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In state of reflection through an activist’s eyes


By Noel Preston, Zeus Publications, $28.95

Reviewed by Terry Oberg

IT is good that Noel Preston has written his autobiography.

He has been a significant presence on the Brisbane scene since the early days of the Bjelke-Petersen era.

His contemporaries – and this reviewer is one – grew up in the same Queensland he describes, from the cool jazz of the ABC’s Short and Sweet to the nightly newscasts of Queensland police clearing familiar thoroughfares of illegal demonstrators such as Noel was.

His childhood days evoke an urban environment not unlike Hugh Lunn’s Annerley and the Edmonstone St of David Malouf.

However, once his happy childhood is dispensed with, the book becomes a tale of continual conflict as the writer’s developing and very personal interpretation of the gospels forces him into political and moral stances that do not fit comfortably into Queensland under an ultra-conservative government.

Some time ago, Dave Andrews, a writer from West End in Brisbane, launched his book, Not Religion But Love at City Hall.

Dave asked Noel to be the guest speaker. He opened his comments by saying that the book would have been just as meaningful without any reference to Christ.

This surprised me and, judging by his later reaction, Mr Andrews was also bemused.

He has his own brand of Christianity. A radical, he is equally at home with elements of Roman Catholicism, Marxism and non-Christian faiths.

The link is social justice which has led him to support many causes.

Why did he take his convictions to Brisbane’s forbidden streets, while most of us didn’t? The answer is in this life story.

He demonstrated because he was convinced of the rightness of what he was doing. For a significant number, what was clear cut to him was fuzzy to them.

This is possibly best illustrated by the topical issue of global warming.

Many are slow to accept this as a given because there is so much conflicting scientific evidence which the media is reluctant to publicise.

Therefore one may not be committed to support such a contentious topic, especially to the point of breaking the law – the problem is too clouded. Such clouds did not ever seem to appear on the Preston horizon.

He seems to have been motivated by a certitude that others did not always concede.

He is critical of many organisations that did not see as he saw.

Unfortunately a good deal of this criticism appears here as assertion minus any justifying evidence.

For instance, the National Civic Council (NCC) is accused of being an agent of white South African propaganda in a period when that could only mean that it supported apartheid.

This inaccuracy is probably based on the NCC’s advocacy of the Inkatha Freedom Party as opposed to the Marxist African National Congress in the fight for racial equality in South Africa.

Surely we now have sufficient information, much of it recently unclassified due to various freedom of information acts, to silence those who read political motives into the Petrov Affair.

That such a claim surfaces in this memoir does nothing to heighten authorial credibility.

These qualifications aside, Beyond the Boundary is a worthy inclusion in that growing number of books that set out to capture life in the Sunshine State, especially when the heat was turned on those of independent thought and whose courage was undoubted though perhaps sometimes misplaced.

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