d e a n   f o r b e S                                                            w a l k i n g ,  n o t  r u n n i n g . . .
 

Making a Difference: Australian International Education

Edited by Dorothy Davis and Bruce Mackintosh (UNSW Press, Sydney, 2011)


MEDIA commentary 2018


Could limiting foreign influence also limit overseas income? in the Times Higher Education 30/8/18.


My commentary in John Ross’s piece titled ‘Chinese students undeterred from study down under’ in the Times Higher Education 27/5/18.


Planning Asian Cities: Risks and Resilience

Edited by Stephen Hamnett and Dean Forbes (Routledge, London,  2011)

paperback

eBook version

Sustainable Development in China edited by Curtis Andressen, Mubarak A.R., and Wang Xiaoyi (Routledge, London,  2013)

BLOGS 2018

Scroll down to read


  1. Bullet Vale John Beaton

  2. Bullet Political arty party

  3. Bullet A brief manifesto

  4. Bullet Geographers who are PMs

  5. Bullet Populism strikes

  6. Bullet Ave atque vale

  7. Bullet Revisiting the Asia Pacific

  8. Bullet I’m a newspaper tragic

  9. Bullet Foreign influence 1

  10. Bullet The Kimberley

  11. Bullet Poldark is back

  12. Bullet PNG’s articulate DPM

  13. Bullet Chinese students undeterred

  14. Bullet The Socialist City Vietnam

  15. Bullet Vale Tom Wolfe

  16. Bullet Grey suits and red stars #6

  17. Bullet The Malaysian election

  18. Bullet Townske Vietnam

  19. Bullet 10 blogging years

  20. Bullet Don’t shoot me, I’m a reader

  21. Bullet MONA on Townske

  22. Bullet Wilson Center

  23. Bullet Incorrigible optimist

  24. Bullet Shuffling into 2018

VALE JOHN BEATON


Dr John Beaton, Director of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia since 2001, passed away on the 6th of November. He was friendly, well meaning and unafraid of engaging in discussion. Hail and farewell, John. (10/10/18)



POLITICAL ARTY PARTY


Politics is an enduring, yet often frustrating, way to engage with the directions that are set for society. Lived experience shapes perceptions of the past and present and provides an input into how we imagine elements of the future.


Individually our impact on the direction of government, especially at the national and state level, is miniscule. Our vote is collectively meaningful and is a pillar of our democracy, but in most circumstances our individual impact is limited.


We have few opportunities to talk with politicians and when we do they are hardly listening. At best they skim the conversation. At worst their body language demonstrates their mind is elsewhere. Yet that has not discouraged me from taking a close interest in politics.


There is a justified concern, blamed in part on attitudes fostered by social media, that young people do not see the significance of the electoral process. 


I have a life-time interest in Australian politics. It began in the early 1960s when the Vietnam War nudged me in the direction of the Labor left. There were many heated discussions with my father over the dinner table during the latter years of Robert Menzies.


I distinctly remember the day that Harold Holt went missing in the sea at Portsea – I was surfing at Seaford Beach. I can recall little about John McEwen who stepped in to fill the gap left by Holt. John Gorton I thought was OK, but his successor, William McMahon, is widely regarded as a failure.


I was in the UK in a queue to vote for the Whitlam Government in December 1972. Its’ success in the poll had a lasting impact on my generation. While the Whitlam Labor government had many significant failings, it both rejuvenated and alienated Australian politics with its bold stances and its sometime bumbling ineptness.


In the 1980s while living in Canberra I drifted towards the centre left. It was initially due to the influence of Bob Hawke and his government. More importantly, Hawke’s successor Paul Keating expanded and re-focused the thrust of the government. The Hawke-Keating years are remembered as the best of Labor.


The Howard years were frustrating. I favoured Labor in Opposition but have to admit the outstanding success of Treasurer Peter Costello and the important contribution the Liberals made to Australia’s ability to perform so well through the 2008 financial meltdown.


I supported Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard during their time in power, but not uncritically. My one meeting with Gillard I will write about separately at some point; it was a calm and well structured discussion, with a great outcome for me. Like most people I was frustrated by Labor’s leadership infighting.


