Book talk: Radicals by Meredith Burgmann


This week, Jeff Popple reviews Radicals by Meredith Burgmann, a fascinating book about Australia in the 1960s. More of Jeff’s reviews can be found on his blog:

Radicals by Meredith Burgmann and Nadia Wheatley


NewSouth, $39.99

According to the popular saying, ‘If you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there’.

Meredith Burgmann and Nadia Wheatley, however, have successfully debunked that myth by interviewing some 20 people, including themselves, who were actually there in the 1960s and can remember what it was like to be involved in the social movements that transformed Australia.

Radicals is a highly readable account of protest and change, and how an eclectic group of people rebelled against their primarily conservative childhoods and became leading radicals. Initially triggered by the Vietnam War and the introduction of conscription in 1965, the Australian protest movement quickly escalated to include Aboriginal Land Rights, Women’s Liberation, Gay Rights and anti-Apartheid demonstrations. Many of the people interviewed for this book, including Geoffrey Robertson, Margaret Roadknight and David Marr, played key roles in these protests and were often vilified by mainstream Australia for their actions.

The various reflections gathered here paint a mesmerising picture of what Australia was like during the period 1965 to 1975, on both the personal and societal levels. Radicals successfully juxtaposes the individual stories of the interviewees with the broader unfolding of the protest movement, especially during those dark years when Australia was successively led at the Prime Ministerial level by “a man who disappeared at sea, a man who drank too much, and a man whose main distinction seemed to be his overly large ears”.

The progression of the various social protests is interesting, but I found the personal anecdotes to be more fascinating, including Nadia Wheatley’s brush with infamy when she accidently hit Sir Roden Cutler with a tomato.

Although much of the focus is on Sydney and Melbourne, Canberra readers will enjoy references to the National Capital, particularly through the hazy recollections of Robbie Swan, including his memories of renowned local journalist Jack Waterford.

A captivating book, regardless of whether you remember the Sixties, or not.

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