Broadband ball rolling

SIGNIFICANT parts of the Loddon Mallee region will soon have access to high speed broadband, and communities can start reaping the benefits for business, health and education, the iBendigo Loddon Mallee Chairman Bruce Winzar said yesterday.
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Mr Winzar has welcomed NBN Co’s announcement of NBN fixed wireless coming soon to Mildura, Swan Hill, Campaspe, Loddon andGannawarra Shires.

Good news: iBendigo Loddon Mallee chair Bruce Winzar.

“NBN Co is now starting to consult with five local government areas across the Loddon Mallee region, to start the ball rolling on fixed wireless.

“As a group we welcome this action, which means significant parts of the Loddon Mallee region will soon have access to high speed broadband, and can start reaping the benefits for business, health andeducation.”

NBN Co will work with local councils on the network design and rollout, consulting with communities about the number and location of the fixed wireless facilities.

According to NBN Co, the fixed wireless service will offer telephone and internet service providers wholesale speeds of up to 25 megabits per second download and five megabits per second upload.

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The election and the dismissal: How Fairfax papers saw the events

Gough Whitlam’s three years as prime minister would be some of the most transformative and energised in Australian history. This was no more obvious than in the media coverage of Australia’s 21st prime minister and his government.
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The long-term effect of his time in government is beyond doubt – evident in the almost universal expressions of respect, awe and admiration following his death on Tuesday morning. But it cannot be forgotten that the revolutionary and short three years were also divisive and tumultuous. Fairfax’s newspapers reflected this.

The Election – 1972

“MASSIVE SWING PUTS LABOR IN,” boomed the The Sun-Herald on December 3, 1972, a picture of Whitlam with his formidable partner Margaret accompanying the article.

A special edition of The Age on Sunday (The Sunday Age was established in 1989) declared “It’s Labor, Easily”.

Days later, the December 6 front page of The Age was a perfect illustration of the zeal with which Whitlam approached reform. Headlines pointed to Whitlam’s rapid action on ending the draft and a dramatically different approach to foreign policy, including Australia’s approach to China and various other controversial issues.

The page also recalls the extraordinary “two-man ministry” that consisted of Whitlam and the deputy prime minister Lance Barnard. The two of them would enact many significant reforms before the full cabinet was formed in late December.

The Dismissal – 1975

The dismissal would divide not only the nation but also its newspapers.

In Melbourne, The Age would unequivocally condemn the move. In Sydney, the Herald would entirely support it.

“The propriety and wisdom of his action should not be in question,” lectured the Herald’s front-page editorial. “They should not be in question because, as he makes clear, the course he has taken was the only course open to him.”

“Let this be said. This crisis from the beginning has derived from the deep division of opinion among Australians about the larger crisis – our deteriorating economy, declining confidence in the government’s managerial competence and its integrity, growing disillusion with its extravagant socialist aims and its honesty in promoting them.”

The Age would also run an extract from its editorial on the front page: “The decision of the Governor-General was, we believe, a triumph of narrow legalism over common sense and popular feeling. We believe he was wrong.”

The Canberra Times would lead with “FRASER IS PRIME MINISTER” across the top of the page, and then detail the “Protests, strikes backlash” that followed the shocking and unprecedented events.

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Reverence from those too young to witness Gough Whitlam as prime minister

Young people in Labor talk of the years Gough Whitlam was in power as a golden age of action. Photo: Steven SiewertGough Whitlam dead at 98Changing a nation: What Gough Whitlam did in powerObituary: Martyr for a moment, hero for a lifetime
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The outpouring began instantly and flowed through the day. It seemed no friend or follower could resist posting their tribute to Gough Whitlam. In the age of social media it becomes almost insensitive not to, as if the world might note your failure to sufficiently mark the occasion.

What struck me was the universality and intensity of worship from my fellow-travellers under 25. We had no experience of the man – he had barely delivered a public speech in our lifetime – but we were intimately familiar with his work. I spoke with a number of friends, some of them actively involved in politics, others on the periphery, about why.

