The title of the book reminds us this is a collection of pieces, published elsewhere over the last 20 years or so. It also serves to make us aware that many of the issues Don Watson writes about are intractable and/or have not yet been fully addressed. Watson is an award-winning author and historian, was Paul Keating’s speechwriter and biographer, and is also a humourist.
He has a great turn of phrase and his contempt for management speak is well known (see other examples on the Weasel Words website). His forlorn hope that schools and universities would resist this trend is aptly demonstrated in sentences such as “Your child is exhibiting ALL key indicators” in a school report (page 184). What does this mean? What does it actually tell the parent about the child’s progress or lack of progress? Or how about, “As learners progress…they acquire and apply these outcomes in broader community contexts” from a NT manual for trainee Indigenous assistant teachers (page 186). With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Watson asks his readers what outcomes they have ever acquired and if none, then what’s wrong with you?
We see a more serious side in A Never-Never Land for Sense where the author writes about an Indigenous out station in the NT. Volunteers and service organisations worked hard to raise funds and build a school and workshop to provide education, training and meaningful work. But the teacher was withdrawn in the shake-up of the government intervention despite the fact that young men were learning skills and becoming more self-sufficient, which was precisely what the government said it wanted. Watson reminds us that we shouldn’t be so complacent about the hardships of Indigenous Australians when we are congratulating ourselves for aid work overseas.
Readers will also enjoy Watson’s political criticism and cultural engagement with America. Faith, Freedom and Katrina speaks about the failed response of local, state and national governments in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He wonders whether government per se, or the incompetent people in the government were responsible for the poor response to the disaster in comparison to the response from churches and faith groups which was far more prompt, targeted and effective. Living in America at that time, I well remember the ‘weasel words’ from politicians, bureaucrats and corporations trying to deflect attention and blame from themselves and seeking to influence our own responses.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 7
Distributed by: Penguin Australia
Released: November 2017