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A different view of Australia.

No Longer down under: Australians creating change by Mike Brown Grosvenor Books, Toorak, Australia, 2002, ISBN: 0-9592622-3-7.

This is an MRA/Initiatives of Change book and like MRA/IC it breathes optimism, joie de vivre and commitment to the improvement of people's lot world-wide, starting with a commitment to self-reform by every MRA/IC activist it depicts. The author is second generation MRA/IC, his father Gordon Brown, 'having committed (him)self to God without reserve'.

Whilst the international dimension of MRA/IC activities is a constant in Mike Brown's life and work, the book concentrates on specific Australian tasks and on the Australians who inspired him. The book's title underlines this specificity while punning at the same time on the commitment to break with the perceived soullessness of Australian society.

Brown uses significant moments of his own life to link the lively portraits he draws of Australians whose dedication to others is a challenging example of what human beings are capable of. They are people from all walks of life--a dairy-farmer, a former war-time air crew staff, a police Commissioner, Labor MPs (such as Kim Beazley, Snr), a prime ministerial adviser on foreign affairs (Allan Griffith), a trade union leader for the wharfies (Jim Beggs), a Laotian refugee, an Aboriginal community worker (Reg Blow)--not to mention their wives of similarly strong personality and dedication. One woman whom the author focusses on is Christobel Mattingley. She 'was asked in 1983 to be a researcher and editor for the first Aboriginal history told by Aboriginal people themselves'. She worked with great determination to see Survival in our own land published--it took nearly four years and the help of South Australia's first Aboriginal Justice of the Peace, Ken Hampton.

To Mike Brown, that type of endeavour is linked to what he has come to see as Australia's paramount mission. His book traces the time and encounters it took him and his wife Jean to realize that reconciliation with the Aboriginal people was more important than just setting right the wrongs done to the first inhabitants of this continent. After many years of work for reconciliation, it dawned on them that 'the struggle in this country is not between black and white. It is a struggle to face our core values--to face the cocky Aussie self-righteousness hiding our insecurity and our obsession with having "a good time", which often leaves us emotionally homeless, binge-dwellers in spiritual shanties surrounded by our electronic idols.... Perhaps what Aboriginal Australians could help us find is the dignity of being a forgiven people.'

Mike Brown's narrative is structured by the theme of reconciliation. Indeed, the people whose stories he tells were more often than not equally involved in reconciliation policies--Elsie Campbell's reconciliation with Japanese in 1949, after the loss of her two brothers in the war with Japan; Allan Griffith's contributions to resolving border disputes between Queensland and Papua New Guinea; Jim Beggs' work to bring about the transformation of unions' warfare between themselves and with their employers into policies of conciliation and better work practices. Kim Beazley Snr's action with regard to asserting Aboriginal land rights in 1963 was an early start on the road to reconciliation.

Brown accounts skillfully for Max Gale's shipment of cows to India and his help for Indian disabled children; and for Ray Whitrod's efforts to deal with corruption in the Queensland police force.

Most of Mike Brown's mentors are imbued with the principles Frank Buchman bequeathed to MRA/IC and which Kim Beazley Snr learned at Caux: 'searching for God's leading, testing any thoughts that come against absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love'. Whilst this reviewer does not share the assumptions of absolute principles, he feels unreserved admiration for the moral fortitude, the quiet courage and perseverance against many odds of the characters portrayed by Mike Brown. His book makes for uplifting reading and deserves to find its way to people in search of a purposeful life.

Dr Jacques Birnberg is Honorary Research Associate at the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University, Melbourne.
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Title Annotation:No Longer Down Under: Australians Creating Change
Author:Birnberg, Jacques
Publication:For A Change
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Words:675
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