Karen Chau, 23, migrated here from Hong Kong with her parents in 1997. The first thing they did was sign up for Medicare. That, and the more supportive and inclusive country for which she also credits Whitlam, loomed large in her parents’ decision to make Australia their home. Of all the prime ministers she studied at school, Whitlam was the one she singled-out for further reading.

“What [he] showed was that you could be an idealist, and you can enact those ideas into tangible reforms that leave a legacy and make a difference to people’s lives,” she said.

Shaun Crowe, 25, squeezed into his size-six childhood “It’s Time” T-shirt on Tuesday and wore it to work, where he tutors in Australian politics. “He’s probably the first politician that I looked up to,” he said of Whitlam. “It was the ambition of his person and his politics.”

For Crowe, it was Whitlam’s grand narrative that stood the test of time – seeing Australia “as a project that was worthy of being big”. That meant funding the arts, expanding access to higher education and healthcare, and involving everyone in the journey toward a “new nationalism”.

Young people in Labor talk of the Whitlam years as a golden age of action, when the candle burned half as long but twice as bright. Even those on the party’s right gush about that long-awaited victory in the dying days of 1972, and the injustice of the dismissal – a raw, human sadness about time cut short while there was still so much left to do.

“My grandparents brought me up on the Whitlam story,” said John Harding-Easson, 22, who met the man several times. “My grandma never spoke of something with as much passion.”

There is a reverence for Whitlam that transcends the bitter, sometimes immature divisions among young hacks. Greens admire him, if not as a hero of the left, then as someone who stood for and acted on principles that are absent in the modern ALP.

“A lot of Gough Whitlam’s reforms were the products of social movements of his time,” said Rafi Alam, 22. “But not actively working against the social movements of your time is more than you can say for any other PM in the past few decades.”

Conservative friends posted tributes that were genuinely heartfelt and appreciative. Some remarked, perceptively, that such bipartisan respect had not been granted upon the death of Margaret Thatcher. They all gave credit where it was due.

“A prime minister that not only inspired young people in his own party but inspired a generation of young right-wingers to enter politics and defend important institutions and values like the constitution and the free market,” Dean Shachar, a 19-year-old Liberal, said.

But time and time again, people came back to Whitlam’s social agenda. Social justice weighs on young shoulders in a way that economics does not – we are connected to a sense of fairness long before we are connected with mortgages and interest rates. Women’s rights and equal pay; returning land to Indigenous peoples; the Racial Discrimination Act – there is a consensus among the young that Whitlam embodied their hopes for this country’s future, long before their time.

Whitlam is the reference point for today’s disillusionment with politics. How busy and exciting those three years seem when pitched up against today’s timidity, soundbites and deference to committees, reviews and processes.

For people whose entire memory of politics is the blanket conservatism of Howard and the muddling centrism of Rudd and Gillard, Whitlam is a faint beacon of hope in the rear-view mirror. His legacy dares us to dream – that if a leader of such calibre could exist before, one might yet appear again. That if such zeal had once prospered, albeit briefly, its time may come once more.

Whitlam was remembered on Tuesday as a “giant of his era”, but this is inadequate. He was a giant of my era, too.

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Gough Whitlam helped big things grow for indigenous people

In Aboriginal communities across the nation there are people named Whitlam, in tribute to the man who might be regarded as Australia’s first prime minister for indigenous affairs.
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“All of us as Australians are diminished while the Aborigines are denied their rightful place in ths nation,” Gough Whitlam argued in his 1972 election campaign speech.

On taking office, Mr Whitlam created a department of Aboriginal affairs and appointed the first full-time federal minister for indigenous affairs, who was advised by the National Aboriginal Consultative Council, an elected body set up to give indigenous people a say in the policies affecting them.

“He was a man who sat down with our people and treated them with respect,” said Kirstie Parker, a co-chairwoman of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the latest of a number of Aboriginal representative bodies that followed the council set up by Mr Whitlam.

