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Australian Lives: An Intimate History (Anisa Puri & Alistair Thomson, Monash University Press)

Using interviews recorded by the National Library of Australia’s Australian Generations Oral History Project, the authors of this major book have selected the recorded stories of 50 people to provide a survey of life for Australians from the 1930s to recent times. From Indigenous Australians to immigrant teachers, nurses and tradesmen, Aussie battlers and achievers, the authors’ judicious selection gives the reader real insight into the lives, attitudes, prejudices, hardships, challenges and accomplishments across their chosen time frame. The book is arranged as a sort of expanded ‘seven ages of man’, from birth to death, with a succinct introduction to each chapter and copious extracts from the recorded reminiscences of the 50 selected people. One follows the fortunes of (for example) Ruth, a working single mum in the 1950s and 1960s; James, a Sudanese immigrant who battled his way into TAFE courses that changed his life; and Lisa, whose Aboriginality influenced her life in complex ways. Some of the interviews are repetitive, however, this leads to a fuller understanding of these people’s lives and times. Apart from being an involving general read, this book should be a valuable resource for anyone interested in the personal and social history of our country. The ebook has hyperlinks to the original lengthy NLA interviews: their usefulness will depend on individual readers’ needs.

Max Oliver is a retired Australian bookseller


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