The Australia Institute Essential Reading List 2018

As the year draws to a close, the Australia Institute team has compiled a list of essential reads of 2018

No Friend But the Mountains

by Behrouz Boochani

Where have I come from? From the land of rivers, the land of waterfalls, the land of ancient chants, the land of mountains…

In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was illegally detained on Manus Island. He has been there ever since.

People would run to the mountains to escape the warplanes and found asylum within their chestnut forests…

This book is the result. Laboriously tapped out on a mobile phone and translated from the Farsi. It is a voice of witness, an act of survival. A lyric first-hand account. A cry of resistance. A vivid portrait through five years of incarceration and exile.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE VICTORIAN PREMIER’S LITERARY AWARD FOR NON-FICTION 2019


Populism Now: The Case for Progressive Populism

by David McKnight

Populism can be a dirty word. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have certainly given it a bad name. But rather than associating it with demagoguery and exclusion, might we better see it as a backlash against free market globalisation? Might it be harnessed as a positive force able to thrive in difficult times?

This timely and persuasive book exposes the failures of globalisation: greedy banks, predatory privatisation, corporate tax avoidance and a growing underclass of temporary overseas workers. David McKnight argues that a progressive populism could address the genuine economic grievances of everyday people, without scapegoating immigrants or ethnic minorities. In fact, a progressive form of populism may be the best way of defeating the racist backlash of right-wing populism. It may also be the best way to save the planet.

In a world where the super-rich get richer, one that is charged with hate-filled language as people look for someone else to blame, the case for progressive populism must be heard. This important book helps give it voice.

Read the extract in The Guardian here


What’s Wrong with Politics and How to Fix It

Introduction by Michelle Grattan

Can a return to direct democracy reconnect a jaded electorate with an out-of-touch establishment? Would reforming Canberra’s toxic culture lead to worthwhile debate and better decision-making? Should today’s leaders look back on successful governments to learn how to lead parliament to a full term?

In The Knowledge Solution: Politics, the best of our thinkers from across the political and ideological spectrum dissect the many challenges facing Australian democracy in the twenty-first century.

The result is a frank assessment of the current problems and the radical reforms needed so that Australian democracy can deliver the equality, opportunity and prosperity it promises.

With an introduction by Michelle Grattan, contributors include Richard Denniss, Gareth Evans, Maxine McKew, Katharine Murphy, Tony Abbott, Bill Shorten, Paul Kelly, Greg Combet, Noel Pearson, Melissa Lukashenko, Terri Butler and Peter van Onselen and more


Roar: The Stories Behind AFLW — A Movement Bigger Than Sport

by Samantha Lane

‘When a football ground was electrified on that unforgettable February evening, feelings did not need words. They had a sound unlike anything anyone had ever heard: an almighty, heartfelt roar.’

The inaugural season of the AFL Women’s league was a game changer for Australian sport and for Australia culturally. When women joined the nation’s biggest and most popular sporting code as players, it gave them licence to become legitimate football heroes. It was personal, political, proud and powerful.

With unique insights from award-winning journalist Samantha Lane, including previously untold details behind AFLW’s birth, ROAR tells the remarkable tales of a group of trailblazers. These are intimate stories from a band of pioneers who now have a league of their own.

From Daisy Pearce, AFLW’s original poster-player, to Craig Starcevich, the Collingwood premiership footballer who found football happiness where he least expected it, and superstars including Tayla Harris and history-making coach Bec Goddard, ROAR is a groundbreaking book to inspire, illuminate and celebrate the leading lights of AFLW.


The Football Solution: How Richmond’s Premiership Can Save Australia

by George Megalogenis

In a characteristically sweeping and entertaining story, George Megalogenis reveals how football has been shaped by the nation that invented it and how the game we love, in turn, might help resolve Australia’s political impasse.

A sport unlike any other in the world, football has always been Australia’s bellwether. But at a time when politics is increasingly conducted like sports — full of one-eyed tribalism, captain’s calls and policy dictated by the Newspoll scoreboard — football is the one institution that’s more relevant than ever.

And it’s Richmond that’s out in front of the pack. Before it could win the 2017 premiership, the club had to change how it thought about good leadership. By weaving together the game’s conflicted history, a sharp-eyed analysis of Richmond’s off-field turbulence and his own love of the Tigers, Megalogenis reveals just how Richmond found a new way to win — and how Australia might do the same.


