My Story by Julia Gillard - book review: A woman of substance who still gets the vote

 

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The Independent Culture

Love her or loathe her, it is difficult not to admire Julia Gillard. The Welsh-born lawyer became Australia's first woman prime minister in June 2010, deposing Kevin Rudd in a ruthless leadership challenge.

During her term she became a target of misogyny and sexist ridicule, and yet she remained pragmatic and dignified. Here, Gillard gives her account of her tenure, starting with her role as deputy prime minister until her messy departure from parliament in September last year, when Rudd regained the Labor Party leadership.

Domestically, Gillard was fairly well liked before she became Australia's leader, but lost support after she came to power, and much of the first section, "How I Did It", is spent explaining and justifying her actions. She chronicles Rudd's chaotic management style, his "treachery" and blames the "mess" he left behind for some of her leadership problems. But Gillard admits she made mistakes – notably in the way she challenged Rudd for the leadership.

Of her notable speech about misogyny, she says: "I let the opposition have it with both barrels. It was evident as I spoke, that this speech was hitting hard. I did not feel heated or angry. I felt powerful, forceful." The Canberra press gallery is criticised for missing the dimensions of the speech, and failing to grasp the wider context about women, leadership, equality and rights.

The second section – "Why I Did It" – is much longer and details life in Cwmgwrach, south Wales. The family migrated to Australia when Gillard was five. "The combination of parental aspiration for me, good schools, and access to university equipped me to realise my potential and made the rest of my life possible." Gillard gives a snapshot of world leaders, outlining an easy rapport with Barack Obama that involved cheeky banter. She describes Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai as charming, and David Cameron as "easy to deal with and personable, despite being on the other side of politics."

At 500 pages, this is a long book. British readers may be unfamiliar with some of the Australian political personalities, and perhaps uninterested in the level of detail given about the passing of bills. What is clear though, is that Julia Gillard is a self-possessed and self-controlled woman. She is not given to self-analysis and says she has never defined herself through the approval of others: "I was prime minister for three years and three days. Three years and three days of resilience. Three years and three days of changing the nation. Three years and three days for you to judge."

History may judge her more kindly than she is currently viewed. Time will tell.

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