Former PM of Australia John Howard loves Menzies. He loves Menzies so much, in 2014 he released a 630 page tome about Menzies’ impact on Australia. No Award doesn’t have time to read 630 pages written by a white man about another white man in order to review it for you, so instead we’re going to review the existing reviews of people who could be bothered reading 630 pages a white man wrote about another white man. (Please note: actual tome is 720 pages in length, but only 630 of those pages are biography.)
Rules of reviewing Howard’s Menzies:
- You have to play the Howard’s Menzies drinking game.
- Every time someone mentions that Australia was “cheated” by the slandering of Menzies: drink.
- Every time someone says it was Keating’s fault that Menzies is viewed badly by Australian history: drink.
- Every time a review says ‘Menzies had his bad points’ but fails to mention that thought Nazism wasn’t that bad: drink.
- Every time a conservative waxes rhapsodic about Gough’s sweet kisses: drink.
- Every time someone mentions how amazing John Howard was: drink.
- Every time someone references light: drink. Drink twice if that light is on a hill.
- Every time someone mentions a personal anecdote about Menzies or Howard: drink.
Spoilers: Stephanie’s favourite review is the Quadrant one. You’ll know why when you get there. Special mention to the Canberra Times review, for amazingness that we will be discussing later. #regionaldystopia
Overall, Steph has learnt from this process that she maintains a bias in regards to Menzies and his years, and she’ll be damned if she’ll let some baby boomer (or older) take that bias away from her.
Reviewer’s note: None of these reviews are linked, because Steph doesn’t want the bounceback to NA. However you have been presented with all the details you need to google them.
Venue: The Australian
Date of Review: October 25, 2014
Title of Review: John Howard shines a light on the Menzies era from unexpected angles
Reviewer: Geoffrey Blainey
Howard, Blainey explains, has “illuminated” Menzies’ years through his own personal experience. “Here [Howard] inspects a road somewhat like the one he had travelled.” Howard’s tome is perfectly placed to balance out Labor’s writing of history. (“Labor takes history more seriously than do the Liberals, writes it more often, and so deservedly exerts more influence on our picture of the past.” [citation required]) Blainey explains much of Menzie’s political re-rise, from licking his wounds in 1939 through to his prime ministership in 1949, during which many Liberal supporters were unsure they’d elected the right personality to lead. The biography notes that Labor has claimed him in many ways; and that the Liberals have disavowed him when they ought not, because he didn’t fit the image of him commonly disseminated.
Menzies is often associated with British sympathies, despite being keen to forge strong trading partnerships with Asian countries (an attitude continued by Harold Holt*, who began to dismantle the White Australia Policy, a move Howard described as “with a minimum of disruption, comparatively little resentment, and few concerns that the Australian way of life would be altered.”
Blainey reports that Howard reminds us that Menzies would never have kept the coalition together for so long, because he believed he had to switch it up to stay attuned with the swiftness of public opinion.
Though Blainey couches it in different terms, scolding “young journalists” who laughed at the 50s and 60s, it is clear that Howard (and Blainey) see Menzies as the one who brought about universal home ownership and a raft of living changes on a political voyage that “Curtin, Chifley, Evatt and Arthur Calwell would love to have captained on behalf of the Labor Party” . A pretty turn of phrase that we here at No Award clearly see to mean he brought about the supremacy of Boomers ruining life for us all now.
After some random faults (no Nazism), Blainey ends with a personal anecdote, admitting to first having heard Menzies speak in the mid-40s, and confessing “I see that I was the one who suggested to Howard that he should think of reflecting about the Menzies era”, an off-the-cuff mention in the final 50 words of the review. Menzies had an air of command, Blainey mentions and concludes with naming Howard as Menzies’ successor. “Is it just a coincidence that Australia’s two longest-serving prime ministers, Menzies and Howard, were the sons of small businessmen working in rugged places and eras?”