His government funded legal services for Aboriginal people, overrode racist state laws and prohibited racial discrimination by legislating the Racial Discrimination Act.

But he is perhaps best remembered for his visit to the Northern Territory community of Daguragu, which was immortalised in the Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody song, From Little Things Big Things Grow.

On August 16, 1975, Mr Whitlam, the “tall stranger” of the song, poured sand into the hand of Gurindji leader Vincent Lingiari, to signify the return of part of the Gurindji’s traditional lands, marking the end of a nine-year struggle, which began when Aboriginal stockmen and their families walked off the Wave Hill cattle station. “We are all mates now,” Mr Lingiari replied simply.

Elders in the community of Kalkarindji, near the site of the old cattle station, met on Tuesday and resolved to hold their own memorial to Whitlam as well as sending representatives to his state memorial service.

Reflecting on Whitlam’s legacy on Tuesday, Marcia Langton, the foundation chair in Australian indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne said: “He ushered in a new era and people of my generation will be forever grateful to him for his courage and vision.”

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Photograph of Gough Whitlam after he delivered his party’s policy on winning government had a life of its own

Blacktown Civic Centre, November 13, 1972. Photo: Rick StevensIt could have been the renaissance in black and white.
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But Rick Stevens’ front page photograph in the Herald on November 14, 1972, of messiah-like Gough Whitlam and an adoring acolyte captured the moment when Labor’s time had finally come.

Whitlam had just opened Labor’s election campaign at the Blacktown Civic Centre and Stevens had slipped from the media pack and made his way onto the stage.

“I wanted to show Gough with people rather than looking up his nose from below. There they were: Bob Hawke, Col Joye, Little Pattie, Clyde Cameron. And then this woman appeared,” Stevens recalled.

“I squeezed off a few frames but my flash didn’t work. I was only a young C grade and panicked, but when I returned to the office to develop the film, all the people were there and I knew it was a pretty good shot.”

Stevens went on to win the Nikon Best News Picture of the Year Award for the photograph.

And if it was an indelible image of the 1972 campaign, it certainly stayed on Gough Whitlam’s mind.

“Eleven years ago, I was driving him to the Sydney Opera House for a photo shoot – it was at his suggestion that ‘two icons were far better than one’ – when Gough started talking about my campaign launch photograph. It was rather nice to be remembered for your work.”

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Gough Whitlam overcame fierce resistance to usher in universal health care

When Gough Whitlam took office, only Queensland and Tasmania provided free public hospital treatment, and more than a million people could not afford insurance. While the then Coalition government provided tax incentives to encourage people to purchase private cover, these were grossly inequitable.
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“I personally find quite unacceptable a system whereby the man who drives my Commonwealth car in Sydney pays twice as much for the same family cover as I have, not despite the fact that my income is four or fivetimes higher than his, but precisely because of my higher income,” Mr Whitlam said in his 1972 election campaign speech.

Mr Whitlam’s solution was Medibank, Australia’s first universal health insurance scheme. The scheme would provide free public hospital treatment and access to a range of other subsidised medical services.

“It was absolutely revolutionary,” recalled John Deeble, who co-authored proposals that formed the basis of Medibank.

To implement the scheme, Mr Whitlam fought opposition from private health funds, who argued it constituted a socialist takeover, and doctors’ groups, who were worried it would hurt their incomes.

The Medibank bills were repeatedly blocked by the Senate, only becoming law after the first joint sitting of Parliament in Australian history, following the double dissolution election of May 1974.

Medibank began operation little more than a month before “the dismissal” and was largely repealed by the Fraser government, before being restored under the name of Medicare by the Hawke government in 1983.

Mr Whitlam also committed significant funding to build new hospitals, including a seeding grant for the construction of Westmead Hospital in Sydney’s west. His government also funded the construction of community health centres and provided money to the states for alcohol and drug rehabilitation and mental health services.

