Radical Sydney was launched during June 2010, beginning in Wollongong (NSW) where Arthur Rorris, Secretary of the South Coast Labour Council, did the honours. This was followed by launches in Sydney and Melbourne. By the end of the month the book was listed globally on many of the world's bookselling catalogues.
Prior to the launches the authors were interviewed by James Valentine on his afternoon radio show on 702 ABC (Sydney); this was a pleasant, relaxed half-hour discussion of the book, and radical history. First cab off the rank regarding publicity and comment was veteran Sydney journalist John Huxley; on May 29 he mentioned Radical Sydney in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, describing the book as “racily written” and arguably the best of a bunch of forthcoming books about the less-known stories of Sydney’s past. He was followed in The Australian (June 5) by prominent historian Ross Fitzgerald who described Radical Sydney as “excellent….interesting, revealing and crispily written”. On the website of the Better Read Than Dead Bookstore (Newtown, Sydney), Chris awarded the book “five out of five”.
The Maritime Union of Australia featured Radical Sydney on its website (June 17), drawing attention to the book's empathetic treatment of maritime workers and their unions; the June 22 (2010) issue of the Daily Telegraph (Sydney) featured an edited extract from the book on its regular 'History Page'. In the NSW Legislative Council, June 23, the Hon. Ian West MLC cited and drew from Radical Sydney during an address on the history of fascism in Australia and on the fragility of our democratic freedoms.
The three launches were successful events and generated exciting sales, especially the gleebooks (Sydney) event which involved an audience of some 130 people, with Lee Rhiannon MLC (Greens) guest speaker; the venue was packed, standing room only. The Melbourne launch took the format of a discussion of the topic ‘Writing Radical History’; in this the authors were joined by Overland editor Jeff Sparrow (co-author of the two Radical Melbourne books) and veteran labour historian Peter Love. An enthusiastic audience in the Trades Hall venue ensured a lively evening of comment and debate on what was otherwise a very cold Melbourne night. A few days earlier (15 June) Jeff had cited Radical Sydney, over on the New Matilda website, in defence of literary journals and the communal nature of reading.
Community radio showed interest in Radical Sydney, with Rowan doing a half-hour interview about the book on Highland FM (NSW) on 31 May, and Terry doing a similar gig on 3CR Melbourne, June 30.
Pleasing reviews of Radical Sydney were published in the Sydney Morning Herald, July 10-11 (Mandy Sayer), and Australian Book Review, Number 323 (Don Anderson). Stephen Matchett in the Weekend Australian (July 3-4) wrote that if you agreed with the editorialising by Irving and Cahill, then Radical Sydney would be “a delight’. In the rural press, veteran journalist Mac Cott gave the book a good write up in his widely read column “Out of Context’ in the Southern Highlands News, July 9.
A review by Peter Mac in the Communist Party of Australia’s newspaper The Guardian (21 July) yearned for a more comprehensive history of radicalism than the one on offer in our selective Radical Sydney, but concluded with recognition of the book’s importance and recommended it as “well worth reading” (Peter Mac, 21 July). On this matter of ‘selectivity’, Terry and I addressed the Sydney Branch of the Australian Society of Archivists (July 14) and discussed the subjective factors that influenced our shaping of Radical Sydney.
Especially pleasing was the ongoing acquisition of Radical Sydney by libraries during the month (tracked by the National Library of Australia’s Trove). Many of these libraries are public ones, as distinct from academic/specialist libraries, suggesting the book is attracting a wide audience. During our writing of Radical Sydney Terry and I endeavoured to write in way that did not compromise historical accuracy or scholarly standards, and was accessible to non-specialist audiences. By the end of the month our book was amongst 157 others nominated for the prestigious CAL Waverley Library Literature Award, aka "The Nib" (results later this year).
Radical Sydney entered the gleebooks non-fiction Bestseller List for August; ten books, with Radical Sydney at number three spot. More positive reviews: in Education, journal of the NSW Teachers Federation (Desmond Moore); Socialist Alternative (Sarah Schmidt); Qantas The Australian Way, Qantas’ in-flight journal (Paul Robinson). Rowan did another community radio gig -- a 10 minute spot on Highlands FM107.1 with broadcaster John Sider. The book is variously the subject of blogger and twitter comment. Coming through strongly in comments and reviews is the sense that Radical Sydney is helping people relate to the space/entity that is Sydney, one they feel disenfranchised from when imagined otherwise in capitalist/CBD/tourist guises. A lengthy report of our July talks to the NSW Branch of the Australian Society of Archivists was published in the August issue of the archivists' newsletter.
