Nicolas Rothwell – Journeys to the Interior

• This is one of a few articles which I published elsewhere before Green Path was conceived but is still relevant enough to deserve a place on the blog. The date-stamp will say 2010, the date of first publication, although the review was only added to GP in 2016.

Journeys to the Interior

Nicolas Rothwell
Black Inc, 2010, $32.00

Nicolas Rothwell has been reporting from the North for many years now, covering the vast territory from Cairns, Cape York and the Pilbara down into the Centre. His articles and the journeys behind them are the source of four books which probably belong on the ‘travel’ shelf – Another Country, Wings of the Kite-Hawk, The Red Highway, and now Journeys to the Interior. They are not simply travel books, however, but poetic ruminations on people and places, his own inner voyage, and ways of understanding an environment which is profoundly strange to anyone brought up with a European sensibility.

Journeys seems closer to its journalistic origins than its predecessors. A trio of long essays sets the scene, but the bulk of the book consists of individual portraits of indigenous artists and community leaders, white explorers and naturalists, and significant locations. Each reads well but they don’t cohere into a single story. Then again, that is one of Rothwell’s themes: he has come to believe that this landscape resists our Western attempts to impose narrative upon it and can only be known through scattered fragments.

Another recurrent theme is a resonance between this ancient, worn-down country and a Western civilisation he feels is in terminal decay; it gives his work a pervasively melancholic cast which is the opposite of the typical bright, breezy travel book. For all that, he makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge of a region that is foreign to most Australians – even to most Townsvilleans, although we live on the edge of it.

Reviewed March 2010

The Greatest Show on Earth

Dawkins Greatest ShowThe Greatest Show On Earth

Richard Dawkins

Bantam, September 2009, $35.00

The Greatest Show on Earth fills a gap in Richard Dawkins’ impressive sequence of books about evolution, from The Selfish Gene thirty years ago to The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor’s Tale. The new book is primarily a clear, thorough explanation of the evidence for evolution and of its inner workings. Dawkins’ enthusiasm for his subject is obvious and contagious: the explanations are constantly enriched by humorous asides and lively anecdotes about oddities of the natural world. Continue reading “The Greatest Show on Earth”

Tasmania’s Wilderness Battles

Buckman - Tasmania's Wilderness BattlesGreg Buckman

Tasmania’s Wilderness Battles

Jacana, June 2008, $29.95

Wilderness has been a bigger community issue in Tasmania than in any other Australian state, so a history of the fight to preserve it has a lot of ground to cover. Buckman organises it chronologically within four strands – hydro-electric power, forestry, mining and national parks – and traces them from the 1850s to the beginning of this year.

‘The Hydro’ created the biggest issues: Lake Pedder and the Franklin River made national headlines and political history from the 1960s to the 1980s. The conservationists’ focus then shifted to forestry, confronting the rise of woodchipping and the (stalled, as of October 2008) Tamar Valley pulp mill. Continue reading “Tasmania’s Wilderness Battles”

Landscape of Farewell: reflections on reconciliation

• This review was published in the Townsville Bulletin and then, in a longer form, in LiNQ before Green Path was conceived but is relevant enough to the blog to deserve a place on it. The date-stamp will say 2008, the date of first publication, although the review was only added to this site in 2017.

Miller Landscape of Farewell coverLandscape of Farewell

Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin (2007), 275pp, $35.00.

Eight novels in twenty years have established Alex Miller as one of Australia’s most respected authors. He received the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 1993 for The Ancestor Game and another a decade later for Journey to the Stone Country, and has been shortlisted for it on three more occasions, most recently for the present book.

Landscape of Farewell revisits themes of Journey to the Stone Country (2002) but with quite different emphasis and treatment. Continue reading “Landscape of Farewell: reflections on reconciliation”

Environment books 2007

On this page are reviews of three books with environmental themes, all released between late 2006 and late 2007 and all reviewed by me for the Townsville Bulletin. (The freedom to cover issues the paper wouldn’t usually touch was one of the perks of my role there.) I am adding them to Green Path in 2020 as a time-capsule, a snapshot of where we were at the time. I have shortened the longest of them but they are otherwise unaltered.