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Tributes flow as former PMs reflect on Whitlam legacy

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser said Gough Whitlam was in some ways a mythological figure. Photo: Justin McManusSix former prime ministers helped lead tributes to Labor legend Gough Whitlam on Tuesday, highlighting his contributions to Australian life in the arts, civil society and on the international stage.
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Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who replaced Mr Whitlam in the dramatic days of the 1975 dismissal, credited his former rival with opening new doors in Australia and helping “to show the possibility of a new and perhaps better future” after leading the ALP out of the political wilderness of 23 years of conservative rule.

“He is in some ways almost a mythological figure, he is revered, whatever the success or shortfalls of his government, he has played an enormously important part in Australians’ life and that can’t be taken from him,” he told Fairfax Media.

Mr Whitlam was a formidable parliamentary performer and a tough opponent, Mr Fraser said, but he had “never had the feeling he carried personal animosity to me as a result of 1975” and nor had the pair discussed those days as “he knew and I knew what the facts were”.

“As we met at different forums, mostly overseas initially, the ice began to break and we established a friendship … it was only later we developed a closeness and a friendship, after we left the Parliament.”

Bob Hawke said the simple truth was “Australia is a better country because of the life and work of Gough Whitlam”.

The longest-serving Labor prime minister said Mr Whitlam would be remembered for everything from civic improvements that put in place sewerage services in Australia’s newer suburbs, through more equitable health and education services, to his vision as an international statesman.


“If you look at the two fundamental issues which determine the welfare of ordinary people, that’s health and education. He was absolutely profoundly important in transforming both those aspects of the lives of ordinary Australians,” he said.

Paul Keating, who served briefly as a junior minister in the final days of the Whitlam government, said the Labor leader had “changed the way Australia thought about itself and gave the country a new destiny”, helping create a more inclusive and compassionate society that was more engaged in the world.

“He snapped Australia out of the Menzian torpor – the orthodoxy that had rocked the country asleep, giving it new vitality and focus. But more than that, bringing Australia to terms with its geography and place in the region,” he said in a statement.

“Along his journey he also renovated the Labor Party, making it useful again as an instrument of reform to Australian society. He will missed by all who identified with his values and determination to see Australia a better place.”

John Howard said Mr Whitlam, who had been prime minister when he entered Parliament in 1974, was possessed of high intelligence, a commanding presence and strong beliefs that left a lasting impact on Australian politics.

“Fundamental to his policy attitudes was Gough Whitlam’s belief that an activist and interventionist national government was always the appropriate response to Australia’s challenges. Whilst there will always be debate on such a proposition, Whitlam’s commitment to it permeated his actions in government.”

And Kevin Rudd, who like Mr Whitlam led Labor out of a long stint in the political wilderness, said Mr Whitlam had left an “indelible mark on Australia” and “Australia will always be the better for it”.

Mr Whitlam’s courage in serving with the RAAF during the Pacific War was often forgotten, Mr Rudd said, as “some also forget his political courage, profound foresight and sheer statesmanship when as leader of the opposition, in the anti-Communist hysteria of the time, he visited China, met Mao and Zhou Enlai, and undertook to recognise China if elected in 1972. Which promptly he did,” he said.

On the domestic front, “Gough’s instinctive embrace of indigenous Australians, and their rights to land, particularly at a time when racism was still alive and well in our country, has made him an unassailable hero in the hearts and minds of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Just as his introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act fundamentally reshaped our laws.”

Julia Gillard said Mr Whitlam would be remembered for his impact on Australia’s universities, Medicare, family law, land rights for indigenous Australians and improving relations with China.

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Council mergers: Local Government Minister Paul Toole tells mayors to ‘get on with it’

‘Get on with the job’: Local Government Minister Paul Toole. Photo: Dean SewellLocal Government Minister Paul Toole has ruled out polling voters about council mergers at the state election in March.
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Mr Toole told the state’s councils “you know your communities now”, when asked at the Local Government Association conference in Coffs Harbour if he would support councils wanting to include a question on the contentious issue when the electorate headed to the polls.

