Book reviews

Just Another Little Murder, Phil Cleary. Allen & Unwin, 2002. isbn 1865 087 890, rrp $29.95

Vicki Cleary, the author’s sister, was murdered as she arrived for work in suburban Melbourne in late 1987. Two years later, in the Supreme Court of Victoria, she was portrayed as somehow responsible for her own death. The murderer was released less than four years afterwards.

Phil Cleary links his investigation of the violent history of the murderer with an exploration of the dominant ideas about women and violence. He demonstrates the appalling consequences of outdated notions of male dominance over women. The law of provocation promotes such injustice. It is absurd for a court to conclude that a ‘reasonable man’ would react to his ex-girlfriend’s arrival at work by killing her.
I hope Phil Cleary will be successful in his campaign to change both attitudes and the law.  

Kieran Gill

Willie’s Bar and Grill: A rock ‘n’ roll tour of North America in the age of terror, Rob Hirst. Picador Australia, 2003. isbn 0 330 364 12 X, rrp $30

As Midnight’s Oil’s drummer, Rob Hirst co-wrote most of the band’s hits over their 25-year career. Always known as a political band, Midnight Oil have supported countless social and environmental causes locally and internationally. Their opinions, voiced through the imposing figure of Peter Garrett, favour the green and the left, but this rarely alienated them from the mainstream. Willie’s Bar and Grill catalogues their US tour, begun just weeks after the multi-pronged terrorist attacks of 2001.

Blending travel writing, humour, rock and roll and social commentary, the book is conversational in style and rich in anecdotal observations. As they travel through the major cities, Hirst shows an enthusiasm for idiosyncrasies of his band, the roadies and the fans. He describes the daily grind of playing and travelling with a full rock ‘n’ roll entourage and its personalities—from wise-cracking band mates to irascible and fastidious bus drivers.

Hirst has an impressive vocabulary. If he’s trying to negate years of dumb drummer jokes, he has succeeded. His writing is florid—LA freeways are a ‘Macadamised mayhem of an unconscionable burden of traffic’.

Willie’s Bar and Grill offers insight into the jittery American psyche, post-‘war against terror’. The band encountered hyperventilating customs officials on the Canadian border, airport security at unprecedented levels and a near-deserted Disneyland. Yet the people are as defiantly proud as ever. US flags are omnipresent, as are aggressively patriotic bumper stickers.

The literal and practical jokes of the band—and tales of such oddities as advertisements for body enhancements in LA—are told with bright humour. This book is not the definitive Midnight Oil confessional. Hirst clearly likes his group, and there is little gossip, especially about Peter Garrett. However, his opinions on environmental degradation and the social inequities within the world’s most powerful nation are eloquently expressed—surprisingly, without the strident invective for which Midnight Oil is famous.

There is plenty of ‘muso’ talk for Midnight Oil and rock autobiography fans, but despite occasional rambling this book has wider appeal.    

Ben Wells

Islam in Australia, Abdullah Saeed. Allen & Unwin, 2003. isbn 1 865 088 641, rrp $19.95

Abdullah Saeed, Head of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, set out to ‘contribute to our understanding of one of the most misunderstood religions in the world and the complexities associated with the Muslim community, its diversity and unity, its struggle to remain an element of the Australian fabric of society’. This was always going to be a difficult task. Imagine attempting ‘Christianity in Australia’—trying to cover in an accurate and fair way the Catholic Charistmatic Renewal, the Salvation Army, the Maronite Eparchy, Rev. Fred Nile and everything in between.

As an introductory reader, Islam in Australia is helpful, easy and open. Saeed challenges a range of common myths and stereotypes, often unnamed but familiar and unmistakable.

However, I expected the book to speak a little more to my own experience of Islam in Australia: living as a Christian in Melbourne’s Brunswick, shopping at halal butchers, socialising with Iraqis and Iranians together, observing the deep respect my Afghan friends have for women, watching my Kurdish friends enjoy a stubbie of VB in the back yard, trying to understand why I am not allowed to see a photo of my Palestinian friend’s wife.

Aspects of this book—its organisation, its simplifications and its omissions—are more than a little frustrating. But if you are confronted by the ignorant and ill-informed, give them a copy.

Joshua Puls

Lines of my Life: Journal of a Year, Edmund Campion. Penguin, 2003. isbn 0 14 3001 52 3, rrp $22.95

To write a journal for a year, particularly one beginning in September 2001, and to publish it might seem a little self-regarding. And when your life is gregarious, and your natural communities filled with people well known in their own right, you run the risk of being gossipy or of name-dropping.

Edmund Campion’s journal manages to be none of these things, and avoids them stylishly. In any good sense of the word, his writing is priestly: he is interested in all the people he meets and wishes them well. As I came across the names of friends in Lines of my Life, my first inclination was to urge them to read what was written about them, knowing that they would be encouraged by it.

This quality has nothing to do with flattery. For all his lightness of touch, Campion’s book is also priestly in representing uncompromisingly the claims of a richly conceived humanity. He is distressed by smallness of vision and puzzled when he meets the absence of appropriate pain or shame.         

Andrew Hamilton sj



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