Terry and Rowan each gave Radical Sydney related talks during History Week (on September 9), respectively on the political role of the crowd in Sydney's history since the 1840s; and on industrial relations in the AIF during World War 1, and fascist sympathies in Sydney between the two World Wars. Some 50 people attended the session organised by the Sydney Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, held in Sydney's Trades Hall. A small, welcome, review of Radical Sydney by Johanna Leggatt appeared in the Sun-Herald newspaper (12 September). The first, and pleasing, scholarly review of the book, by Tony Smith, was published in the September issue of the Australian Review of Public Affairs. Very pleasing also to note the National Library's Trove statistics showing the burgeoning purchase of Radical Sydney by the nation's public and tertiary libraries. Anecdotal evidence to hand indicates the book is already being used in tertiary undergraduate history courses.
Radical Sydney is walking off the shelves. And is back on the gleebooks non-fiction Bestseller List at Number 3. With only a few copies remaining in the publisher’s warehouse, the decision has been made to keep the book in print; a 'Print On Demand (POD)' arrangement is now in place. Leading question: what is the book’s appeal? Maybe this: as John Keene argues (Australian Literary Review, October 6), internationally and locally the social democratic ideal of a socially just society in which extremes of wealth and poverty are curbed has been undermined by machine politics, short-term opportunism, and corruption; as Rod Cavalier demonstrates (in Power Crisis: The Self-Destruction of a State Labor Party, Cambridge University Press, October 2010), the ALP (in NSW, but arguably nationally), has been captured by machine men and women, lost its social democratic vision and mission, and severed its roots with local party members. Radical Sydney is an antidote to the pessimism generated by this depressing state of affairs. The book is testament to the age-old notion that people can take the struggle for social justice and just causes into their own hands; individually, preferably collectively, they can take action against, confront, and often defeat, the hydra of social injustice, greed, corruption, state violence. Radical Sydney is a timely reminder and affirmation that we don’t have to delegate democratic power and responsibility to representative government and a party political system, one currently failing all but those who lead and staff it, and those who grease its oily wheels.
Library sales continue to be chalked up, with some librarians rating the book as 'hot'. Write-ups and reviews in Lloyd's List Daily Commercial News (Jim Wilson), Maritime Workers' Journal, and a significant scholarly review in The Queensland Journal of Labour History, September 2010 (Janis Bailey). Visits to our Blog are increasing; 440 viewings this month, with the two radical history essays drawing most interest. Overseas interest apparent in the Blog visits.
While Radical Sydney did not get shortlisted for the CAL/Waverley Literature Award (November 3), as authors and historians we found the experience of being nominated new and satisfying. Pleasing to read a detailed account of our Radical Sydney talks during History Week reported by Terri McCormack in the latest issue of Phanfare, Newsletter of the Professional Historians' Association (NSW). According to McCormack, Irving and Cahill are attempting to redress an imbalance in Australian historiography and "can only enrich and enhance the history that seemed so boring to many of us in our school years". Very positive reviews were published in the Sydney University Alumni Magazine (SAM), by Diana Simmonds, and in Labour History, by Jeff Sparrow. On the last day of the month we spoke in Newtown (Sydney) at a meeting organised by the local Socialist Alternative branch. Terry talked about the radicalism of crowds in Sydney's history and the tenacious, largely forgotten, radical internationalist Paul Freeman; Rowan spoke about the 1916 military strike and industrial relations in the AIF during World War 1. It was an enjoyable evening of engagement with some sixty, mainly young, radicals. Significant blog traffic continues; libraries continue to purchase the book.
Twitter comment (December 15) rates Radical Sydney one of the best reads of 2010; thank you Andrew from the UNSW Bookshop. Another review of our book was published, in the latest issue of Hummer (Volume 6, No. 2, 2010), Journal of the Sydney Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History. This issue also republished Terry’s essay “Rediscovering Radical History” (originally posted on this blog -- see side panel). We caught up with A Few Right Thinking Men (Pantera Press, 2010) by Sulari Gentill, a crime fiction involving the secret-army world of violent anti-communism and pro-fascism in Sydney between the two world wars. It is good to see this territory being explored by a novelist as part of the Australian political landscape; a far cry from the Cold War days when the critic/poet A. D. Hope lambasted D. H. Lawrence’s secret-army novel Kangaroo (1923) for having imposed alien politics (i.e. incipient Italian fascism) on Australian society and culture, as though Australia had never developed significant home-grown fascist tendencies. Thanks are due here to the efforts over time of researchers like Keith Amos, Michael Cathcart, Robert Darroch, Richard Hall, Humphrey McQueen, Andrew Moore for their work in correcting this false impression and opening Australia’s secret-army history to investigation and analysis. Late December the Sydney Morning Herald reported plans to demolish the iconic Point Piper (Sydney) mansion ‘Craig-y-Mor’. The article listed some former residents/owners-- the consul-general of Japan, stevedoring company owner Chris Corrigan, stockbroker Rene Rivkin. Not mentioned, but detailed in Chapter 32 of Radical Sydney, was the mansion’s role during the 1930s through to the eve of the bombing of Pearl Harbour, as a hub for Japanese intelligence activity and as a meeting place for well-heeled pro-Japanese Australian sympathisers and potential collaborators.