Blainey is delightfully coy, apparently refusing to come down on a side and seemingly being bipartisan. In doing so, in painting a rosy picture of this monstrosity of a tome, he almost had Steph fooled into thinking good thoughts about both Menzies and Howard. But she was not fooled, and he gave himself away at the end.
*May the Sea return him to us
Rating: four out of five eyebrows for a good twenty minute read and raising some of Steph’s interest in Australian political history.
Venue: Sydney Morning Herald
Date of Review: November 1, 2014
Title of Review: John Howard gets to grips with the Robert Menzies legacy
Reviewer: Brian Costar
Costar starts by mentioning Tony Abbott in tears as he described Menzies as the “father of ANZUS, builder of Canberra, expander of universities, inspirer of the Colombo Plan, sponsor of the trade partnership with our former enemy Japan and a colossus we might never see again,” practically scolding him for failing to mention a plethora of other Menzies achievements and noting that when he gets to read Howard’s “nuanced” reflection he will find he missed even more of them, how dare he.
It’s Keating’s fault (he “cast the period 1949-1966 as one of stultifying conformity and of missed opportunities”), and Keating is a straw man for “the simple reason” political scientists and historians loving Menzies (none referenced). Both history and Menzies’ clear modesty undermined his place in our zeitgeist. History has called Menzies a consolidator, and so did Menzies. He was not a “dictator”, a trope that has been “convincingly debunked” by many previous authors (none referenced).
There’s a quote from Napoleon Bonaparte (“I know he is a good general, but is he lucky?”), and some shade thrown on Evatt and Calwell. He was “lucky” to be in office during the long economic boom, and Howard “resists” the temptation to give the credit to Menzies but he really should have mentioned this and that, undertone: it was Menzies.
Despite a list of Menzies’ failings (struggling to deal with de-colonisation, Vietnam, his desire to ban the Communist Party), there is, per usual, no mention of the N thing, and little mention of WW2.
Rating: Four eyebrows, mostly carried by the mention of de-colonisation.
Venue: Australian Financial Review
Date of Review: October 3, 2014
Title of Review: John Howard sets out to restore Robert Menzies’ legacy
Reviewer: Elena Douglas
This biography, Douglas tells us, is Howard’s revenge on Keating. Having governed with “Menzies as his role model,” Howard now seeks, with this biography, to “thwart Keating’s project” of ruining Menzian achievement. The Labor Party and the progressive class (what?) love to put Gough in Menzies’ place, usurping all of Menzies’ achievements (what). Howard’s case is compelling yet incomplete, highlighting the ideological battleground of the 40s (as opposed to the economic battleground of now), and Menzies’ clear beliefs and values, as well as his failures (again, no mention of you-know-what).
Douglas then highlights the reasoning for a lack of economic policy, that 1942 – 1972 was a utopia with 2% unemployment, 70% home ownership, a golden time full of hope. Hope of what, Douglas doesn’t tell us.
Whitlam, Hawke and Keating were not the founders of modern Australia, as the Labor Party wants Australia to believe: it was Menzies. Douglas ends with a call to arms for modern Liberals: the bequeathing of a text from Howard, to make better use of the Menzian record. We have been cheated by Labor and Tony Abbott should seize the opportunity to “counter-attack.”
(Bonus: read ‘Robert Menzies’ stolen legacy’ by Douglas, January 24, 2014, also in AFR. It’s gold, with Keating ‘in full flight as radical-nationalist warrior’.)
Rating: three out of five eyebrows for dedication.
Date of Review: December 1, 2014
Title of Review: John Howard, History Warrior (url is ‘Saint Goughs Borrowed Halo)
Reviewer: Keith Windschuttle
Spoilers: This review from well-known conservative magazine Quadrant is Steph’s favourite review by far.
Gough Whitlam’s idolators and hagiographers would have us believe he swept away the fusty somnolence of the Menzies years, bringing Australia to life with the kiss of his enlightened concern. A better Prime Minister and superior writer, John Howard demonstrates in his latest book that truth is another of the left’s casualties.
