In 1965, Allen Brown, who had been secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department throughout the 1950s, wrote to Robert Menzies from Oxford about a book he had been reading, Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country. “He doesn’t approve of you,” he told the prime minister. “In fact, on all matters [of] which I can claim to know anything at all, he is wrong-headed and ill-informed.”
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In the 1950s it was widely believed that the first Australians had arrived on this continent only a few thousand years earlier. They were regarded as “primitive” — a fossilised stage in human evolution — but not necessarily ancient. Over the past sixty years, the field of Australian archaeology, led by the likes of John Mulvaney, Isabel McBryde and Rhys Jones, has dramatically enlarged our understanding of Australian history.
Not long before he died in 1998, that veteran political warrior B.A. (Bob) Santamaria granted me a series of interviews. After one session, over a cup of tea, his spirits seemed low and he wondered aloud if he had achieved much. The world seemed as troubled a place as ever.
If life had turned out the way Sydney University honours student Mike Pezzullo intended, then he would be a renowned historian rather than the public servant in charge of Australia’s hotly contested border protection regime. “From very early on I was fascinated by history,” says Pezzullo. “So I absolutely wanted to be a history professor.”
“It helps a [person] immensely to be a bit of a hero-worshipper,” Sir William Osler remarked in 1889, “and the stories of the lives of the masters of medicine do much to stimulate our ambition and rouse our sympathies.” But this famous physician also wrote: “It cannot be too often or too forcibly brought home to us that the hope of the profession is with the [people] who do its daily work in general practice.”
It’s been a long journey. While many television drama series have lived into a seventh season, Game of Thrones has packed more into its extraordinary odyssey than any other. For sheer epic bravado, there’s no rival in sight. All good mythic stories, though, should be drawn to a conclusion, and there will be an end to this one. With the eighth season projected as the finale, this is its penultimate phase, and the storyline is already on its downward arc.
In 1991, the Roskilde Festival — one of Europe’s largest music festivals — marked its twentieth birthday by offering free final-day tickets to the over-fifties. It was a way of keeping in with the locals and proved so popular it became an annual tradition, though the age was gradually raised to sixty-five in order to meet demand. Finally, in 2014, the practice was abandoned. That year, the headline act was the Rolling Stones, average age seventy-one.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date, but sometime in the early years after the global financial crisis the problem of inequality moved to centrestage. Evidence that had once been discussed mostly in academic seminars found a wider audience among people trying to understand what had gone wrong in Western economies.
At the opening session of the annual Economic and Social Outlook Conference, hosted last week by the Australian and the Melbourne Institute, Productivity Commission chairman Peter Harris expressed surprise that no one issue seemed to have sufficiently dominated public debate in recent months to become the focus of the conference.
Refugees? Which refugees? As far as Angela Merkel is concerned, refugees aren’t a burning issue. Not now, and not for the next two months leading up to the German elections on 24 September. And anyway, aren’t there more urgent problems: the future of the German automobile industry, and Germany’s increasingly volatile relationship with Turkey, to name just the two most obvious ones?