The less said about the brief Abbott years the better. Although he lacked some of the verbal skills of, say, Paul Keating, I thought Malcolm Turnbull was a capable PM and deserved more support than he received from his Party. Although Scott Morrison and I both have undergraduate degrees in geography, too often I find myself cringing when I listen to what he has to say.


Over the past few years I have shuffled across to the centre where both major parties periodically overlap. Increasingly I see the Liberal National Party Coalition too frequently tumbling into bed with the hard right.


The way things are going Labor will walk in the next election. 


I have never been a member of a political party, nor has any political party been interested in me (though I was once sounded out to help advise the Australian Democrats in their declining years).


Arty party or not: there is no danger that I will try to enter politics. (24/10/18)



A BRIEF MANIFESTO


I had my say on populism in current politics (blog 11/10/18). In this blog I work through the future themes and ideas that are important to me. It is not easy. It would have been more conducive if I could have written it while sipping on a glass of merlot. Problem is, I have just viewed a program on the horrible health consequences of even small regular amounts of alcohol. The message hit the target.  


Where do I start? I would like my children and grandchildren to be part of a society that is agile, resilient and able to imagine, explore and shape the future. It is essential that the majority of our community is engaged, argumentative in a good way and tolerant. We must persist in being open to a diversity of ideas. Remaining a democracy is essential, even if there are some who believe its’ time has passed.


As a nation we need meaningful social and economic strategies and policies leading to a sustainable prosperity that is reasonably distributed. Inevitably Australians will depend on a competitive economy with significant global engagement.


Our workforce will be flexible and globalised, tolerant of immigration and the expansion of multicultural communities and integrated cities and towns.


Our urban areas must be livable and economically productive. We will have to engage with the knowledge economy, the gig economy, the sharing economy and rapidly growing artificial intelligence, while coping with disruption caused by these new technologies. Our obsession with large houses and even larger areas of private space must be reigned in.


A balanced impact on the environment will require measured environmental strategies and policies and sensitivity to the essential needs of humans and all the other life on the planet. It demands that we improve our capacity to identify and address catastrophic dangers such as climate change. The current growing denial of the consequences of a steadily warming planet will baffle and infuriate humans in the future. 


We should continue with engagement in international trade, global aid and sustaining effective alliances.


Our aspirations should extend to having an exceptional education system that provides a pathway to our international leadership in a diverse globalized world. As a nation we must continue to be committed to speaking out in support of human wellbeing across the globe and brave in insisting that our future is dependent on the diversity of the non-human life on the planet. (17/10/18)



GEOGRAPHERS WHO ARE PM S


Who would have imagined that a time would come when the Prime Ministers of Australia and the UK would both have university degrees in geography. Seriously.


Most government leaders have a background in law or have embraced the dark arts of a business career.


Theresa May, the British PM, ascended to the office of PM in 2016 on the back of Brexit. Raised in Eastbourne, Sussex, she attended St Hugh’s College at Oxford University, reading geography and graduating with a BA Honors (class 2) in 1977.


Australian PM, Scott Morrison won office in August this year after his party’s right wing botched a no-confidence move against the popular Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Morrrison graduated with a degree in economic geography from the University of New South Wales.


I haven’t noticed any celebrations of these two by geographers, but in truth I am out of touch with the discipline. That both represent the more conservative or liberal side of the political spectrum may be a factor in the lack of attention by the discipline.


From memory, the only other geographer to be a President was Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator from 1973-1999. The global geography community was, quite rightly, not impressed by Pinochet. (16/10/18)



POPULISM STRIKES


Populist thinking has a striking influence on the political landscape. Trump’s America has given it additional international momentum, but it was growing well before Trump’s ascendancy. Populists are not only from the political right. In the UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is getting traction by saying he will take the UK back to the pre-Thatcher years. To my astonishment, many seem to have signed on to the populist idea. Corbyn, like Trump, has become a political rock star.


Australia is yet to create an equivalent to either Trump or Corbyn. Scott Morrison surprises when he reveals a populist streak in his off the cuff can-do comments. But it is too early to judge. Australians are frustrated by the frequency with which PM’s change. Yet with an election coming in the next few months there is a high likelihood of a change in the ruling party and yet another new PM. Despite a lack of enthusiasm for Bill Shorten, Labor would have to be inept to lose the coming election.    