The Sarawak Report

by Clare Rewcastle Brown

The Sarawak Report is the stranger-than-fiction tale of how one woman uncovered the world’s biggest theft which, in 2018, brought down the Malaysian government. Investigating the deforestation of Sarawak, Borneo, and the dispossession of its people, journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown followed a trail of corruption that led her to the heart of Malaysian politics and to Prime Minister Najib Razak himself.

Determined that the public should know the truth, she started a blog, which became Malaysia’s go-to news outlet for information that the government was trying to suppress — and whistleblowers wanted to get out. She was soon running a radio station too.

To nail down absolute proof, Rewcastle Brown crisscrossed the globe and, defying danger, pieced together the evidence of the 1MDB scandal –the theft of billions from the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

Her reporting –exposing the shady dealings of international politicians, finance powerhouses, prominent PR firms, and Hollywood glitterati — convulsed Malaysian politics and reverberated around the world. The US government made its largest ever kleptocracy asset seizure, while banks and bankers fell. Sweeping in scope,

The Sarawak Report provides a jaw-dropping behind the-scenes narrative of Malaysia’s recent turbulent political struggles, revealing, as never before, how government-funded cyber-warfare and fake news operate, and, in an era of threadbare mainstream media, demonstrating that epoch-changing investigative journalism is still possible. It is an urgent account of the reality of globalisation — and the astonishing story of how one person made a difference.


Yes Yes Yes: Australia’s Journey to Marriage Equality

by Alex Greenwich and Shirleene Robinson

A compelling, moving account of the long journey to marriage equality in Australia.

Yes Yes Yes, written by two advocates intimately involved in the struggle for marriage equality, reveals the untold story of how a grassroots movement won hearts and minds and transformed a country. From its tentative origins in 2004, through to a groundswell of public support, everyday people contributed so much to see marriage equality become law.

The book captures the passion that propelled the movement forward, weaving together stories of heartbreak, hope and triumph. It is based on personal memories and more than forty interviews with key figures and everyday advocates from across Australia. It covers the movement’s origins in 2004, when the Marriage Act of 1961 was amended to exclude same-sex couples, through to the unsuccessful High Court challenge, a public vote in 2017 and the Parliamentary aftermath. It reminds us that social change is possible and that love is love.

‘A wonderful record of a huge and heart-warming moment in Australia’s history.’ — Magda Szubanski


Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

edited by Dr. Anita Heiss

What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia? This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, showcases many diverse voices, experiences and stories in order to answer that question.
Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities sit alongside those from newly discovered writers of all ages. All of the contributors speak from the heart — sometimes calling for empathy, oftentimes challenging stereotypes, always demanding respect.

This groundbreaking collection will enlighten, inspire and educate about the lives of Aboriginal people in Australia today.

Contributors include: Tony Birch, Deborah Cheetham, Adam Goodes, Terri Janke, Patrick Johnson, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Jack Latimore, Celeste Liddle, Amy McQuire, Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Miranda Tapsell, Jared Thomas, Aileen Walsh, Alexis West, Tara June Winch, and many, many more.


Rusted Off: Why Country Australia is Fed Up

by Gabrielle Chan

Telling the story of Australia as it is today, Gabrielle Chan has gone hyper-local. In Rusted Off, she looks to her own rural community’s main street for answers to the big questions driving voters. Why are we so fed up with politics? Why are formerly rusted-on country voters deserting major parties in greater numbers than their city cousins? Can ordinary people teach us more about the way forward for government?

In 1996 — the same year as Pauline Hanson entered parliament — Gabrielle, the city-born daughter of a Chinese migrant, moved to a sheep and wheat farm in country New South Wales. She provides a window into her community where she raised her children and reflects on its lessons for the Australian political story. It is a fresh take on the old rural narrative, informed by class and culture, belonging and broadband, committees and cake stalls, rural recession and reconciliation.

Along the way, Gabrielle recounts conversations with her fellow residents, people who have no lobby group in Canberra, so we can better understand lives rarely seen in political reporting. She describes communities that are forsaking the political process to move ahead of government. Though sometimes facing polar opposite political views to her own, Gabrielle learns the power of having a shared community at stake and in doing so, finds an alternative for modern political tribal warriors.


Blue-Collar Frayed

by Jennifer Rayner

‘I remember with incredible clarity the question that rang through his words and hung in the air between us, the query that hurt my head and heart as his baggy eyes held mine: where does someone like me fit, now?’