“You know what they’re looking for from the council,” he told delegates on Tuesday.

“You already know that answer. It’s something now you’ve just got to go and actually have that conversation in whatever way it’s going to be.”

The government has argued that amalgamations would help address the dire financial state of the local government sector. Two-thirds of NSW’s 152 councils were operating in the red last year. Last month, financial incentives worth $258 million were announced to encourage voluntary mergers – a proposition opposed by many councils.

“We have spent the last three years discussing the need for change and planning the best way to approach it,” said Mr Toole, who also told the conference that many supported the reforms “privately”.

“Now is time to get on with the job.”

Councils have until the end of the financial year to put forward submissions about how they intend to be “fit for the future” – including by nominating to merge. The make-up of the panel that will assess those proposals is expected to be announced by the new year.

However, the state government has left open the door to forcibly reducing the number of councils if its reforms are not successful. Labor, which opposes forced amalgamations, has called on the state government to come clean before March regarding its position on the issue.

Local Government NSW president Keith Rhoades said Mr Toole had not clarified what would happen to councils if they failed to make a submission. The association was still waiting to be consulted about the next stage in the process, he said.

“What can only be perceived as a taint of secrecy is concerning nearly all councils in NSW because some of them still can’t sit at the table and explain to their communities … why they’re going to be better if they merge,” Cr Rhodes said.

But Steve Russell, the Liberal mayor of Hornsby Shire Council, which is in favour of amalgamating with neighbouring Kur-ring-gai, said while he was leaving the conference with greater clarity, he did not think many other of the delegates had heard the message.

“The message is: change is inevitable and we need to get ready for it,” Cr Russell said.

“A lot of people didn’t hear it because they didn’t want to hear it.”

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Pacific warms towards El Nino levels as Australia heats up

Broadscale warmth expected over Australia over the coming weekend, including for Sunday. Photo: BoM
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Broadscale warmth expected over Australia over the coming weekend, including for Sunday. Photo: BoM

Unusual temperatures: Some regions are going to cop a blast of heat as near-El Nino conditions dominate.

Unusual temperatures: Some regions are going to cop a blast of heat as near-El Nino conditions dominate.

Unusual temperatures: Some regions are going to cop a blast of heat as near-El Nino conditions dominate.

Unusual temperatures: Some regions are going to cop a blast of heat as near-El Nino conditions dominate.

Broadscale warmth expected over Australia over the coming weekend, including for Sunday. Photo: BoM

Broadscale warmth expected over Australia over the coming weekend, including for Sunday. Photo: BoM

Most of the planet was warmer than average in September – with sea-surface temperatures at record levels. Photo: NOAA

Ocean temperatures are again warming in the Pacific, helping to drive global temperatures to new highs and also leaving conditions primed for an El Nino event to be declared in coming months.

The Bureau of Meteorology said sea surface temperatures in the central equatorial Pacific had warmed closer to El Nino-threshold levels in the past fortnight.

“They’re at the warmest levels they’ve been since the build-up [for an El Nino] started in March,” Andrew Watkins, manager of climate prediction services, told Fairfax Media.

However, meteorologists are yet to see the signature elements of such an event, such as a sustained stalling or reversal of the east-west trade winds, Dr Watkins said.

One reason why the atmosphere to yet to “couple” with the oceans and reinforce conditions needed for an El Nino to develop is that sea surface temperatures also remain warmer than usual in the western Pacific, he said. Without that temperature gradient, winds won’t reverse.

Globally, sea surface temperatures in September were the warmest for any month in records going back to 1880, at 0.66 degrees above the 20th century average, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Monday – beating a record set just the previous month.

This year will be the hottest on record should the anomaly for the first nine months of the year be maintained for the October-December period – a result possible given the near-El Nino conditions in the key Pacific region.

The 12 months to September have already been the warmest such period on record, NOAA said. At 0.69 degrees above average, it eclipsed three earlier stints, September 1997-August 1998, August 2009-July 2010, and September 2013-August 2014.

