Quarterly Essays

[This post first appeared on my old blog on 2 October 2005. I’m making it public in this one in September 2021 because I want to link to it.]

John Hirst, Kangaroo Court’: Family Law in Australia (Quarterly Essay 17)
Gail Bell, The Worried Well: The Depression Epidemic and the Medicalisation of our Sorrows (Quarterly Essay 18)
Judith Brett, Relaxed & Comfortable: The Liberal Party’s Australia (Quarterly Essay 19)

Let me sing the praises of the Quarterly Essay. Published by Black Inc in Melbourne, it’s a series of substantial papers on matters of public interest, generally thoughtful, often polemical and, of the ones I’ve read, always readable. The last three have been historian John Hirst on the Family Law Court, writer and pharmacist Gail Bell on depression and pharmaceuticals, and political historian Judith Brett on the political success of John Howard and the Liberal Party. In a time when public discussion so often consists of sound bites or prolonged slanging matches (culture wars, history wars, poetry wars, not to mention the Latham diaries and the recent political and nearly personal destruction of John Brogden), this series stands out like a beacon.

Not only does each issue present a sustained piece of argument, it also includes correspondence on previous issues. So there have been replies from the people most fiercely criticised by John Hirst, as well as thoughtful additions and contextualisations of his argument; and responses to Gail Bell’s piece that range from defences of Big Pharma to two pieces that argue she didn’t go far enough in her critique.

The Art Student reckons that Judith Brett’s essay is the best thing she’s ever read about Australian political history, and that it should be made into a film or a comic book so as to have the widest possible readership. And QE20, due out in December, can reasonably be expected to have the very best that anyone can come up with by way of rebuttal, expansion, derision. I don’t suppose we’ll hear from John Howard himself, but I’m confident there’ll be something other than the lurid rantings of columnists like Andrew Bolt or Miranda Divine.

It gives one hope for something like a civil society.

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