas postings in Europe, the USA and Asia to his appointment as High Commissioner to the UK. In his long and successful career he worked closely with a number of Australian prime ministers and Federal ministers (the “warriors” of the title). He contributed to Australian foreign and trade policy and strategy at a time of changing relationships between Britain and Europe, and Australia and Asia.

There are satisfying glimpses of famous (and infamous) shapers of recent history. Flood is adept at quick character sketches, maintaining political impartiality within the domestic landscape, but he does not hold back from concise condemnation of those he judges to have failed in their service to the Australian public.

This eminently readable book demonstrates that Flood possessed warmth, skill and grace, and was highly adept at dancing through the intricacies of unwieldy bureaucracy, strong personalities, differing ideology and diverse political interests.

Home – Evolution of the Australian Dream

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Philip Cox, Philip Graus, Bob Meyer
Exisle Publishing $45

The ever-popular Australian dream of owning your own home is just one of the topics examined in this comprehensive overview of the evolution of Australian housing. The authors are three eminent architects – Philip Cox (BArch ’62 DipTCPlan ’71), Philip Graus (BSc (Arch) ’80) and Bob Meyer (MTCPlan ’69) – with a wealth of experience in housing and town planning in Australia. The pages are beautifully illustrated with evocative water-colour drawings and photos.

Home explains where Australia drew its inspiration for housing and town planning, referring to significant historical developments and modern prototypes around the world. It looks at cities, suburbs, expansion, decentralisation, high-rise, low-rise and everything between.

There is no judgment about what makes a good house or a good town. In fact, the authors celebrate the diversity of housing in this country. Yet it is when they look to the future that the book becomes most interesting. Cox, Graus and Meyer reveal the four criteria they believe are needed for accommodating the rapid growth of our cities into the next decades. One thing’s for sure, we’ll need very fast trains to make it all work.

Black Soil

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Peter Bishop
Toombul Publishing $25

A short story is attractive because it takes you on a rollercoaster ride in just one sitting. It’s a good-value literary package. Peter Bishop (BScAgr ’57) has clearly mastered the art of the short story, and has many awards and prizes to prove it. His recent book, Black Soil, is a collection of 18 very different experiences, each one unfolding rapidly but full of surprises, humour and unashamed darkness.

Bishop describes his tales as “Stories your mother wouldn’t let you read”, “Stories you wouldn’t let your mother read” and “Stories Jesus didn’t write”. That about sums it up. He is not afraid to write about crime, murder, adultery and lust. His relationships are complex, sometimes beautiful and delicate, and sometimes violent or just plain dysfunctional. He can throw humour into a horrible situation, and in the briefest time make his characters real and interesting.

Bishop writes economically. Not one excessive word, and very short paragraphs. This works equally well for a humorous story like Pension Plan, or a brooding story such as Lukey (which won first place in the Banjo Paterson Writing Award).

Each individual story that Bishop tells is a voyage worth taking, but it’s the collective journey you won’t want to miss.

Close to the Edge

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Sujatha Fernandes
NewSouth Books $29.95

The world of hip hop might seem elusive to the uninitiated, but author Sujatha Fernandes opens up that world and invites us right inside. She takes an engaging look at the hip hop phenomenon through the viewpoints of youth from diverse cultures.

At the same time Fernandes (BA ’96 BA ’98) allows us to share her experiences and travels. There is a real sense of the districts she lived and worked in for 11 years. She describes the people who are a part of those communities, and the political or circumstantial world that drives them to have a voice through the medium of hip hop. Her passion takes her to the western suburbs of Sydney, the barrios of Caracas and Havana and the ghettos of Chicago. Behind the scenes with hip hop performers, failures as well as successes are revealed.

Although Fernandes has an academic background, her book is personal and unpretentious. She examines themes of dispossession, racism, poverty, abuse, violence and neglect. Yet each street culture with which Fernandes becomes involved has its own unique way of dealing with disadvantage. Finding a commonality in her search for the global hip hop generation is not as straightforward as one might imagine. This book asks why.

From Kurmond Kid to Cancer Crusader – Pioneering Integrated Cancer Treatment

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Professor Fred Stephens
Wakefield Press $29.95

Emeritus Professor Fred Stephens starts his autobiography with a beautiful observation of simple country life for a family for whom a sense of good citizenship was integral to growing up. Stephens (MBBS ’51 MD ’70 MS ’70) always wanted to be a doctor. As a child, he was impressed by the care a GP gave his war-wounded father. He left his country town for the inner-Sydney, suburbs, and began his studies to fulfil his dream.

With humorous encounters along the way and several appointments as ship’s doctor later, he began his ascent to the top of his field in surgical oncology. Far from being meteoric, it was gradual and influenced by circumstance.

He describes without malice the political manoeuvres that did not go in his favour. He tells of remarkable medical achievements, the greatest of which were in oncology. He determined the most effective order for administering radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery, which led to investigation of intra-arterial chemotherapy administered prior to radiation or surgery.

As a result, the need for surgery was eliminated in many cases.

Royalties from this book will go towards establishing a Dorys and Hedley Stephens Chair of Surgical Oncology.

Justice – A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia

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Fiona Skyring
UWA Publishing $39.95

The information in this book is epic. Author and historian Fiona Skyring (BA ’89 PhD ’98) embarked on six years of travelling, interviewing and researching from 2005 to 2011. Her attention to detail is meticulous. The result is a compelling story with far-reaching significance for the whole nation.

This could easily have turned into a book of facts, but instead, there are characters – lots of them – captured on the page in such accurate transcriptions that you feel they are in the room. We hear from the people who built the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA) and those who advocate for social justice and equality. Chilling and candid are the statements of those who have witnessed or been victims of terrible injustice based on racial hatred.

The ALSWA works not only to change the justice system, but to ensure Aboriginal voices are being listened to. New methods of distributing justice, such as community courts, are giving hope to young offenders and their families. However, with more Aboriginal men, women and children being imprisoned than ever before, the devastating truth remains that there is so much more to be done.

By Train to Dachau

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Translated and introduced by Renate Yates
Sydney Jewish Museum $25

This moving story might be brief, but it’s unforgettable. Renate Yates (BDS ’54) tells of her father, Ernst Raubitschek, who was a cultured professional enjoying a middle-class life in Vienna in the early part of the 20th century. By the mid-1930s, things were getting ugly in Austria, culminating in one of the earliest mass arrests of Jews in Vienna in May 1938. Raubitschek was one of them.

At this point, Yates hands the story over to her father. To read such a personal account of history is confronting. Raubitschek recalls his disbelief at being carted off to the nearest police station, along with many other men in the same circumstances.

A few days later they were taken by truck to a holding centre, then forced to board a train. After 30 hours full of unspeakable cruelty, which some did not survive, they arrived at Buchenwald. Even before the war had started, there were 10,000 inmates.

Raubitschek was released 11 months later (he never learnt why), arriving in Australia two days before the war broke out. He had been warned by his captors never to speak of his experience in the camp. We must be very grateful that he eventually did.