As It Happened
"In this compulsively readable book John Button reflects on the patterns in his life, from growing up in his father's house in Ballarat to his days as a Cabinet minister in the Hawke and Keating Labor governments. He is a natural storyteller who writes memorably about his childhood, his school days, and his emerging political allegiances.
"Button joined the Labor Party in the early fifties, during the turbulent years that led to the split. In 1957 he sailed to Europe for adventure before coming back to work as a lawyer in Australia. He became deeply involved in the movement to reform the Victorian ALP, and eventually decided to pursue a career in politics. He was elected to the Senate in 1974.
"In As It Happened Button paints a vivid picture of life inside parliament before he became Minister for Industry and Commerce in 1983, a job he was to hold for ten years. He brilliantly describes the extraordinary changes that occurred in key industries - steel, cars, textiles - during his time in power. But in recounting the challenges he faced Button always understands that politics is just one part of life. He writes honestly about how politics works and why it often fails to work.
"'I wanted to be a writer,' John Button tells us. 'Other things happened. My life went in different directions, including a long spell in politics.'
"As It Happened is a fascinating stylish and hilarious memoir full of unforgettable stories."
"I am very glad that John Button has taken to writing. Even for those of us who have known him well there's much more to learn...Button as much as anyone was responsible for the transformation of the Australian economy, and Australian industry with it...He was good at politics - sometimes brilliant...the Labor government in which he was a minister could not have done without him. But most of all Australia is lucky that someone with his skill, wit and style gave us a big chunk of his life." - John Dawkins, Australian
"John Button was an engaging politician and he's equally engaging as a writer...the Button political eye hasn't lost its sharpness" - Michelle Grattan, Australian Financial Review
"John Button, who was for a decade the federal minister for industry, is such a gifted writer you wonder why he would have wanted to spend a significant part of his life in government service." - Peter Laud, Sunday Times
About the Author:
John Button was leader of the government in the Senate and industry minister from 1983 to 1993. He is a professional fellow at Monash University and a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers.
I like to think of this book as a memoir rather than an autobiography. In my mind there's a fine line between the two, but the distinction is important. An autobiography suggests the full bottle, a historian's discipline of poring over archives, an account which seems to include everything. Yet it's also true that political autobiographies are often written in a way which leaves the uncritical reader more optimistic about humanity that he's entitled to be. You put down a volume thinking the country was in good hands then. But so many things are left out, best forgotten or not written about.
I have depended on memory in writing about particular places and events, with the occasional help of diary entries, cups of coffee with friends and relatives, notes on scrappy bits of paper, old photographs, even videos. Nor is the book written in strict chronological order. Recollections form their own sequences and patterns. There have been things in my life which I have not forgotten, but about which have not written in this memoir. I mention them here because in different degrees they have been more important than anything else in my life, influencing behaviour, moulding attitudes.
I've been married twice. This seems extravagant when one marriage or relationship still does for most people, those more prudent than careless. I suppose the answer is that I've had two terrific wives and in spite of my many shortcomings I remain friends with both of them. In this I am lucky.
From the Text Publishing hardback edition, 1998.
I must admit to political leanings in line with John Button's - I'm a Labor voter. I like to joke that I only vote for the Labor party because I can't find any major party further to the left to vote for. But that's a method I generally use to get a rise out of people (works pretty well too). And in response the conversation generally turns to the worth, or lack thereof, of various politicians. And then the question is asked, "so, name one politician who was worth anything." And I name two - Barry Jones and John Button. I don't remember the last time I had anyone argue the point. Because, basically, people respected these men. Barry Jones always struck me as the intellectual politician, always looking for the moral stand that fitted a situation and which should be followed. Button, on the other hand, was more pragamatic. No less moral or intelligent for that, he just struck me as having more of a down-to-earth approach. I was extremely sorry when both left politics.
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Last modified: January 29, 2001.