Wisps of Change in Global Business?

Cover of the Six Capitals book

Six Capitals by Jane Gleeson-White, (Allen & Unwin, 2014).

I was delighted earlier this week when my first book review of the year was published on the Newtown Review of Books. This website does a great service to Australia’s book industry and it is a pleasure to be edited by the founders of the website, Jean Bedford and Linda Funnell

I reviewed Jane Gleeson-White’s latest book, Six Capitals: The revolution capitalism had to have – or can accountants save the planet?  This is the follow up book to Double Entry which I reviewed on this blog a few years ago.

I enjoy reading Gleeson-White’s books about accounting. They are much more interesting than the deadly dull books I had to read when I was doing my accounting degree. Thank goodness for economics I say! Without economics to provide interesting content I would have struggled to finish my degree.

I started my working career working as an accountant in the mid-1980s working in audit at one of what was then known as the big eight international accounting firms. After a couple of years I moved to small business work at a middle tier firm in Melbourne.

This was an eventful period in the economy. I started work during the economic reforms of the Hawke-Keating era and never forget the ‘recession we had to have’ which was so devastating in Melbourne. Who can forget that morning when we woke to the announcement that the State Bank of Victoria had become insolvent and been taken over by the Commonwealth Bank over night? It was devastating news for Victorians.

(On a side note, it was lovely to find the State Bank of Victoria Social Networking Site while writing this post. It shows the staff of the bank still have regular reunions and other social activities. They are also scanning all the Bank’s staff magazines from 1958 onwards and have uploaded various ephemera. Maybe an historian reading this might find them a good resource?)

Working in a chartered accounting firm during that era was certainly not dull. I worked with some good people and we had an enjoyable social life, particularly at the second firm. I was the first woman on the factory floor at a car parts manufacturer and unwittingly managed to avert a threatened union black ban on a stock take. I was a novelty and my happy accident of saying ‘scusi’ to one of the many Italian workers went down well, as did treating them with respect. Continue reading

Bombs, Clothes Lines and Jeeps

A partially opened door to our bomb shelter.

The entrance to our bomb shelter, note the ventilation hole above the door.

Our apartment in Singapore is like most apartments in Australia but one corner of it is quite different.

We have a bomb shelter.

Yes, our nine-year old apartment has a fair dinkum bomb shelter. This is because all apartments in Singapore are required to have a bomb shelter under Singapore’s Civil Defence Shelter Act 1997.

As you can see from the thick door and walls, this room is designed to withstand a blast.

The bomb shelter is the strongest place in the apartment so when an explosion hits the idea is that the building crumbles but the bomb shelter stands strong. The shelters in a building are placed on top of each other for reinforcement. You might be 23 stories in the sky with a sheer drop outside your bomb shelter door but you are safe, albeit squashed in a small, dark room on top of a lot of other small, dark rooms. Continue reading

Historian Wins Major Literary Prize

Logo of The Stella Prize

Clare Wright won a major literary award for women’s writing for her book, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.

Last night historian, Clare Wright, won a major literary award for women’s writing in Australia, The Stella Prize. Her book, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, was selected from a strong shortlist which included some of Australia’s most celebrated novels published in the last year and a compelling memoir which has been shortlisted for a number of awards.

Many Australians have heard the tale of the Eureka Stockade over and over, but as the judge’s comment, “The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka sheds a bright new light on a dark old Australian story”. The judge’s citation goes on to say that Wright’s work is, “[a] rare combination of true scholarship with a warmly engaging narrative voice… makes this book compulsively readable.”

Wright demonstrates how history can be brought to life. Her writing makes original scholarship attractive to the general public. Released in October last year, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka has gone into reprint. In what is surely a strong message to publishers readers have voted at the cash register for a book with twenty-four pages of endnotes.