Another strand of populism, and I’m getting into more dangerous waters here, is the relentless criticism of what is termed neoliberal policy and thinking. A critique of neoliberalism is solidly entrenched in much university humanities and social sciences writing. The idea that political structures and the so-called neoliberal economy can be discarded and a new economy built and driven by financially successful digital entrepreneurs, the gig economy and an enthusiastic civil society is, well, touchingly naïve.


Some will read this as the mumblings of an old man with a preference for the past. They would be wrong. I have no desire for us to reinvent the past. And it is not possible, anyway.


In the 1970s and 1980s I was intrigued by the new socialist societies, particularly Vietnam and China. I watched Indonesia lurch towards communism and then back to a plain dictatorship and a corrupted market economy. Both the distorted socialism of China and Vietnam and the distorted capitalism of Indonesia had some good aspects, but neither system was capable of delivering a seriously worthwhile, free future and economic improvements for their people.


Our dilemma is this. We know there is global progress. The number of people in poverty continues to shrink. We have managed to avoid a nuclear war. We are taking (small) steps to reduce the severity of global warming, albeit in an unnecessarily tortuous way and with strong opposition from some governments that really should have a better grasp of science and risk management.


But we have not yet come up with a serious alternative to the fundamentals of a transparently elected government and a modern market economy – or neoliberalism, if you must. Even the best managed and most successful regimes and market economies have failings. It is part of the human condition.


Fluidity, change and improvement is invariably uncomfortable and hard to manage. The early years of the digital age have brought about significant social and economic change. The astonishing wealth of the new plutocrats could not have been imagined in the 1990s. Russian plutocrats are closely entwined with the Putin government. The plutocrats in the USA are impossibly wealthy and wield enormous power, both over the economy and government.


Only the naïve would think it straightforward for Australia or any other nation to guide its’ way through the next few decades. Dark forces not only inhabit the internet; they are entwined with governments in many countries, they influence elections and they accumulate wealth and use it to achieve personal ends.


It is often pointed out that we are over governed, stuck with three overlapping levels of government. Two would be more efficient, but which would be discarded? We don’t need both state and local government but now is not the time to restructure the current arrangement.


Australia needs a strong and engaged civil society, a commitment to a balanced and well managed economy, and an elected government and opposition committed to an honest and rigorous governance progress. We depend on the two major political parties and need them to explain how they propose to address the challenges before us. There are few signs that either major party has a comprehensive vision at present. (11/10/18)         



AVE ATQUE VALE


Hail and farewell friends and colleagues from the social sciences:


Professor Hal Kendig, demographer, the ANU;

Professor Eric Richards, historian, Flinders;

Dr Jim Schiller, Indonesian expert, Flinders;

Professor Patrick Troy, urbanist, the ANU;

Professor Ken Inglis, historian, the ANU;

Professor David Lowenthal, geographer, University College, London.


Over the last few months I felt like there was a surge in the numbers of eminent social scientists passing away. These are people and names who seem so familiar and bring back memories of universities and academic affairs.


Thanks to the people at the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia who circulate the names of members who have passed on. (3/10/18) 



REVISITING THE ASIA PACIFIC


Understanding Contemporary Asia Pacific was published in 2007.


The book was edited by Katherine Palmer Kaup, an associate professor in political science at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina and published by Lynne Reiner in the USA and UK.


I had a chapter in it titled ‘Population and Urbanization’. M and I were in Brisbane in December last year and I received an email from Kate. She said the publishers would like to do a second edition and would I like to revise/update my ‘excellent contribution’. Who could resist after a little flattery? It so seldom happens in academia.


So I agreed and put it aside. It was mid December 2017, and there were other things pressing. But I left it too long as it turned out. I had another email from Kate last week gently inquiring when I might finish my revised chapter? I opened the original email and discovered she wanted it by 1 July this year.


