Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 25, 2019

Author event: Tony Kevin in conversation with Caitlin Johnstone

I was in distinguished company tonight to hear journalist Caitlin Johnstone launch Tony Kevin’s new book at Readings in Hawthorn: eminent advocate for human rights and refugees, Julian Burnside AO QC was there, and so were other names and faces that I recognised.  It was a good crowd, keenly interested to hear what he had to say.

Emeritus Fellow of the Australian National University, Tony Kevin is a former diplomat and foreign affairs adviser with an impressive CV (which you can explore in full at his website.) He had postings in the USSR, to the United Nations, in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and as Ambassador to Poland and Cambodia.  Since retirement he has become the successful, prize-winning author of several notable books:

  • A Certain Maritime Incident: the Sinking of SIEV X (Scribe Publications, 2004) was awarded the 2005 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Multicultural Writing and also the 2005 ACT Book of the Year Award;
  • Walking the Camino, (Scribe Publications, first published 2007),  a literary-historical-political travel memoir of his pilgrimage walk through Spain in 2004, was awarded the ACT Book of the Year Award in 2008. See my review here;
  • Crunch Time, (Scribe Publications, 2009) is an exploration of the causes and proposed remedies to Australia’s global warming climate crisis;
  • Reluctant Rescuers, (self-published, 2012).  It investigated deaths at sea under the Rudd and Gillard Australian Labor governments from 2009 to 2012, from sinkings of overloaded unseaworthy SIEV vessels trying to reach Australia from Indonesia, years during which around 1600 asylum seekers drowned at sea.
  • Return to Moscow (UWAP, 2017) is a cultural-historical-political literary travel memoir of an independent journey he made to Russia in Jan-Feb 2016. See my review here.

Although all of these books have ‘rocked the boat’ to some extent or another, it was this last book, he says, that has made him an ‘outsider’.  Return to Moscow sold well,  it had media coverage, and he was invited to literary festivals (such as the 2018 Melbourne Jewish Book Week where I heard him speak in a panel discussion with Andrea Goldsmith and Jonathan Perlman, discussing ‘The Language of Politics‘).  But within a short space of time, this book which challenged the new Cold War rhetoric, led to closed doors.  He thinks he’s been ‘de-platformed’: despite his expertise he isn’t invited to be on government or university panels, ABC discussion panels, writers festivals, and not even the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. He has had to self-publish his new book Russia and the West, the last two action packed years 2017-2019. As Caitlin Johnstone said, ‘it’s not ok to think Russia is ok.’

The new book is a companion to Return to Moscow which made a persuasive case that under Putin, Russia has improved on many indicators.  It has transtioned from being a failed state to one with a successful capitalist economy and a welfare system providing a safety net for its citizens.  It is coming to terms with its traumatic past (Stalin, anti-Semitism &c) and it pays homage to the 25 million war dead from WW2.   They have rational reasons for their defensive measures, not least the NATO missiles on their borders.

So it makes good sense for the West to have a good relationship with Russia, and yet, as you will know if you pay any attention to the news, the anti-Russian narrative is growing in intensity.  Crucially, the mainstream media is disseminating only one point of view, that Russia is a pariah state.  All the old Cold War rhetoric is back, although communism is dead and buried. And in a bizarre twist, as US politics becomes more and more dysfunctional, politicians have woven Russiaphobia into their narratives, so much so that there are now two competing conspiracy theories, one implicating Russia and the other implicating Ukraine. Australia ought to have an independent stance on Russia, but, according to Tony Kevin, DFAT is now only an implementation agency and Security Agencies (working with the Five Eyes espionage alliance) make policy instead.

Julian Burnside had the last word: you can only resist the system if you know what’s going on, and the West is really good at making sure we don’t know it.

And as an example, which horrified me when I got home to Google what he was talking about, he invoked the US indemnity and cover-up of Japan’s Unit 731, a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945).  The Russians prosecuted 12 of the perpetrators in separate war trials, but the US never held any of them to account, and what they did was infinitely worse than anything Mengele inflicted on his victims.  (The Wikipedia article that details the human suffering and the number of people killed is sickening, I wish I hadn’t read it).

Russia and the West: the last two action-packed years 2017-2019, by Tony Kevin is on sale RRP $25 at bookshop events,  or may be posted now for $30 including postage.
Orders to  or TXT message to  0414822171. Payment in advance by Paypal to Tony Kevin.

I haven’t read the book yet, but you can see a review at Eureka Street here.

