Don Watson went to school at Poowong and Korumburra in Victoria. After gaining a BA (Hons) from La Trobe University, he graduated with a PhD from Monash University. For ten years he was an academic historian before resigning to write, among other things, political satire for TV and the stage (including The Gillies Report), and speeches for the Victorian Premier John Cain. After time as research fellow at The University of Melbourne, he became Prime Minister Paul Keating's speechwriter and adviser. He stayed in that position until Keating's electoral defeat in 1996. Since that time he has published a number of popular non-fiction books including Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: Paul Keating Prime Minister (2002), Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language (2003) , the travel narrative American Journeys (2008) and Bendable Learnings (2009). (Bendable Leanings was shortlisted for the 2010 ABIA Book Awards in the General Nonfiction Book of the Year category.)
'Most Australians live in cities and cling to the coastal fringe, yet our sense of what an Australian is – or should be – is drawn from the vast and varied inland called the bush. But what do we mean by 'the bush', and how has it shaped us?
'Starting with his forebears' battle to drive back nature and eke a living from the land, Don Watson explores the bush as it was and as it now is: the triumphs and the ruination, the commonplace and the bizarre, the stories we like to tell about ourselves and the national character, and those we don't. Via mountain ash and mallee, the birds and the beasts, slaughter, fire, flood and drought, swagmen, sheep and their shepherds, the strange and the familiar, the tragedies and the follies, the crimes and the myths and the hope – here is a journey that only our leading writer of non-fiction could take us on.
'At once magisterial in scope and alive with telling, wry detail, The Bush lets us see our landscape and its inhabitants afresh, examining what we have made, what we have destroyed, and what we have become in the process.
'No one who reads it will look at this country the same way again. ' (Publication summary)
'Only in America - the most powerful democracy on earth, home to the best and worst of everything - are the most extreme contradictions possible. In a series of journeys acclaimed author Don Watson set out to explore the nation that has influenced him more than any other.
'Travelling by rail gave Watson a unique and seductive means of peering into the United States, a way to experience life with its citizens: long days with the American landscape and American towns and American history unfolding on the outside, while inside a tiny particle of the American people talked among themselves.
'Watson's experiences are profoundly affecting: he witnesses the terrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast; explores the savage history of the Deep South, the heartland of the Civil War; and journeys to the remarkable wilderness of Yellowstone National Park. Yet it is through the people he meets that Watson discovers the incomparable genius of America, its optimism, sophistication and riches - and also its darker side, its disavowal of failure and uncertainty.
'... American Journeys investigates the meaning of the United States: its confidence, its religion, its heroes, its violence, and its material obsessions. The things that make America great are also its greatest flaws.' (Publisher's blurb)
Almost sixty years ago, George Orwell described the decay of language and why this threatened democratic society. But compared to what we now endure, the public language of Orwell's day brimmed with life and truth. Today's corporations, government departments, news media, and, perhaps most dangerously, politicians – speak to each other and to us in cliched, impenetrable, lifeless sludge.
Don Watson can bear it no longer. In Death Sentence, part diatribe, part cool reflection on the state of Australia's public language, he takes a blowtorch to the words – and their users – who kill joy, imagination and clarity. Scathing, funny and brilliant, Death Sentence is a small book of profound weight – and timeliness.