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History with a soft focus

By Graham Young - posted Friday, 20 July 2012


For almost as long as I can remember it has been fashionable for Australians who write books to criticise Australia, often with good reason. There is nothing wrong with criticism, because without criticism nothing improves, and without criticism not many books would be written.

But the battle between critics and standard bearers has become embedded in political debate, and in the so-called culture wars. So people who criticised Australia were easy to identify as being left-wing inner city elites, while those who cheered for her were right-wing outer-suburban or rural yokels.

In the last twelve months we have seen a change. Partly this is a result of Australia's undeniable economic success and partly a result of the need to stake a claim of competency for the Rudd and Gillard governments.

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This change in intellectual mood, assuming it is sustained, promises to erase some of the friction between high and low culture in Australia, moving elites closer to the masses, and hopefully moving Australia forward in the process.

The first book in this new genre was Peter Hartcher's Sweet Spot, a book I found so significant that On Line Opinion carried two reviews of it – one by Professor Ian Harper and one by me.

My most severe criticism of Hartcher's product was that it lacked graphs, tables and footnotes to support the meat that it served up.

So I was looking forward to reading the next book on this theme, which must have been conceived around the same time as Hartcher's, written by George Megalogenis – The Australian Moment: How We Were Made for These Times.

Megalogenis writes for The Australian newspaper positioning himself as the in-house curmudgeon who takes a serious look at the facts, including in particular the numerical facts, to tell his colleagues and the world how they have got it wrong.

At the very least I expected some graphs.

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I was disappointed, not only by the lack of graphs and tables, but by the quality of the analysis.

George is definitely in the Labor cheer squad, so what could have been a good tour through the last 30 years of Australian economic history, becomes subtly slanted so that it isn't an accurate guide to what happened at all.

Worse, there is a lack of care in the writing and an urge to impose grand themes which don't actually exist.

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This is a review of The Australian Moment: How we were made for these times by George Megalogenis (Hamish Hamilton 2012).



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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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