Further author events are at:

  • Brisbane Wednesday 27 Nov Avid Reader Bookshop, West End , 6 for 6.30 pm , with JAMES O’NEILL, barrister-at-law and geopolitical analyst.
  • Sydney THURSDAY  5 December Gleebooks Glebe, 6 for 6.30 pm, with Bob Carr.  Professor the Honourable Bob Carr was Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) from 2014-2019, and Professor in International Relations. He is now Industry Professor of Climate and Business at the Institute of Sustainable Futures at UTS. Professor Carr is a former Foreign Minister of Australia (2012-2013). He is also the longest continuously serving Premier in New South Wales history (1995-2005).
  • Interview with Phillip Adams on Radio National, on Wednesday this week. 


  1. I was very interested to read your commentary of this author event. In Dr Fiona Hill’s testimony at the impeachment hearing she said how important it was that we (she, of course, was referring to the US) develop a positive relationship with Russia. At the same time, she said it was important to stop them interfering in the 2020 election. I’ve not seen this comment picked up anywhere in the media.


    • Well, yes, that’s typical, isn’t it? Watching the ABC news here—and that’s what passes for the most authoritative but it has dumbed down and gone tabloid—it’s a case of spot the omission, not just on this issue but so many others. They devote so much time to reporting crime (so that everyone gets suitably frightened when we live in one of the safest countries on earth) that there’s no time left to report on international events which are confined to gotcha moments in the US and UK plus any natural disasters that have killed people in the West.
      We have to work at being informed citizens, and the problem is, that finding alternative news sources can often lead to different kinds of disinformation.


  2. To express my appreciation that Lisa Hill came, and wrote up my shared booklaunch event with Caitlin Johnstone @caitoz so quickly, accurately and positively.. Last night at Readings Hawthorn offered an unusual bridge between the traditional literary culture that Lisa and I come out of, and the online website culture in which CAitlin has developed such a unique worldwide presence. Caitlin told me that she estimates 70% of her readership is American . Caitlin is a very normal Melbourne person – she and her partner could not stay for dinner because they had to pick up one of her daughters from netball. Her powerful writing draws its strength from being rooted in normal Australian life. I was privileged to share a platform with Caitlin. I am also grateful that #JulianBurnside and #JoeCamilleri were able to come. #ArnoldZable sent apologies, he is completing a book.

    Readings have copies of both my books ‘Return to Moscow’ and ‘Russia and the West’ .

    I look forward to launch events in Brisbane (Avid Reader 27 Nov with James O’Neill) and Sydney ( Gleebooks 5 December with Bob Carr) .

    Tony Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point, Tony about the bridge between literary cultures, I hadn’t thought of that!
      Good luck with the book, I’d have loved to be at the event with Bob Carr!


  3. Such an interesting post. When I moved to Australia in 1988, it really hit me during the following years how much censorship is in the news of the USA. Australia would inform me of things happening that never showed up there and I was accused of making up stories. You’re right though about the downgrading of the ABC. I didn’t care for Walking the Camino only because I wanted to know more about the actual walk and I found there was too much history. Having come home recently from an indepth tour that included a lot of Spanish history it was the wrong book to read about the walk though the history was fascinating, it wasn’t what I was looking for at the time. The Moscow book sounds really interesting especially as I have returned from Russia recently and of course want to know more. Such an interesting event you enjoyed!


    • LOL Pam if you want to know how much news you’re missing, check out the French news sites,,, even if you don’t understand a word of French you can see that they are covering world events in a way not even attempted by SBS!


      • News by mime? As I don’t speak any French! Lol


        • Sure, bout you can see from the images and the captions that they are reporting from countries in Africa or elsewhere in Europe.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this Lisa. Sounds like a great event. Your comment in your comment, “We have to work at being informed citizens, and the problem is, that finding alternative news sources can often lead to different kinds of disinformation” is something I was saying to Mr Gums yesterday. It’s hard to believe anything anymore because who do you trust? You know no-one can be completely objective, but it seems difficult now for people to even be rational, to not write to a set world-view. (We all do it in our blogs, don’t we … but I think we are clear about what that world view is, about where we are coming from – and that’s what’s important to know.)


    • It makes you wonder where it will all end, doesn’t it?
      Perhaps the safest place is with one’s nose in a book!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your review explains an interview I missed the beginning of on Late Night Live recently. I wondered who it was sticking up for Russia. I think the US made a huge mistake pushing NATO right up onto Russia’s borders, and I don’t what Germany were thinking of, allowing them. I’m no admirer of Russia’s brand of capitalism, but I have a sneaking admiration for their success in ‘owning’ the US President who will be found in the next couple of years to owe them billions of dollars illegally funnelled through Deutsche Bank (not a story you’ll hear on the ABC until it’s all over).


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