The Seventies: The Personal, the Political and the Making of Modern Australia

Written by Michelle Arrow
Review by Georgia Rose Phillips

The Seventies in Australia were a time of great socio-political upheaval, one that Dr. Michelle Arrow, Associate Professor in Modern History at Macquarie University, charts meticulously. Arrow’s compendium examines the changing social and political climate that emerged in the wake of the 1960s broader questioning of authority. There is the retirement of Robert Menzies, the rise and fall of Gough Whitlam, and the shift into a more conservative Fraser government. As she analyses these larger scale political transitions, she simultaneously explores the movement towards women’s liberation and changing attitudes towards gender roles and homosexuality.

Arrow begins with an introduction to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships that formed a landmark discussion of ‘private life’ in a period in which this kind of debate was deemed confronting. In doing so, she resuscitates Gough Whitlam’s agenda to interrogate the feelings and voices of the underrepresented as she canvasses the activists and political figures who spoke out in the public sphere to claim rights and protections to personal experiences. Ultimately, she sets out to write those who’ve been historically omitted from the nationalist viewpoint of Australian history’s struggle to be included in it.

Arrow is a natural storyteller; her prose is supple and easy to lose yourself in. This is a deeply researched, engaging and accessible work that argues that the ’70s were culturally, socially and politically a critical stage in the making of modern Australia. My only critique is the exclusion of Indigenous Australians’ struggle for rights and participation in political life despite her caveat in acknowledging the marked absence of intersectionality in Australian veins of women’s history. This will be an enjoyable read for anyone who is interested in a socio-political history of Australia, or those who are interested in the history of women’s liberation.