Howard’s critique of the Left’s claims to own all the positive directions of our history reverberates throughout his book. He makes a frontal assault on leftist myth-making wherever he finds it.
Windschuttle notes that the Left has stolen lots of Menzies’ thunder, going so far as to have Cate and Noel be wrong at Gough’s eulogy about all sorts of things, including Noel Pearson’s statement that without Gough’s Racial Discrimination Act, we wouldn’t have Indigenous Land Rights. (Holt gave us this, claims Windschuttle)
Steph loves you, No Award, but this article was basically hilarious Gough-bashing and she only skimmed the last few paragraphs. This wasn’t really a review of Howard’s book, but more a recitation of reasons why Windschuttle hates Gough. I know you’re surprised.
Rating: Three eyebrows, all for hilarity.
Drinks: Technically 4, but actually eleven trillion.
Venue: Inside Story
Date of Review: 29 January, 2015
Title of Review: Strategic Omissions
Reviewer: Rodney Tiffen
Cold opening burn, with Tiffen’s statement that Howard has “an elastic, not to say politically convenient, sense of historical causality.” The burns continue, with “Disappointingly, Howard does not consider Menzies as an evolving political figure” (Tiffen claims Menzies did evolve, shame about Howard).
This is perhaps the truest book review of the reviews available. It’s overly long, Tiffen notes, well-researched and readable. The biography is in part an autobiography of Howard, as it was always going to be, touching on his early years and what drew him to Menzies. It follows not only Menzies, but the role of others: Holt’s lack of command of his Treasury portfolio, Gorton’s showmanship.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a review if it didn’t mention the “distortion” by “the left” in regards to Asia, but unlike other reviews it cites both Howard’s evidence and evidence to rebut it. It delves into the decolonisation issue, and Menzies’ attachment to the Empire – rebutted, again, this time with reference to the diaries of Peter Howson. “Howard is the master of the strategic omission,” Tiffen notes, highlighting various silences within the biography, especially around war activities.
Tiffen concludes with a firm fence sitting after some excellent burns.
Howard is rightly critical of Paul Keating’s description of the Menzies period as the Rip Van Winkle era. His own book’s subtitle – “the years that made Australia” – is equally misleading. That world of fixed currencies, high tariff walls, low unemployment, secure jobs and a highly unionised work force is unthinkable now. Neither Menzies nor Calwell foresaw the cosmopolitan society Australia would become, a society in which women are no longer routinely treated as second-class citizens, and nor did they envisage Australia’s role in the Asian Century.
Rating: Four eyebrows.
Venue: The Canberra Times
Date of Review: October 6, 2014
Title of Review: John Howard’s new book shows he’s still buzzing with political energy
Reviewer: Mark Hearn
“With The Menzies Era, the former prime minister intends to draw the bright imagined light of a golden era towards 2014.” Golden burn or angel halo? “[to] reveal the future that Menzies intended, and to assure Australians that they are the beneficiaries of Menzies’ legacy – and, by implication, its custodians,” Hearn continues, after noting that “[c]ontrolling the future requires control of the past…a lesson that [Howard] has well absorbed.”
GOLDEN BURN. We are in a dystopia, and that dystopia was founded by Menzies. Yes, thank you. I accept.
This is not a new turn in the dystopia to which No Award was raised. Howard, Hearn notes, was a studious historian during his prime ministership. “Howard’s passion to place his own career and government in its historical context, and to suppress alternative histories that challenged his preferred interpretation, were not an incidental element of his governance but fundamental to it.” Hearn continues with a burn aimed at Howard’s racism towards Indigenous Reconciliation, then continues to talk shit about Howard for several paragraphs before wrapping it back around to Menzies, and the lessons Howard clearly failed to learn from him (WorkChoices undermined the sense of security Menzies fostered, amongst other failed lessons).
Howard’s still feisty, politically, Hearn ends. But it sounds like a placation after soundly walloping him for an entire review.
Rating: Four and a half eyebrows for hilarity and giving No Award dystopic joy.
Drinks: 2 (1 of those was celebratory)