The books are, in order, a manual for activism, a manual for individual action, and a caustic but entertaining look at some of the policies that have led towards our looming predicament.

Michael Norton: 365 Ways to Change the World

365 Ways coverMost of us would like to see changes in our world but we usually don’t do anything, and often that’s because we simply don’t know where to start. Whether we want better school lunches for our kids or more protection for the Amazonian rainforest, this book will help.

It tackles a new subject every day of the year. In one page we get a quick summary of the topic, web sites to visit to get more information or to act immediately (through online petitions, donations, etc), and a short list of actions anyone can undertake locally.

The activities are as simple and obvious as ‘Make Amends’ (apologise to someone you have harmed) and as odd as ‘Drinking for the Environment’ (Brew your own, or at least drink local beer, to reduce transport costs). In one week, for instance, we learn about conservation holidays, the benefits of walking to school, billboard liberation, treating diarrhoea in the third world, concerts for peace, and school-to-school internet link-ups.

As this sample suggests, the proposals are varied and often entertaining. Some of the 365 actions will be impossible, irrelevant (composting toilets can’t be installed in a seventh-floor unit) or just too hard. But there will be dozens that make the reader think and might encourage her or him into action. Some of them will take more than one day’s spare time so it might all average out pretty well.

An icon at the top of each page identifies it as belonging to one of a dozen themes: Community and Neighbourhood, Culture and Creativity, Democracy and Human Rights, Discrimination, Employment and Enterprise, Environment, Globalisation and Consumerism, Health, International Development, Peace, Volunteering and Citizenship, and Young People.

365 Ways to Change the World is written for adults but many of its pages would be wonderful lesson-starters for upper primary to middle secondary classes on social and environmental themes.

Afterword

Norton has written another book, The Everyday Activist: Everything You Need to Know to Get Off Your Backside and Make a Difference, published by Boxtree, October 2007; £9.99 in the UK.

Penguin, 2006, $24.95
Review published Jan 2007
and updated November 2007

Angela Crocombe: A Lighter Footprint

Lighter Fottprint coverAustralians – yes, all of us – use far more than our share of the Earth’s resources. For sustainability, everyone on Earth must consume them at less than a third of the rate we now take for granted. A Lighter Footprint is dedicated to showing us how we can cut back.

A short introduction explains the need for change and an even shorter final chapter encourages the reader to spread the word, but otherwise it is thoroughly practical: do this, not that; buy this, not that. Crocombe covers one aspect of our domestic consumption per chapter, from Transport, Energy, Building and Renovating, Water, Food and Recycling to Ethical Investment, and then suggests tactics to have similar principles applied in our workplaces. This arrangement of material leads to some repetition but does mean that each chapter can be used as a stand-alone reference.

Crocombe identifies many small ways in which we can change our behaviour (and, incidentally, save ourselves money) and shows that all together they can make a big difference to our impact on the environment. Little of the content will be completely new to the book’s likely audience, but most readers will find plenty that is useful.

Scribe, 2007, $24.95
Reviewed September 2007

Robyn Williams: Future Perfect

future perfect coverThirty-five years as a science journalist for the ABC have given Robyn Williams a terrific overview of the innovations shaping our world. In Future Perfect he looks ahead to see their likely medium-term results. He is, as his regular listeners will expect, perceptive, merciless and entertaining.

Science education in Australia, ‘Intelligent Design’ and the corporatism that treats employees as consumables are all targets of his very critical attention. So are the future of cities and of transport: he reckons we have ten years to fix our worst habits or suffer appalling consequences, but that we can do it if we try. In ‘The future of sex’, though, he lets himself relax: ‘Rumpy Pumpy 101’ for teenage boys and … no, I’ll stop there. Read it yourself.

Allen & Unwin, 2007, $17.95
Review added December 2007

All posted to Green Path October 2020