Law & Culture

Law and CultureIn our Law & Culture column, you will find original works of fiction, reviews of a wide range of publications — not just conventional legal texts — as well as broader cultural forms such as films, TV shows, CDs, DVDs, art exhibitions and so on. The column links in with the Alternative Law Journal’s focus on law for the disadvantaged, human rights law and law reform.

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Judging for the people: A Social History of the Victorian Supreme Court 1841–2016

Stephen Gray

Judging-for-the-People-264x307Simon Smith (ed); RHSV/Allen & Unwin, 2016; $60 (hardcover)

In 2014, when Helen Garner published her account of the trial of Robert Farquharson for the murder of his three young sons in a Winchelsea dam, she dedicated her book to the Victorian Supreme Court, ‘this treasury of pain, this house of power and grief’. 

Reading this history of the Victorian Supreme Court, auspiced by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and edited by Simon Smith to mark the Court’s 175th anniversary, it is easy to see why.

A social history of the Court is, in a sense, a condensed history of Victoria itself, filtered through the lens of an institution built to accommodate and resolve its most intense political and social conflicts. These range from wills and gold rush crimes to Victoria’s own version of Dickens’ Jarndyce v Jarndyce, the fifty-year long battle over the construction contract for the Geelong-Ballarat railway (p 115), to the trials of Ned Kelly and Ronald Ryan. 

(2016) 41(2) AltLJ 144

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All Fall Down

Kate Galloway

All-Fall-Down-150Matthew Condon; Penguin Books, 2015; 
584 pages; $32.95 (paperback)

A professor hailing from the UK who had made Queensland his home told me some years ago that Queensland was too small a talent pool to govern progressively. His argument was that in this state, we draw our politicians, professionals (including the legal profession), industry leaders, and so on all from a small number of schools and universities. He suggested that this inevitably generated an inward-looking elite, and in the absence of stringent frameworks of governance, could easily result in corruption but would also tend to be self-serving.

I was reminded of these observations while reading Matthew Condon’s masterful final book in a trilogy charting the years of endemic corruption in Queensland’s police force and its circles of power. Following the previous instalments covering earlier decades, All Fall Down deals mainly with the 1980s. These years coincided with my last years at school, my years at uni and early years of legal practice. What struck me was not just that I recognised the leading news stories of the day, but the extent to which the events Condon meticulously chronicles were interwoven with my own life. I wasn’t ever inside the circles of corruption he describes, but I lived in these streets, I partied at these clubs, and I knew many of these people. That’s the way Brisbane was. As my colleague had pointed out, it is a small pool.

(2016) 41(1) AltLJ 73

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Beyond The North-South Culture Wars

Kate Galloway

beyond-the-north-south-culture-wars-150Allan Dale; Springer, 2014; 148 pages; $74.30 (paperback)

In mid-2015, the Australian government released the 
long-awaited white paper on Developing Northern Australia. That this policy is considered important is perhaps illustrated by the appointment by the Turnbull government of a Minister for Northern Australia. As a policy area however, it is possible that those south of the Tropic of Capricorn are somewhat mystified by its importance, or even the issues at stake. Allan Dale’s very readable book provides an excellent primer for northerners and southerners alike, seeking to understand the potential of the north in environmental, cultural and economic terms.

(2016) 41(1) AltLJ 73

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Slick Water

David Turton

Slick-Water-Fracking-150Andrew Nikiforuk; Greystone Books, 2015; 350 pages; $34.99 (hardcover)

The unconventional extraction of fossil fuels continues to be a source of dispute for industry, governments and communities around the world. In what is often a technical literature, personal narratives of unconventional oil and gas development serve to humanise complex subject matter for lay readers — provoking questions about the social, economic and environmental implications of these extractive industries in the process. Legal sagas fall into this literature stream, as the Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk demonstrates in his chronicle of Jessica Ernst’s near decade-long quest for transparency and justice from the Alberta Government and the energy giant Encana — following the construction and drilling of gas wells (including hydraulic fracturing activities) close to her home, near the town of Rosebud, Alberta. Ernst contends that this development has caused water aquifer contamination and these allegations form the basis of claims she has made against government regulators and Encana in the Canadian courts.

(2016) 41(1) AltLJ 74

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Lactivism

Cristy Clark

Lactivism-150Courtney Jung; Basic Books (Distributor, Newsouth Books), 2015; 272 pages; $34.99 (hardcover)

Courtney Jung believes that breastfeeding advocates in the United States have unleashed a wave of coercive public breastfeeding initiatives that pressure mothers to feed their babies breastmilk, while providing little support to enable them to do so. She critiques the paucity of medical evidence underpinning the health claims made in favour of breastmilk, and argues that America is ‘using breastfeeding and pumping as a substitute for maternity leave.’

Jung is at her strongest when she is critiquing the neoliberal nature of public policy in America. Her analysis of the Obama administration’s breastfeeding initiatives, which appear to do little more than encourage women to pump breastmilk at their own expense while catering entirely to the demands of employers, is damning. Similarly convincing is her conclusion that these initiatives will do nothing to resolve ‘the deeply rooted social and structural problems American parents face in trying to raise healthy and secure children’, because breastmilk is no substitute for maternity leave, or accessible child- and health care.

(2016) 41(1) AltLJ 75

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