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Tiberius With a Telephone: the Life and Stories of William McMahon

2020 - Winner

Winner

Judges' comments

Tiberius with a Telephone is a constantly surprising biography of William McMahon, a Prime Minister not recalled with particular fondness. He was also a man who proved unable to write a record of his political career, in spite of not inconsiderable efforts to do so once he left office. Patrick Mullins has here completed the task to great effect, using McMahon’s failed retirement endeavour as a counterpoint to Mullins‘ account of his subject’s career. In the absence of access to McMahon’s papers, he makes ingenious use of the diaries and notes of Neil Bowman, the journalist charged with assisting the former PM in his task.

This is an impressive work of political biography, an achievement all the greater for its unpromising, though fascinatingly complex, subject. Tiberius with a Telephone benefits from great access to key players and dogged research and is distinguished by the author’s confident, witty style. Mullins’ ability to deliver acerbic sketches of the major players of postwar Australian politics is a rare gift. In McMahon himself he has created one of the great comic characters of Australian history.

This is an impressive work of political biography, an achievement all the greater for its unpromising, though fascinatingly complex, subject. Tiberius with a Telephone is distinguished by the author’s confident, witty style and his willingness to stand back and let his subject speak for himself. Mullins’ ability to deliver acerbic sketches of the major players of postwar Australian politics is a rare gift. In McMahon himself he has created one of the great comic characters of Australian history.

Winner - NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2020