A SECRET COUNTRY: The Hidden Australia by John Pilger

A SECRET COUNTRY: The Hidden Australia

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A desanitized view of Australia from a veteran Australian journalist, ranging from its founding as a penal colony in 1788 to the machinations of the ""Old Mates,"" the powerful ""dullards"" who threaten the nation's hard-won status as a working-class society of equals. More than 160,000 came to Australia in chains, a practice continuing into the 1880's. Later generations tried to suppress their heritage, so Pilger had to do considerable work to unearth his great-great-grandmother, a pregnant 16-year-old Irish girl when she came over on one of the female slave ships. Such women were passed out first to ""officers, then to non-commissioned officers, then privates, and lastly such ex-convict settlers as seemed 'respectable.'"" Yet the offspring of convicts were more brutal still to Aborigines, taking them as slaves quite as in the American South. Aborigines were seen as animals; even into the 1950's babies were taken away at birth and ""adopted""; full rights are still not accorded these people. Meanwhile, Australia, with its whites-only immigration policy, remained aloof from its Asian neighbors. When the UK's influence waned, the US stepped in, most notably with the use of Australian conscripts in the Vietnam War. According to Pilger, the CIA actually undertook a sort of coup by poisoning the chances for reelection of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam through its influences with powerful Governor General John Kerr. One of the most extraordinary portraits here is of Kerr, a boilermakers's son and rabid conservative whose weakness was booze; he lost his job when he made a drunken pass at the Queen. A brooding, often angry book. Pilger sees hope for this nation of battlers in the example of New Zealand, a superficially similar country that noisily rejected the US nuclear umbrella and has turned fully ten percent of its land into a national park. A startling look, then, at a country quite different from, and hauntingly similar to, the US.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf