By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
By David Marr (Black Inc., $29.95, softcover, 262 pages)
A veteran journalist publishing a compilation of articles that many have already read for free may be disquieting, but the format – where the central theme is panic – is a brilliant idea.
Why are residents of this lucky, happy country so paranoid? “Panic is so Australian and it has been with us from the start”.
It appears David Marr has been writing about panic for most of his career: how they are whipped up, do their worst and vanish leaving only debris behind.
As he investigates, Marr notes that you cannot whip up panic out of nothing. There has to be something of substance at its heart as reasonable fears twisted out of recognition results in a panic.
“Turning fear into panic is a great political art: knowing how to stack the bonfire, where to find the kindling, when to slosh on a bucket of kero to set the whole thing off with a satisfying roar … These are dispatches from the republic of panic, stories of fear and fear-mongering under three prime ministers. Some chart panic on the rise and others pick through the wreckage left behind, but all grew out of my wish to honour the victims of these ugly episodes: the people damaged and a damaged country.”
The stories have been moulded with dexterity to benefit from history. It’s the reflections contained therein that make the reworking a worthy effort. By placing them in a wider context, Marr has turned the focus on the era in which they were written and how we view the world.
There’s excellent telling of the outing of Alan Jones by Chris Masters and the meaning in Australia of the Stonewall riots in the US, but the standout topics are Bill Henson and the boat people.
Skillful prose, wittiness and insight brim to the fore as inconsequentiality and anger are disseminated.
Edition 296, 17 January 2012
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.