Beyond Fear and Loathing: book review

Shirley Fitzgerald is a freelance public historian, based in Sydney, with an interest in Huskisson and Shoalhaven. Shirley has just written a review of my book, Beyond Fear and Loathing: local politics at work.


Just finished reading Graeme Gibson’s Beyond Fear & Loathing: Local Politics at Work. Well worth a read. The ‘local’ in this case is Shoalhaven City on the south coast, but as they say in the opening scene of The Table of Knowledge, a play about local planning rorts and corruption, ‘This is a unique story, the kind of story that could only ever take place in a place like Wollongong.’ To which the responses come… And Burwood … and Port Macquarie….  And, alas many other places as well …

Of course other levels of government are not any sweeter. But that’s not the point. This book covers local politics in Shoalhaven during the 1990s and up until the local elections of 2008. It has not been written by a theoretician, although it contains a lot of good theoretical insights, but from the knowledge gained by one person who got involved at the grassroots of community level in ‘a lot of little things’ which we are often tempted to ignore or let slide, a lot of little things that can cumulatively add up to the difference between a good society and one that is not. (p. 1)

The book could have become a depressing catalogue of local woes, as little and not so little failures of political transparency, political sleight -of -hand, cronyism and outright corruption unfold.
But it is written with an eye to educating the reader in how these things work so that more understanding and information can lead to better politics and better communities.  The lesson s are not just about being convinced of the justice or good sense of your cause, but about acting smarter. To quote Macchiavelli, as Gibson does on p. 85, ‘we must distinguish between … those who , to achieve their purpose , can force the issue and those who must use persuasion. In the second case, they always come to grief.’

The book is peppered with useful quotations from the ancients to current players in the local scene, as well as thinkers who are presently charting better ways of working at the local level. After all the bruising experiences and rotten politics have been exposed, the final chapter begins with a quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson ‘Come my friends, Tis not too late to seek a newer world.’

Let us all hope so.

This book should be available at all good bookshops. It is, for sure available at this very good bookshop Boobook on Owen. Phone 4441 8585

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