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Book Review: Australia and the British Embrace

Australia and the British Embrace:
The Demise of the Imperial Ideal
by Stuart Ward

After all the commeration of the fall of Singapore in 1942, it was inevitable that someone would write up the story of the other Great Betrayal - Britain's application to join the Common Market in 1960. At this time Britain was Australia's largest trading partner and a system of trade preferences bound the five countries of the Old (or "Crown") Commonwealth together. Along with economic ties, these nations shared what the author of this book calls "British race patriotism" - a conviction that they were all British and the interest of one was shared by all. In the 1950s, Australia's anglophile Prime Minister, R. G. Menzies could declare that he was "British to his boot heels".

This book argues that that the steady waining of "British race patriotism" in Australia did not occur because of any assertive Australian cultural nationalism but was a reaction to the UK's determination to carve out a new political and economic future as a member of the European Community. The collapse of the Commonwealth left Australia with no choice but to seek an independent future in its own part of the world.

The book charts the course of these events, from the initial shock, through denial, anger, bargaining and finally acceptance. The book is at its best as it discusses the subtle nuances of the debate, examining the inch-pebbles along this long road. It discusses the vital role of the Department of Trade and "Black Jack" McEwen, the controversial self-educated soldier-settler who, with Menzies, dominated the Australian political arena for twenty years and ultimately became second Country Party Prime Minister on the death of Harold Holt in 1966. As for Menzies, the book is scrupulously fair, not taking sides in the ongoing debate amongst historians as to whether the man had any redeeming characteristics whatsoever.

The book is a good read. However, it is entirely told from the Australian point of view. It is left up to Canadian and New Zealand historians to tell the story from the point of view of their countries, of which the book provides only tantalising glimpses.

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