Jennifer Rayner knows a thing or two about blue-collar blokes: her brother, her dad and her grandfather all make a living with their hands. But blue-collar jobs for Australian men are disappearing at a rapid rate, and this is not just a product of unstoppable economic forces — it’s also the result of our failure to acknowledge the importance of those jobs and the people who do them. The men now losing their jobs in heavy industry or trades will not easily find new work in Australia’s growing service industries; the evidence shows they are disengaging from the workforce instead.

Drawing on extensive research and dozens of interviews, Rayner argues that there can be blue-collar jobs in our future economy. In fact, we can’t keep building a fair and prosperous Australia without them.
Humane and clear-eyed, Blue Collar Frayed is a vital contribution to our national conversation.


Wrong Way: How Privatisation and Economic Reform Backfired

edited by Damien Cahill & Phillip Toner

Since the 1980s, successive waves of ‘economic reform’ have radically changed the Australian economy. We have seen privatisation, deregulation, marketisation, and the contracting out of government services such as transport and education. For three decades, there has been a virtual consensus among the major political parties, policy makers and commentators as to the desirability of the neoliberal approach.

Today, however, the benefits of economic reform are increasingly being questioned, including by former advocates. Alongside growing voter disenchantment, new voices of dissent argue that instead of free markets, economic reform has led to unaccountable oligopolies, increased prices, reduced productivity and a degraded sense of the public good.

In Wrong Way, Australia’s leading economists and public intellectuals do a cost-benefit analysis of the key economic reforms, including child care, aged care, housing, banking, prisons, universities and the NBN. Have these reforms for the Australian community and its economy been worthwhile? Have they given us a better society, as promised?


Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

edited by Paul Hawken

In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change.

One hundred techniques and practices are described here — some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air.

The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. If deployed collectively on a global scale over the next thirty years, they represent a credible path forward, not just to slow the earth’s warming but to reach drawdown, that point in time when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and begin to decline. These measures promise cascading benefits to human health, security, prosperity, and well-being — giving us every reason to see this planetary crisis as an opportunity to create a just and livable world.


On Disruption

by Katharine Murphy

There is no way to know if the disruption will settle into a new normal, or whether chaos is the new normal.

The internet has shaken the foundations of life: public and private lives are wrought by the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week news cycle that means no one is ever off duty.

On Disruption is a report from the coalface of that change: what has happened, will it keep happening, and is there any way out of the chaos?


On Mutiny

by David Speers

How did Scott Morrison emerge as Prime Minister? Why was Malcolm Bligh Turnbull removed?

Why was Malcolm Turnbull removed and how did Scott Morrison emerge as Australia’s thirtieth prime minister?

On Mutiny is the inside story, a blow-by-blow exposé of the plotting, double dealing and numbers game by politicians in the most brutal period in Australian politics since the Dismissal.

If we really do get the government we deserve, On Mutiny might provoke a civilian rebellion.


Dark Emu

by Bruce Pascoe

Dark Emu puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating, and storing — behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag. Gerritsen and Gammage in their latest books support this premise but Pascoe takes this further and challenges the hunter-gatherer tag as a convenient lie. Almost all the evidence in Dark Emu comes from the records and diaries of the Australian explorers, impeccable sources.

Bruce’s comments on his book compared to Gammage’s: “ My book is about food production, housing construction and clothing, whereas Gammage was interested in the appearance of the country at contact. [Gammage] doesn’t contest hunter gatherer labels either, whereas that is at the centre of my argument.”

Winner — Book of the Year in the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 
Winner — Indigenous Writer’s Prize in the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 
Shortlisted — History Book Award in the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards 
Shortlisted — 2014 Victorian Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing


The Way Things Should Be

by Bridie Jabour

A warm and genuine novel about the hopes, expectations, failings and disappointments of millennials.

Claudia is getting married in a week. Well, she’s 85% sure she is getting married in a week. Maybe 75%… First, she must return home to spend the week with her siblings Zoe, Phinn and Poppy who, despite their best intentions, are quick to return to long-established battle lines.

The arrival of her best friend Nora, desperately trying to keep her own demons quiet, does nothing to soothe the possessive sisters. Meanwhile, their parents George and Rachel, long estranged from each other, are struggling with how different their children turned out to what they’d imagined. Taller, maybe?

