: Law & Culture

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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Michael Kirby: 
Paradoxes and Principles

Kim Rubenstein

Michael Kirby, Paradoxes and Principles by AJ BrownAJ Brown; Federation Press, 2011; 484 pp;
$59.95 (hardback with pictures)

Janet Malcolm, in her brilliant rumination on the problem of biography in The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes,1 writes:

… the narratives called biographies pale and shrink in the face of the disorderly actuality that is a life. … The goal is to make a space where a few ideas and images and feelings may be so arranged that a reader will want to linger awhile among them, rather than to flee…2

A desire to linger awhile is certainly my reaction to reading and enjoying this fulsome account of the first 70 years of Michael Kirby’s life (drawing on over 117 metres of personal records held by the National Archives of Australia, extensive speeches and other papers prepared by the subject, not to mention his court judgments). Brown also skilfully makes space for a few central images and feelings to assist one’s progress through this extensive and absorbing book. The opening image shared with the reader is of the Khyber Pass, where Kirby was travelling for the second time with partner Johan van Vloten. It is 17 December 1973 and ‘This time, at least, there were no guns’. Three and a half years earlier, Afridi tribesmen ‘brandishing rifles’ asked if he was British and ‘the young Australian traveller answered yes’ (p 1).

(2011) 36(3) AltLJ 215

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Gender Stereotyping: Transnational Legal Perspectives

Rachel Ball

Gender Stereotyping: Transnational Legal Perspectives by Rebecca J. Cook and Simone CusackRebecca J. Cook and Simone Cusack; University of Pennsylvania Press; 2011;
270 pp; $US 24.95 (paperback)

How seriously should we take a snide ‘meow’ directed towards a female Minister during parliamentary debate? Should we care that Australian work safety advertisements depict scenes of women cleaning and caring for children while their breadwinner husbands are out to work? Does it matter that a Toronto police officer advised a group of students that if a woman does not want to be raped she should not ‘dress like a slut’?

According to Cook and Cusack, not only do these things matter, they are significant issues of human rights concern and must be acknowledged and addressed as such if we are to adequately respect and protect women’s rights.

(2011) 36(3) AltLJ 217

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Mabo in the Courts: Islander Tradition to Native Title: A Memoir

Robert Lehrer

Mabo in the Courts by Bryan Keon-CohenBryan Keon-Cohen; Australian Scholarly Press, 2011;
$59.95 (paperback)

The Order of the Court: ‘… that the Meriam people are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the island of Mer …’ (1992).

And so the case was won, 6-1 in the High Court. Perhaps an alternative title for this book may have been ‘Mabo: a plucky but lucky victory’ for it is almost certain that it was a most favorably constituted court that handed down the judgment, giving Justice Dawson (the sole dissenting judge) a thorough thrashing. But it is often said that we make our own luck and so it was with the Mabo case. The Mabo team went in as underdog; the case was run on a shoestring budget and skeleton staff, but fought with a vigor and resolve that perhaps took their more resourced opposition by surprise.

(2011) 36(3) AltLJ 218

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London River

Bill Swannie

The London River, directed by Rachid BoucharebDirected by Rachid Bouchareb; produced by Jean Bréhat; starring Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyaté;
English and French language; 2009; 90mins, available on DVD

In the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, Elizabeth Sommers leaves her remote farm to travel to London to look for her daughter Jane, who can’t be contacted by phone. Eventually she finds her daughter’s flat, above a halal butcher shop in London’s predominantly Muslim West End. Although Jane’s Muslim landlord offers her the keys to the flat, Elizabeth couldn’t be more distrusting or suspicious. Aren’t these the people who just detonated bombs on three peak hour trains and a bus?

(2011) 36(3) AltLJ 218

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Graeme Orr reviews Political Daze: 2010 Election Diaries

Graeme Orr

Bob Ellis - Suddenly, Last WinterSuddenly, Last Winter: An Election Diary
Bob Ellis; Viking, 2010; 377 pp;
$32.95 (paperback)

Barrie Cassidy, The Party ThievesThe Party Thieves: the Real Story of the 2010 Election
Barrie Cassidy; Melbourne University Press, 2010; 248 pp;
$34.99 (paperback)

Paul Howes, Confessions of a Faceless ManConfessions of a Faceless Man : Inside Campaign 2010
Paul Howes; Melbourne University Press, 2010; 240 pp;
$24.99 (paperback)

2010 was a bamboozling year in Australian politics. First there was the rise of an unlovably belligerent yet effective Opposition leader. Then there was the swift demise of a Prime Minister who had enjoyed Olympian popularity, and the overnight anointing of our first Female Prime Minister. All this culminated in a rushed election, followed by a 17-day wait before two rural Independents shored-up a brittle Labor administration. The rapid turnover of leaders on both sides of politics, the Greens achieving power in the Senate, the splintering of the left (so that the Labor government barely commands twice the support of the Greens), the miasmatic policy dance in the face of climate change: all are signs of a system that is both open and uncertain, a system in search of an equilibrium after the long and stolid years of the Howard governments.
(2011) 36(2) AltLJ 137

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