Terry and Rowan both have recently published radical history related articles in Illawarra Unity, Journal of the Illawarra Branch of the ASSLH: 'Never Neutral' (Cahill) is a republication of the blog essay of the same title; 'A Radical History Book: How We Came to Write It' (Irving) is totally new. The Sydney Writers' Festival programme has been published and we are scheduled for a free session organised by the Historic Houses Trust on Friday, May 20, 1.00pm-2.00pm, at The Mint (Sydney); Robbie Buck (702 ABC Evenings) will talk with us, along with Tony Moore, author of Death or Liberty: Rebels and Radicals Transported to Australia 1788-1868.
New, and pleasing, reviews of Radical Sydney have been published recently in Illawarra Unity, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2010 (Maurie Mulheron); the Australian Journal of Politics and History, Volume 57, No. 1, March 2011 (Jeff Rickertt); the Journal of Industrial Relations, Volume 53, No. 1, March 2011 (Chris Gambian). These bring the total number of reviews of the book to twenty.
On the strength of Radical Sydney's appearance at the Sydney Writers' Festival, a story about the book and authors featured for a week (from 8 April) on the University of Wollongong's homepage; this in turn resulted in Rowan being interviewed about the book on ABC Radio, Illawarra.
To date, and in less than a year since publication, Radical Sydney has been cited or mentioned in at least four PhD theses available online. It seems scholars have been drawn to the book for a number of reasons: it deals with a vast amount of material over a long stretch of time, making this available and accessible; it constructs a narrative with this diversity, establishing links and continuities with what, in conservative hands, tends to be regarded as isolated or aberrant political/social behaviour; and it does all this in a forthright manner which pulls few punches.
End of year, and time for reflection. Time magazine's 'Person of the Year' is 'The Protester', reference to the many people globally who took to the streets and cyberspace during 2011, railing against governments of all kinds, dictatorial and democratic, and in the process variously bringing down governments, changing political agendas, changing public debate. Radical Sydney was conceived in the early years of the new century, before mass protest was on the horizon, and when repression of a military, political, cultural kind was loosed upon the world by the secular hydra of anti-terrorism. Published at the end of the first decade of the new century, Radical Sydney meshes neatly with the 'protest' spirit of the times.
According to statistics regarding online visits, our blog continues to draw interest, especially the essay pages--Terry's essay in particular; so too Joan Hume's "Disability and History" essay. The recently added "Ruminations" page is also proving a hit. In bookshops randomly visited during wanderings, we have noted POD copies of Radical Sydney on shelves, indicative of continuing demand for the book almost two-years since publication. During February, the twenty-first review of Radical Sydney was published ["A Return to our Radical Roots", Vibewire.org], by young Politics student Danielle Chiaverni, who we met last year during the Newtown Festival.
During February, historian Ann Curthoys gave Radical Sydney a pleasing mention in her talk to the Glebe Society (Sydney) about her association with Glebe and its radical politics and intellectual life. Pleasing also to see the book being cited in scholarly articles, PhD theses, and books.
Visits to our Radical Sydney/Radical History blog continue apace; during February we had the biggest number of visits since going online in June 2010. In early November, we recorded a total of 11,000 site visits since going online. Interest was no doubt helped by word of our blogging spreading, as in the paragraph note about our blog page "Radical Ruminations" in the May 2012 (Issue Number 102) of the Labour History journal (p. 253), and by comment posted on the Socialist Alliance facebook page. Indeed, judging from the statistics available to us, it is the "Ruminations" page that continues to draw significant interest, a factor we noted earlier during the year (see our January-February Diary entry [above]). The greatest number of downloads, however, are for Terry's essay, "Rediscovering Radical History". Such is the interest generally, we've had a number of discussions with scholars, and will probably be doing some radical history gigs around the academic traps during 2013.
On the strength of his peformance at the same function in 2011, Rowan addressed the Sydney Eureka Stockade Commemoration event on November 30. The 140 guests heard him speak on a radical history related topic: the banned Australian Communist Party's underground organisation during World War 2, and its plans for guerilla resistance in the event of invasion by Japan.
We were interviewed in late November about Radical Sydney, and the notion, and writing, of radical history, by ABC Radio National producer Lorena Allam. A ten minute part of this interview was included as part of a 'Hindsight' programme broadcast 16 December 2012 on the subject of one of the chapters in the book, artist Lucien Henry (1850-1896). The programme was titled "Citizen in the Republic of the Arts: Lucien Henry".
It seems that the project initiated in 2001 by Ian Syson and his Vulgar Press with the publication of the first of the 'radical history/city' books, beginning with Radical Melbourne by Jeff and Jill Sparrow, followed by a second Melbourne book by the same authors, then one on Brisbane by a team of authors, and later Radical Sydney, planned for Vulgar but ending up with UNSW Press, has borne fruit and gone some way to shifting historical perspectives.
Rowan Cahill & Terry Irving