The Way Things Should Be is a warm, funny and genuine novel about the conflicting joys and disappointments of millennials. It explores the complex relationships between parents and adult children, what we expect and what we actually receive, and the complicated terrain that is the relationships with our siblings, best friends, and ourselves.


One Hundred Years of Dirt

by Rick Morton

Social mobility is not a train you get to board after you’ve scraped together enough for the ticket. You have to build the whole bloody engine, with nothing but a spoon and hand-me-down psychological distress.

Violence, treachery and cruelty run through the generational veins of Rick Morton’s family. A horrific accident thrusts his mother and siblings into a world impossible for them to navigate, a life of poverty and drug addiction

One Hundred Years of Dirt is an unflinching memoir in which the mother is a hero who is never rewarded. It is a meditation on the anger, fear of others and an obsession with real and imagined borders. Yet it is also a testimony to the strength of familial love and endurance.


Now for an oldie but a goodie —

Curing Affluenza by Richard Denniss

Curing Affluenza: How to buy less stuff and save the world

by Richard Denniss 
with special contributions from Bob Brown • Kumi Naidoo • Marilyn Waring • John Quiggin • Leanne Minshull • Jim Stanford • Bill McKibben • Craig Bennett

A truly modern affliction, affluenza is endemic in Western societies, encouraged by those who profit from a culture of exploitation and waste. So how do we cure ourselves?

“Affluenza is that strange desire we feel to spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know . . .”

In this sparkling book of ideas, Richard Denniss shows we must distinguish between consumerism, the love of buying things, which is undeniably harmful to us and the planet, and materialism, the love of things, which can in fact be beneficial. We should cherish the things we own — preserve them, repair them, and then gift or sell them when we no longer need them. We must foster new ways of thinking and acting that do not squander limited resources, and which support the things we value most: vibrant communities and rich experiences.

At once a lucid explanation of a critical global issue and a stirring call to action, Curing Affluenza will change the way you think about your place in the world.

‘Richard Denniss is the freshest economic thinker I know, brimming with ideas, challenging old views and finding new opportunities for progress. In this path-breaking book he shows how we can stop abusing the natural environment without great economic cost.’ — Ross Gittins


And a couple of Quarterly Essays for good measure —

Dead Right: How neoliberalism ate itself and what comes next

by Richard Denniss

How did the big banks get away with so much for so long? Why are so many aged-care residents malnourished? And when did arms manufacturers start sponsoring the Australian War Memorial?

In this passionate essay, Richard Denniss explores what neoliberalism has done to Australian society. For decades, we have been led to believe that the private sector does everything better, that governments can’t afford to provide the high-quality services they once did, but that security and prosperity for all are just around the corner. In fact, Australians are now less equal, millions of workers have no sick leave or paid holidays, and housing is unaffordable for many. Deregulation, privatisation and trickle-down economics have, we are told, delivered us twenty-seven years of growth … but to what end?

In Dead Right, Denniss looks at ways to renew our democracy and discusses everything from the fragmenting Coalition to an idea of the national interest that goes beyond economics.

“Neoliberalism, the catch-all term for all things small government, has been the ideal cloak behind which to conceal enormous shifts in Australia’s wealth and culture … Over the past thirty years, the language, ideas and policies of neoliberalism have transformed our economy and, more importantly, our culture.”
— Richard Denniss, Dead Right

Follow the Leader: Democracy and the Rise of the Strongman

by Laura Tingle

What is true political leadership, and how do we get it? What qualities should we wish for in our leaders? And why is it killing season for prime ministers?

In this wise and timely essay, Laura Tingle argues that democratic leaders build a consensus for change, rather than bludgeon the system or turn politics into a popularity contest. They mobilise and guide, more than impose a vision. Tingle offers acute portraits — profiles in courage and cunning — of leaders ranging from Merkel and Howard to Macron and Obama. She discusses the rise of the strongman, including Donald Trump, for whom there is no map, only sentiment and power. And she analyses what has gone wrong with politics in Australia, arguing that successful leaders know what they want to do, and create the space and time to do it. After the Liberal Party’s recent episode of political madness, where does this leave the nation’s new prime minister, Scott Morrison?

“The Liberal Party has been ripped apart and our polity is the worse off for having one of its major political parties rendered largely ungovernable … Malcolm Turnbull’s fate came down to a series of judgements made not just by him, but by his colleagues, who spent much of his prime ministership failing to follow the leader and also failing in their own collective responsibility for leadership.”
— Laura Tingle, Follow the Leader