It is the strength of writing as well as the depth of research that attracts readers to this book. In an interview I did with Clare Wright a few weeks ago for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, she explains how writing for television influenced the writing of her book. “I had learnt a lot about the power of narrative, as well as the audience’s need to be emotionally engaged in the experience, to be invested in the question of ‘what happens next’.” Wright’s “frank and lively style of storytelling makes her material accessible without sacrificing either the scholarly accuracy of her account, the depth of its detail, or the complexity of its ideas”, note the judges of The Stella Prize.

Readers have shown that they enjoy well-written history that includes women as well as men. The Stella Prize citation concludes, “Wright does not attempt to discredit existing versions of events, but rather to deepen and enrich our knowledge of Eureka and our understanding of its place in Australian history”.

I hope by now that you are curious about this book. You can read an extensive review of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka I wrote last year on this blog. The Stella Prize judge’s citation is worth reading. This book is not a typical history book so I asked Wright about how she approached writing it. She made some interesting comments which you can read in an interview published on the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge website.

This afternoon a shortened version of my review was published on the ABC’s The Drum website.

Review: Forgotten Rebels of Eureka


Clare Wright wins the 2014 Stella Prize for her history of the Ballarat goldfields, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.

This book is bold. A bed-time story this ain’t. Its prose slaps you around the face to make sure you are paying attention. It is assertive and provocative. It sucks you into the time that was, on the Ballarat goldfields of the mid-nineteenth century.

The history of Victoria’s gold rushes and the Eureka Stockade is one of Australia’s well-worn foundational stories. Each year the story is told in school classrooms throughout Australia and children dutifully do their Gold Rush project with varying degrees of interest. Students are told about the flood of people from all over the world rushing to Australia to find gold. They learn about the crowded diggings, about the mass communities of tents which suddenly appeared only to be taken down in great haste when rumour told of a find of gold somewhere else. The lessons go on to tell the story of the miners’ grievances about the compulsory miners’ licence and their complaints about their treatment by authorities on the gold field. They culminate in the rebellion known as Eureka Stockade and the deaths of miners and soldiers after a raid on the Stockade by government forces.

This story could be interesting but the only memory I have of my grade five Gold Rush lessons is how deadly dull they were. One of my daughters didn’t see the point of the project at all.  Yet to my surprise a few months ago the same child, now an adult, told me how much she enjoyed reading an academic article about the Gold Rush for her first year university history course. The article was by Clare Wright, the author of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka. I was aware of the impending release of her book but the fact that Wright’s academic writing had excited a student who had a personal history of thorough disinterest in Gold Rush history made me eager to read the book.

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Our Schools and the War: the Victorian Education Dept and WWI

Book Cover of 'Our Schools and the War'

‘Our Schools and the War’ by Rosalie Triolo (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012).

War is not just about tactics on the battlefield or the machinations of political leaders.  It is also about community, both at the site of active fighting and in the home towns and cities that have seen their men disappear to fight.

In Our Schools and the War’ Rosalie Triolo explores Australia’s participation in World War I in terms of community.  She focuses on the students, parents, teachers and officials who comprised the Education Department of Victoria.  Triolo examines the battle field as well as the home front in her quest to understand how this education community responded and contributed to what was referred to as ‘The Great War’.

The consideration of the role played by Victorian school children in the war is one of the strengths of this book.  Throughout the war the Education Department exhorted school communities to raise funds for the war effort.  Triolo shares a long list of activities undertaken by students.  In Leongatha students raised canaries for sale, made photo frames, caught mice and sold fish they caught.  Students at other schools sold vegetables they grew, helped to feed farm animals, gave musical performances, caught rabbits and sold their skins and made fly nets.  Innovation in fundraising was encouraged as long as it did not have the taint of gambling.

Children were made to feel as real contributors to the work of the communities in which they lived.  Their contributions to the war effort gave them many opportunities to apply what they learned at school. We may have a stereotype view of education in this era, that it was about the three R’s rote learning and corporal punishment, but Triolo observes,

…children were given unprecedented responsibility and autonomy in their communities.  They were freed to exercise initiative, step out of desks and classrooms and engage in activities for the wider community as never before.

p. 79

Continue reading