There is a great portrait of him on the cover backing up the description “a lion of the Law”. A meticulous account of Tom’s childhood and his time in England as a Sunderland Pilot during the Second World War is followed by an even more meticulous account of the very many important cases Tom Hughes ran during his long period at the bar from 1952 to 2012 plus tales of political in-fighting when Hughes was Federal Attorney General. His 90th birthday was celebrated by the Bar Association in 2013. “He may be the last of the traditional barrister class but on his own he could draw a crowd, persuade a jury and ensure that judges paid attention”. Of course his other claim to fame is that he is Lucy’s father and thus father-in-law to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
An unusual Australian biography is Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead by Thornton McCamish. I say unusual because it also includes the activities and reactions of the author who has indeed set out to remind us of a famous Australian author who seems to have gone out of fashion. Alan Moorehead was a journalist par excellence. His first big success was the book he wrote about Gallipoli, reissued recently for the centenary of that battle. He was a famous war correspondent and then later took to travel writing.
He led a very cosmopolitan life, friendly with Hemingway and other writers of the period. Although he did write a few novels they were never the success of his travel stories. Who can forget The White Nile and then The Blue Nile, both with wonderful illustrations in large glossy paperbacks? There was a sad end to his life when he suffered a major stroke which left him unable to speak or write. Today his daughter, Caroline Moorehead, carries on his tradition of finding good true stories to tell-such as Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France and A Train in Winter: A Story of Resistance, Friendship and Survival at Auschwitz, or Priam’s Gold: Schliemann and the Lost Treasures of Troy, as well as a biography of Freya Stark.
If you like true story adventures we have just the book for you. It is The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: Churchill’s Mavericks Plotting Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton. Despite the real seriousness of these activities, which did indeed help defeat Hitler and the Nazis, I think the people involved, mostly men with double-hyphenated names, with very good mathematical minds, had the time of their lives. They blew up the vital dry dock at St. Nazaire which kept the dangerous warship Tirpitz out of the Atlantic; they blew up viaducts and railways; they parachuted behind the lines and linked up with Partisans, they invented and manufactured all sorts of tricky bombs and special detonators; they worked sixteen hour days and celebrated hard afterwards.
They certainly had Churchill’s gleeful support. A good thing that Giles Milton has written this book so their names won’t be forgotten. Milton’s forte is fossicking around in the sidelines of history to find exciting overlooked adventurers. His most famous book is Nathaniel’s Nutmeg about how Britain came to own New York and lots of other things. A few of his other titles are White Gold, Russian Roulette, Fascinating Footnotes from History and Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922. All of them are entertaining.
I’ve just read a terrific crime novel called The Dry: A Desperate Act in a Small Town with Big Secrets. It is by Melbourne journalist Jane Harper. It is a gripping story, as the title suggests. I hope she will write another one soon. This is a perfect description of a country town sweltering in the heat and trying to decide just who was actually the shooter.
I’ve also taken up the crime stories by Lesley Thomson, in a series called The Detective’s Daughter. These are set in the suburbs of London which are carefully described. Lesley is now referred to as “firmly established as one of our leading crime writers”, so I am pleased for her. Years ago she stayed with me in Manly when she first travelled to Australia. She began her first book sitting under my jacaranda tree. The books are very intelligent and credible. There are four in the series now – the last two are The Detective’s Secret and The House with No Rooms.