It was a busy time for me - three board and council meetings coming up next week - but I said I could have it to her by the end of September. The first draft is done. I’m hoping to edit and improve it then get it off in the next week. A lot of the revision has involved updating population data. At times I went cross-eyed trying to read the numbers. (20/9/18)   



A NEWSPAPER TRAGIC  

 

Reading The Weekend Australian has been a Saturday morning ritual since the early 1990s. Initially I read at home with the paper spread across the kitchen table; in summer I sat under the gazebo. Later, I moved to a coffee shop in Glenelg after which I would do the weekly food shop. My favourite reading spot was Cibo Espresso in Moseley Square, where I could sit in the sun overlooking the Square with the beach and ocean in the background

 

At one time I would read the week-day Australian and the Adelaide Advertiser, all thrown over the front fence, and The Weekend Australian and the Sunday Mail. Eventually I ditched the Sunday Mail and replaced it with the Financial Review. If I travelled on business, as I often did, I would return home to quite a few newspapers still in their plastic wrap.

 

No more. Now I walk to Harris St and purchase The Weekend Australian from a surly Chinese mini-mart proprietor and read it in my Pyrmont apartment. For a time I bought The Saturday Paper, but it was uneven and one-sided. Social media, radio and television are the weekday providers.

 

As a child comics and newspapers were my preferred reads. With parents owning and operating either delicatessens or kiosks on the beach there was a regular supply of comics and newspapers. Blissful.

 

As far back as I can remember I was a regular read of newspapers. I recall the day The Australian was launched. I was 14 and cycled to my father’s delicatessen to collect my regular cheese and gherkin roll – it was the only lunch combination I ever asked for; odd, I guess. He solemnly showed me the first edition of the newspaper, released in July 1964. I acknowledged the importance of the event without any inkling of just how many hours of my life would be spent browsing newspapers.

 

And the other newspapers in my life? Living in Port Moresby it was the Post-Courier. I still have the editions from 1975 marking independence for PNG. After moving to Melbourne I was an avid reader of The Age, and the National Times. From Melbourne I moved to Canberra where I was a serious reader of the Canberra Times. When travelling abroad my all-time favourite was The International Herald Tribune, now morphed into The New York Times International.


Social media has taken a large bite out of the newspaper industry. More on that in a later post. (6/9/18)



FOREIGN INFLUENCE 1


Have we become more vulnerable as a nation or is it we have been spooked by world events? More the former, I fear. The new Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act is in play. Could limiting foreign influence also limit overseas income? See my piece in the Times Higher Education.


Interest in an expansion of foreign intervention in government, businesses and the community is ratcheting upwards, with Russia and China most often mentioned. The confusion in foreign affairs generated by the occupants of the White House have helped stoke the fire. I will have more to say in a future blog  (30/8/18).



THE KIMBERLEY


My photographs of the extraordinary Kimberley region in the north-west of Australia are now on Townske. On a 13 day journey from Darwin to Broome we slept under the stars and managed to complete just under a 100 kilometres of walks.


It took me outside my urbanista comfort zone, made worse by slipping on the footpath and injuring my back while looking for a taxi to get to the airport. Inconvenient, to say the least. The journey stretched me, but it was worth it. What next will M suggest? (4/8/18)  



POLDARK IS BACK


I don’t know how I missed the first series of Poldark. I only ever watch the ABC or SBS. But miss it I did.


My mother’s was the granddaughter of Cornish miners. They arrived in South Australia in the 1840s and worked in the mines. I would have been glued to each episode if I knew it was about Cornish miners!


M persuaded me to watch the second series. I was hooked. Ross Poldark’s Wheal Grace mine looked eerily similar to the remnants of mines still visible in South Australia around Burra or Kadina, Moonta, Wallaroo and Broken Hill.  


I followed up with the third series on its’ release; now I’m into the fourth series. At first it seemed somewhat repetitive.


The endless horse rides up and down the coastal cliffs, hair billowing in the wind. Ambling along the deserted beach. Glimpses of the wild sea against a background of the haunting sound track. Even now as I peer out over the sea I think of Ross on the lookout for ships to plunder.


Yes, Ross was frustratingly ambivalent about his wife and family. I felt like telling him to get over it. Perhaps he will, now that he seems set for higher things.


The odious ever-present George and his slimy acolytes are always plotting against Ross. Our Ross may be flawed, yes, but he does care about the working folk. Now he is on his way to London to do good things in politics. What could possibly go wrong? (8/7/18)



PNG’S ARTICULATE DEPUTY PM


Charles Abel is sure that PNG has a bright future. Papua New Guinea’s Deputy Prime Minister gave a short, clear and balanced speech to a full house at the Lowy Institute last night.


