Australian Political Lives: Chronicling Political Careers by Tracey Arklay, John Nethercote, John Wanna

By Tracey Arklay, John Nethercote, John Wanna

This monograph brings jointly the superior practitioners of the artwork and craft of political biography in Australia. they're concurrently a few of our greatest students who, no less than partially, have became their consciousness to writing Australian political lives. they don't seem to be basically chroniclers of our occasions yet multidisciplinary analysts developing layers of clarification and theoretical perception. They comprise educational, expert and beginner biographers; students from quite a number disciplines (politics, background, sociology, public management, gender studies); and politicians who for a time strutted the political degree. The assembled papers discover the strengths and weaknesses of the biographical method; the joy it could bring; the issues and frustrations of writing biographies; and many of the methods the ‘project’ might be approached by way of these developing those lives. They probe the paintings and craft of the political biographer.

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Sample text

Subjects are selected because they are historically significant and because with biographical research, there always remains the tantalising prospect of what may be uncovered. Many political biographies are funded and written to commemorate significant events — the centenary of the Australian federation, for example. Despite these serious works, the criticisms that have been levelled at the methodology have resulted in political biography being regarded as the ‘disciplinary poor relation’ to the study of political science more generally (Pimlott 1990:224).

A biographer reflecting on these questions gets a better sense of how their subject handled power and the political process: why the person wants it; what they want to do with it; how they use it when they have it and, equally, how they do not use it when they have it; what they hold back from; and how they give it up. The biographical project is speculative because it seems to me that we typically only observe how the person exercises power when you see them with it, or they give it up, or have it snatched from them.

As Tim Rowse noted, reflecting on the many ways in which it is easy for a biographer to disappoint, the reception of his Nugget Coombs: A reforming life (2002), and his concentration on the ‘public’ Coombs, prompted an almost iconic despair from Allan Patience. ’ Where was the ‘private’ Coombs, or at least a sense of what motivated him, explained his values and accounted for the intersection between his career and other facets of his life? On the other side of the argument — and dealing specifically with political biography — James Walter (2002) has emphasised the necessarily public focus of the genre, dealing as it must with ‘how people affect institutions and institutional change’.

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