Australia emerged from WW1 into a decade of profound change, characterised by a revolution in behaviour amongst the young; by the first great age of consumerism; by the new and increasingly sophisticated impact of the movies; by secret right wing armies and the emergence of the Communist Party; and by two less remembered and very interesting PMs, the handsome, sombre Stanley Melbourne Bruce of the Melbourne Establishment, and Jim Scullin, unpretentious Labor man of humbler Irish parentage.
As in the two previous volumes of Australians Keneally brings history to vivid and pulsating life as he traces the lives and the deeds of Australians known and unknown. As another war grew closer he follows the famous and the infamous through the Great Crash and the rise of Fascism, and explains how Australia was inexorably drawn into a war which led her forces into combat throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and the Pacific. At home an atmosphere of fear grew with the fall of Singapore and the bombing of Darwin, the Japanese advance and then the American Alliance and the arrival of General MacArthur
Peace brought its own problems with the Depression that left one third of Australians unemployed. Keneally believes too that the 1950s are misunderstood - depicted by some as an age of full employment, by others as the age of suburban spread and boredom under the serene prime ministership of Robert Menzies. But Menzies was complicated and so were the 1950s. A majority of Australians believed there would be nuclear war before the end of the decade. The Korean war was seen as prelude, and so our government agreed to British atom bomb tests in the South Australian desert and at the Montebello islands. The fall of the French in Vietnam was prelude to our engagement there and, along with the defection of the Soviet spy Petrov, convinced Australians they were living in the last of days. Under this pressure the talented leader of the ALP, Bert Evatt, one of the founders of the UN, saw his party begin to split in two. On the street, the face of Australia, in an era of great change, was undergoing an Italian, Greek and Slavic-led sea change. And in even greater changes, Asian trade and immigration, were coming our way, especially now that we had signed the peace treaty with Japan.
The result of masterly writing and exhaustive research is a volume which brings Australia's more recent history to vibrant life.