The first major item in his talk was the need for closer education links between the two countries. He graduated from the University of Queensland, so he has a fair understanding of Australia’s higher education. He wants PNG to have a larger, stronger, better educated middle class. Australia can help. He has also been driving the development of the infrastructure needed, including the expansion of access to the internet.


PNG will host the APEC meeting this year. It is a big deal for a country that does not have much of an international profile. With the expectation that Donald Trump will attend inevitably means a very significant media coverage and a high probability of chaos. APEC just might stretch the hosts.


Asked if they had thought about the costume the leaders might wear for the final session, as they do at APEC, Abel replied instantly: ‘a penis gourd’. Yes, it was sexist, but it got a huge laugh.


It was an unusually cold and wet night in Sydney, but I left the event thinking that maybe PNG is on the up. (19/6/18)   



CHINESE STUDENTS UNDETERRED


John Ross’s ‘Chinese students undeterred from study down under’ appeared in the Times Higher Education on the 27th of May. I spoke to John several times when he was working at The Australian. We chatted on the phone when he was writing his piece and included a few words of mine in the article. We will be hearing more about China and higher ed in Australia in coming years. The temperature of the conversation is warming. (5/6/18)



THE SOCIALIST CITY VIETNAM


#7 in my series of memoir collages is completed. It is titled ‘The Socialist City Vietnam’, and covers the period from 1983 to 2018. I used the term socialist city because that was so important in the 1980s, before becoming diluted in the 1990’s as doi moi - economic reform - became increasingly important.


The Vietnamese cities have grown enormously. Hanoi has a population of 7.6 million, and Ho Chi Minh City 9.2 million. And the planners I worked with in the 1980s were adamant that the Vietnamese cities would never grow as large as Bangkok. (25/5/18)



VALE TOM WOLFE


Vale Tom Wolfe (1931-2018). A great writer close to the top of my clutch of all-time favourites.


When I culled my 3,000 or so books I kept five by Tom Wolfe. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-flake Streamline Baby (1968), The New Journalism (1975), The Right Stuff (1980) and From Bauhaus to Our House (1983). I also read every essay of his I could find.


Having said all that, I haven’t read any recent Tom Wolfe books or essays. I will have to rectify that. (16/5/18)

 


GREY SUITS AND RED STARS #6


Grey Suits and Red Stars Vietnam 1983’ is my latest collage. It is #6 in the series, which started with a short collage on ‘Port Moresby university days’ (#1 2016), followed by ‘Place, Emotion, Memory. Papua New Guinea’ (#2 2017). Teasers for all three are on this website.  


I’m currently completing #7, another on Vietnam, titled ‘The Socialist City Vietnam’. A teaser will be posted soon. Vietnam has been a real focus for me over the last few months as regular readers of the blog (I think there is one or two) will recall the Townske post on Vietnam in 17 days. (13/5/18)



THE MALAYSIAN ELECTION


Malaysians must be ecstatic that they have tipped out Najib Tun Razak’s government. Something had to happen to bring Najib before the courts and find out just how around $US 1 billion was moved out of the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad Fund and how something around $US 700 million ended up in Najib’s bank account.


Credit to former PM Mohamad Mahathir for taking on the role he did for the Alliance of Hope, Pakatan Harapan. I had mixed views about his contribution as Prime Minister, perhaps because of his ruthless treatment of Anwar Ibrahim and his antipathy to Australia. But he did provide some reasonable guidance and Malaysia moved forward, although the Malay community was privileged and the Chinese and other groups were not well treated, to Malaysia’s cost.


I will be following with interest Anwar’s release from jail and whether his expectation of winning a seat in government occurs. Mahathir’s public statements suggest this is the plan, but I can’t help wondering whether Mahathir will follow through in a timely way. (13/5/18)



TOWNSKE VIETNAM


New on Townske: Vietnam in 17 days.