Outback to bake

Australia is already experiencing unusually warm temperatures and rainfall deficiencies typical for an El Nino year. Clear night skies in inland areas are also leading to frost – another symptom, Dr Watkins said.

Adelaide’s maximum reached 37.3 degrees on Tuesday, its warmest October day in eight years and the city’s fourth day in a row of 30-plus weather.

Melbourne warmed to a top of 28 degrees while Sydney’s cool patch will end with a string of warm days reaching into next week.

The real heat, though, will be on show over outback Australia with “very high temperatures” predicted for Friday to Monday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

A huge pool of heat will settle over much of South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland with maximums of 42 degrees or more for Sunday and Monday.

Average national daily maximums will likely top 26 degrees, potentially challenging the record for the month of 28.4 degrees set on October 31, 1988.

The bureau says the chance of an El Nino being declared in coming months remains about 50 per cent. NOAA, which uses a lower temperature anomaly threshold, said it “favours one to begin in the next one to two months”.

Climate signal

The hottest years on record were in 2005 and 2010, which just pipped the “super El Nino” year of 1998 – a year often used by climate change sceptics to claim global temperatures haven’t increased in as long as 18 years.

The fact 2014 may challenge for the hottest year even with at most a weak El Nino is one reason climatologists warn action must be taken to curb the rise of greenhouse gas emissions that trap ever more heat from the sun.

The bureau’s Dr Watkins said heat records could be broken even without a “full-blown El Nino” because of the planet’s broadscale warming. Sea-surface temperatures in the central Pacific, for instance, had increased by about 0.5 degrees since the 1950s.

“You get the warming signal on top” of any El Nino, he said.

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Canberra dance critic Michelle Potter writes biography of Dame Maggie Scott

I first met Dame Margaret Scott in March 1993. Of course I knew of her before then. Everyone in the dance world in Australia did. Just the year before our meeting, at the age of 70, she had given a series of memorable performances with the Australian Ballet as Clara the Elder in Graeme Murphy’s remarkable ballet Nutcracker: The Story of Clara.
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That initial meeting was a business one, part of my work for the National Library of Australia to record oral history interviews with eminent Australians from the world of the arts. As I walked down Orrong Road towards her Toorak home, carrying a heavy Nagra reel-to-reel tape recorder – state of the art in professional audio circles at the time – I wondered what she would be like. After all, she was a Dame of the British Empire. Well, Maggie (as she likes to be called) was warm, welcoming, and an easy conversationalist. We laughed a lot. She was a perfect subject.

At the time, I had no idea that the interview, which was recorded on  two days, would become the basis of a biography. In fact, it was more than 20 years later that an unexpected but welcome series of events led to a commission from Text Publishing in Melbourne to write the story of Maggie’s life. I hesitated slightly – the time-frame for submission of the manuscript was somewhat daunting. The biography needed to be published in 2014 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Australian Ballet School, of which Maggie was founding director. I had seven months in which to present a final manuscript to Text. But, with the thought that the oral history interview could be the basis of the biography, and knowing too that extensive secondary- source materials were available in several of Canberra’s cultural institutions, I signed the contract.

I was fortunate to be able to work closely with Maggie and her husband, Emeritus Professor Derek (Dick) Denton, during those seven months. In January 2014 I spent a week living in their home while they were on their summer holiday, with full access to Maggie’s collection of letters, photographs, clippings and other personal memorabilia. She gave me instructions not to feel as though I was prying, but to feel completely free to look at anything and everything. Some amazing finds were made during that week: Maggie’s school records from Parktown Convent in Johannesburg and some eisteddfod and examination reports from her early ballet days, for example, as well as personal correspondence from her wide circle of friends, including Australian stage designer Kenneth Rowell, South African poet David Wright, English composer of ballet music Arthur Oldham, and esteemed choreographer-at-large John Cranko. I returned to Melbourne several times to visit Maggie and Dick and am grateful for their kindness and generosity towards me, and for their openness in answering every question I posed to them. Again, we laughed a lot and I enjoyed many a delicious quiche Lorraine from the local bakery as we continued to talk, and laugh, during lunch.

