Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

The Making of Julia Gillard Book Review

The Making of Julia Gillard by Jacqueline Kent Melbourne: Penguin Group $36.99 rrp

Near the end of the book, the author Jacqueline Kent notes that amongst Canberra’s press gallery, there’s the view that the ALP currently offers a ‘boringly united front’ (she’s nice enough to pretend only one Journo holds it). Despite the promise of nearly 300 pages of analysis and insight into the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Gillard remains the same sharp, cker but reserved figure she appears on the news.
The most interesting part of the book -by far- is the detail of Gillard’s early student activism, though the authors unfailing support lets her get away with glib answers about it, such as her time in the Socialist Forum. Seemingly just a quasi-think tank that Gillard used as a useful network whilst fighting in amongst the Victorian ALP left wings, it is about as close to a juicy story as the book offers up (real live commies!). Other potential juicy stories such as her 2002 relationship with Small Business Minister Craig Emerson (who was married with kids when it began) are dealt with in just over a page, likewise for the pre-leaked story about Lindsay Tanner trying to block Gillard’s rise. (He saw her as a rival, anything further is never really discussed, and no one speaks out against each other).

When I first saw the cover of the book(up on the right), I hated it. I even had to hide the book in my bag before going to lunch with a few of my mates. It is the Vogue magazine, Vaseline blurred photo cover that adorns chick lit and screams ‘I’m only skin deep’. The choice may have been by some unconnected editor, but it fits. This is in many ways not Jacqueline Kent’s fault. She writes very well, includes enough detail for the interested reader to understand the context without getting bogged down, but she has precious little to work with. Kent not only doesn’t manage to get into Gillard’s dirty linen, she doesn’t even seem to want to. Either way, Gillard hides herself well, and clearly no one wanted to go on (or off) the record to trash the most powerful woman in the country and likely next Prime Minister.

Kent’s book is well placed to meet the fascination slowly bubbling up within the political class and the wider public about Gillard, however readers are likely to come away disappointed as there seems to be very little more to Julia than what impressions you may have already formed. Her work is clearly her life, she is a stubborn fighter for the issues she believes in (Education, Immigration, and recently “productivity”) and she has made a successful fusion of being a laid back aussie with razor sharp nerdish smarts, an act her boss constantly manages to fumble (Only giving you a fair shake of the sauce bottle there kev!). But though the highest ranked member of the Left in over 20 years, she comes across as quite conservative and perhaps too pragmatic. After 300 pages I still have no idea how a Gillard Administration would differ from Rudd’s.

Gillard’s rise into parliament and then to deputy, is one more of doggardness than calculated Machiavellianism. She seems to have served her time, shown such intellect, capability and enough few core principles, that it seems almost inevitable that she would move ahead. Right now the argument seems the same for her sliding into the PM’s seat. Though you get a feeling that for all her dedication, if it never happened Gillard would have “had a glass of red wine, a cry and moved on”, which seems her answer to just about all life’s setbacks. A great attitude, but one that doesn’t lend itself to the subject of good biographies. With such source material Kent never really had a chance, but unfortunately also doesn’t seem to have had the willingness to open any wounds to try and find out. The photo cover well represents the word picture inside. Almost all biographers need to prove their loyalty in order to get access and support, but they also need enough gossip and insider stories in order to give their readers something more than they can get in the daily news. Kent has clearly gone the Bob Woodward route of trading less opinion for more access, but she doesn’t get far enough inside to justify the bargain.

If you follow politics closely, it probably wouldn’t hurt to add this book to your library, but it’s probably a better choice as a Christmas gift to a bright young niece or cousin who you’d like to encourage. Gillard’s story is a very Australian, and inspiring one. She clearly works twice as hard as anyone around her, she’s sharp, pragmatic and takes a stoic view of life, assuming Labor doesn’t monumentally f**k thing’s up, she will be our first female Prime Minister. She has already made history, already gone so far, but in life and literature, her story is yet to be fully written.

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  1. Fhakk

     /  September 27, 2009

    From a journo’s perspective, I’ve always found Gillard to be approachable but guarded in her answers. While interviewing her, one can’t help but notice the thought and consideration that goes into her answers. But I imagine that having a frank and open discussion with her about her personal life would not be easy. I can’t think of a time where she has been out of line with Rudd, or been in the headlines for the wrong reasons (the ‘barren’ comments aside).
    Even before the election, she recieved brownie points for her eagerness to comment on certain issues and the level of accesibility for reporters, And that has been maintained to an extent today.
    But aside from the occasional vacuous comments about her fashion sense, she’s had a dream run so far.