M and I travelled to Vietnam in March-April. We were not alone. Almost 13 million tourists visited Vietnam in 2017, a whopping 29% increase over the previous year. The 2018 figures are expected to be even higher. The crowds of visitors are noticeable in places like Hoi An and Halong Bay, but less so in other places. Don’t be deterred. (29/4/18)



10 BLOGGING YEARS


I’m in celebration mode! Friday is the 10th anniversary of the website and its blogs (it’s also M’s birthday so a celebration dinner is happening).


Some 357 blogs have been posted over the course of a decade. The site launched on the 20th of April 2008 with a posting on the national innovation strategy.


It is still largely in the format I used when it started. A page I call Artistica has been added to reflect my interest in more diverse ways of writing and story telling, and I now call the website Walking, Not Running. It resonates with my overall place in the scheme of things.


I want to thank those visitors (excluding the robots) who do drop into the page from time-to-time. Over the last year, monthly users have ranged from eight to 26, sessions from 15 to 46, page views from 15 to 106, and pages per session from 1 to 2.3. When you consider that some of the users are trolls this is anything but a significant audience. However, as a lifetime academic with a focus on Asian cities and the knowledge economy I have modest expectations. (18/4/18)


  

DON’T SHOOT ME, I’M A READER


I have been reading The Weekend Australian for decades. The current edition (10-11 March) includes yet another perceptive essay by Paul Kelly on the fracturing of the conservatives and the difficulties they face with unsettled and over-ambitious backbenchers. It is refreshingly deeper and more nuanced than many shallow pieces on contemporary populism. Kelly, as I have said before, is Australia’s single most outstanding political journalist. 


In the same newspaper the Letters to the Editor section focuses on climate change. Four letters are from denialists; one very short letter suggests NASA’s website has useful information about climate change. I am underwhelmed by those who make uninformed, emotional, claims about future global climates. Why doesn’t The Weekend Australian stop providing a welcoming platform for the amateur denialists? By all means allow the voices of well-informed sceptics, but it should be serious and proportionate. At present it is neither. 


Diversity in the political inclinations of journalists is good, but it seems to be diminishing, along with the numbers of conventionally informed and paid journalists. Guardian Australia and the Fairfax papers, with the exception of the Financial Review, are insufficiently politically diverse for me. Too much lefty bias leaves me cold. There is more than enough on Twitter to provide a sense of the latest outrage against the Liberal-National government. With the Murdoch papers in the cities all following a rough and tumble conservative populist line - Sydney’s Daily Telegraph for instance - this leaves The Australian and The Weekend Australian out on their own.  (11/3/18)



MONA ON TOWNSKE


It was time to return to Hobart and MONA. Our last and only previous visit to the Museum of Old and New Art was in 2012, about a year after it opened in early 2011. There has been a steady stream of emails highlighting the expansion of MONA so it was a no-brainer. Late summer was a great time to go.


MONA is still confronting and over the top, but a revealing and fun art experience. It has significantly expanded the artwork on display, much of it crammed into B#3 the basement floor that is the recommended starting point for MONA. A new wing called Pharos has been opened. In it are several new light works by James Turrell and others, and an elegant food outlet called Faro Tapas, along with a small lounge with great views over the Derwent.


My updated page on MONA is on the Townske website at http://bit.ly/2oGzO0y  (10/3/18)



WILSON CENTER


Congratulations are in order. The Wilson Center in Washington DC has been ranked as the #1 regional studies think tank in the world. Overall it is the #5 ranked think tank in the USA. I’m, in general, a little cynical about rankings exercises but the Global Go To Think Tank Index that comes out of the University of Pennsylvania is one of the better ones.


I should acknowledge that I spent several months at The Wilson Center in 2013 and enjoyed it immensely. Even when the Government shutdown meant the permanent staff of the Wilson Centre were absent for a few weeks. (7/2/18)



INCORRIGIBLE OPTIMIST


Being opposed to the Vietnam War I joined the Campaign for Peace in Vietnam in the late 1970s. My name went into the ballot for conscription into the army with the possibility of being sent to Vietnam; fortunately my number was not called.


I retained an interest in Vietnam’s gradual recovery from the trauma. A deeper concern about Vietnam and particularly its cities developed in my time at the ANU in the early 1980s. In September 1990 with three colleagues we decided to host a conference on Vietnam. It was modelled on the long running Indonesian Update, and proved very successful. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Gareth Evans, delivered the opening address. It was a substantial piece, well written and argued, and helped set the tone for the 160 people who attended. 