In Australia, Maggie is indeed probably best known as founding director of the Australian Ballet School. The publication of her biography in the 50th year of the school’s existence is a celebration of her commitment to the young men and women whose careers in dance she guided in the 27 years that she held the post of director. But, as readers of the book will discover, Maggie’s life has been an adventurous one, and has been lived across continents and cultures.

Born in 1922 in Johannesburg, she spent her childhood as one of “three rambunctious South African children”. But dance was her destiny and, when she was 17, she made her way to England, arriving in London in 1939 just weeks before World War II erupted. Her determination to be a dancer had her touring endlessly during the war years, first with Sadler’s Wells Ballet and then Ballet Rambert. She endured bombings, some occurring during performances; lost her first love, a sergeant in the Glider Pilot Regiment; and danced on every kind of stage imaginable.

Her journey to Australia in 1947 as a principal dancer on tour with Ballet Rambert marked the beginning of a new phase in her life. But in Australia she suffered a serious injury to her spine and lay in hospital for months. Would she ever dance again? She did, this time with the Melbourne-based National Theatre Ballet of which she was a founding member. But eventually, she returned to England where she performed in the early 1950s with a small, experimental dance company led by John Cranko. In England she also enjoyed socialising with her English and Australian colleagues, from Benjamin Britten to Donald Friend. With Friend, Maggie and Dick made an exuberant journey by car through Europe. Friend recorded it all in his diaries.

It was only after her return to Australia in 1953 that Maggie began to look for ways in which a national ballet might be developed to provide permanent employment for dancers. Readers of her biography will discover the little-known, behind-the-scenes story of how the Australian Ballet really began, and the intrinsic role Maggie, mentored by the distinguished public servant Dr H. C. “Nugget” Coombs, played in the flagship company’s beginnings. Then came the era of the Australian Ballet School, established in 1964 and built by Maggie from scratch into a world- renowned institution.

There were, of course, moments in Maggie’s life when not everything went according to plan. In particular, she was unhappy with the way she was asked to finish up her career as director of the school. But her dance background kept her strong and, now in her 93rd year, she continues to talk with unabashed pleasure of her return to the stage in the 1990s in works choreographed by her former students – as Aunt Sophy in Robert Ray’s Nutcracker, as Mary Ward in Nicholas Rowe’s In the Body of the Son, and as Clara the Elder in Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker: The Story of Clara.

I doubt I could have written Maggie’s story in the short space of time I had without the quite astonishing resources available to me in Canberra, in particular those of the National Library, the National Archives, and the National Film and Sound Archive. But I also needed to investigate some critical archival material in England. So in March 2014, I made a flying research visit –just ten days – to London and worked mostly in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Rambert Archive and the Imperial War Museum, with a day spent at Henley-on-Thames visiting the Kenton Theatre, a tiny, beautifully restored Regency theatre in which Maggie danced as part of John Cranko’s company.

On my way home from London I happened to be on the same plane as the British royal family, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their baby son Prince George, who were setting off on an official visit to Australia. At one stage, Prince George showed exceptional interest in my laptop and thought he might add a few words to the story. So, I thought, my manuscript has been touched by royalty. How appropriate for a biography of a Dame. And when the story of my brush with royalty appeared in The Canberra Times, there was an unexpected bonus. I was contacted by a Canberra resident who had read the story and who had been a student of Maggie’s in Melbourne well before the formation of the Australian Ballet and the Australian Ballet School. I added her recollections of Maggie and her teaching to the narrative.

I loved writing this biography. So many artists in Australia have come to admire dance across its pages. So many of Maggie’s former students have told me how they were touched by her spirit. I think I was too.

Michelle Potter is a Canberra Times dance critic. Dame Maggie Scott: A Life in Dance is published by Text. $49.99.

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