Evan’s father was a tram driver and he attended public schools, albeit one a special high school. His talent was recognised at an early age. He became a prolific writer and headed several Ministries in the Hawke-Keating governments, but the Foreign Ministry was his favourite. As a committed and knowledgeable Foreign Minister his new book, Incorrigible Optimist. A Political Memoir, is an essential read. 


I found the first 40 or so pages hard work. There was the go-go-go, and the ever-present ego, but I couldn’t get a grip on the inner Gareth. He describes himself as having ‘an urge to get things done’ (p x) and as a consequence the book radiates a relentless ‘my views and my place in history’ vibe. This is the bloke who knows everyone and everything. And a touch of humour is part of the mix. He can’t resist bagging Bronwyn Bishop for her negativity in the Senate, and quietly mentions her maiden name was B Setright (p 47). In general, though, he exposes little of significance about his private life and the darker aspects of his career.


I started warming up when I reached the chapter on diplomacy. It was ‘the most exciting and productive period of my professional life’ (p 100) he says of his years as Foreign Minister, from 1988-1996. Not surprisingly, Evans believes Australia is a ’middle power’ and its foreign policy needs ‘more self-reliance… more Asia… less United States’ (p 117). He has no confidence in Donald Trump. 


Evans reminds us that the Hawke and Keating government’s main focus was on business and the growth of the economy, combining ‘very dry economic policies with very warm and moist policies’ (p 88). Their strategies overlapped with British PM Tony Blair’s Third Way democratic socialism.


Evans barely mentions his longest-serving successor, Alexander Downer, and, not surprisingly, was largely unimpressed by the performance of John Howard’s government. Nor does he mention Ross Garnaut, Hawke’s advisor on economic matters including the Asian economies.


Advice flows. Evan’s offers his thoughts on how to balance relationships with the USA and China (pp 172-176), why golf enables the building of relationships (p 166) and the reasons for Australia to be wary of significant defence links with Japan (p 171). He admits to being unable to achieve much in the Indian Ocean region (pp 177-179) and says loudly that the UK ‘has brought nothing of significance to the region’s defence since the fall of Singapore’ (p 132).


A lengthy chapter on education expands on Evan’s activist undergraduate years at Melbourne University, and his fellow students who went on to high profile elite roles. A stint at Oxford followed enabling him to continue to travel to different parts of the world and to build more international links. The core of the chapter is about his time as Chancellor at The Australian National University. Typically, Evan’s turns it into a lesson for the reader on the role of Councils and Chancellors and why the Australian practice of Chancellors’ chairing Council is superior to the UK where, he says, Vice-Chancellors chair Council.


He brings to the book experiences over a series of major jobs, a finely tuned intellect, a serious interest in detail and a ribald sense of humour. When the term memoir is used I am programmed to expect more subtlety, more reflection, more introspection. If only he chilled… but, of course, he wouldn’t. Does he have an inner life? If he does there’s not a lot of it in the book. Now Evans calls himself a CLOOF Clapped Out Old Fart (p 266). It’s a joke, of course. He is anything but a CLOOF. I wonder what book he is writing now?

(19/1/18)


Gareth Evans 2017 Incorrigible Optimist. A Political Memoir, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne



SHUFFLING INTO 2018


The New Year thickness in my head is very slowly starting to dissipate. The New Year fireworks in Sydney were spectacular, I’m reliably told; I took on the child-sitting duties and managed to see the 9.00pm display.


It is time to transfer commitments across to my 2018 Moleskine.


The new addition is to update a chapter in Understanding Contemporary Asia Pacific, which was edited by Katherine Palmer Kaup from Furman University in South Carolina. The book was published by Lynne Rienner (Boulder and London) and released in 2007. My chapter on ‘Population and Urbanization’ will need quite a lot of work. Cities have grown rapidly in size and number over the last decade - think of China and its ghost cities.


I am hoping the book edited by Rita Padawangi and titled Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia will be published later this year. My chapter is titled ‘Knowledge, Creativity and the City’. (5/1/18)










BLOG 2018                                                       scroll down to see more 2018 blogs