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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

HISTORY MAN by Rowan Cahill


I have before me a copy of the latest book by John TognoliniA History Man’s Past & Other People’s Stories: A Shared Memoir, Part One: Other People’s Wars (2015). This is not a  brief title, and had the book come via a mainstream publisher and gone through the hands of a marketing person, rather than  the ebook self-publishing manner in which John publishes (this is his fourth book), it would no doubt have had a less cumbersome title, maybe just A History Man’s Past. But John does not operate this way, and if I was asked to name a favourite Australian radical/commentator/author, I would probably bypass the famous and the well-known and nominate ‘John Tognolini’. I’ll return to the ‘why’ of this later.

First, A History Man’s Past. The ‘history man’ of the title is John. He has a passion for history from a leftist perspective. Employment-wise and professionally, he is a secondary school history teacher in rural NSW (Australia). This book is a collection of his writings, and interviews he has conducted, on the theme of war and militarisation, exploring why it is that Australia has been at war for much of its time as a nation as the junior partner of either Britain or the United States. As the reader soon learns, war is part of the Tognolini’s family. Four of his uncles went to World War 1, the youngest, his namesake ‘John/Jack’, on the Western Front aged sixteen or seventeen, a boy-soldier who lied about his age to enlist. Gallipoli veteran Andrew Tognolini died shortly after the war. 

For author John, war is nothing to glorify, no height of nobility as currently being evangelised by Australian war-propagandists bankrolled by multi-millions of dollars of government and corporate money to commemorate/celebrate World War 1.  Rather, Tognolini’s take on war is it is a human tragedy, not only about carnage and slaughter but also of hardships and sufferings and traumas for those on the home-front, and later for many of the front-liners who return home and struggle to live in the aftertime of ‘peace’. Constantly in Tognolini’s work there are the shadows of the geopolitics of war, and the politicians who engineer ‘war’, these latter mostly unblooded martial enthusiasts.

A History Man’s Past is a welcome contribution to the small body of Australian anti-war writing, a corpus that is overwhelmed by the tsunami of pro-war literature that flows from the presses of mainstream publishers, helping fuel Australia’s ongoing participation in other people’s wars and  legitimise increasing military budgets and expenditures. As few Australians seem pause and  question………not enough money for health, education, pensions, but a bottomless bucket for ‘war’?   

However, this does not explain my liking for John Tognolini as a dissident/radical. His latest book is only part of the answer.  The full reason lies in the way Tognolini operates; in a self-directed way. He makes his own spaces for dissident interventions and comment, demonstrating a media savvy that was/is no doubt helped by his academic studies; he has a First Class Honours degree in Communications from the University of Technology, Sydney, gained at a time when the institution had a reputation for producing independent journalists/communicators.  Tognolini  publishes his own books. Since 2006 he has run a massive website/blog (Tog’s Place.Com) as a platform for his own writings and commentaries, and also as an alternative leftist news, information and cultural site. The site takes its name from the Cobb and Co way-station run by his Italian grandfather and his Australia-born grandmother (from English/Irish convict parentage) near Castlemaine, Victoria, during the 19th century. Tognolini has also been involved in community radio since 1987, and with the socialist newspaper Green Left Weekly since 1990. He has produced radio documentaries for ABC Radio National/RN.

Tognolini’s independence as an intellectual/communicator is rooted in his employment background;  before becoming a school teacher in 2000, he variously worked as a labourer, scaffolder, rigger, dogman, railway fettler, and painter and docker, and whilst in these employments was a trade unionist. This long and varied employment background means that the language of Tognolini is from the world of public communication, and not from school-to-academia niche worlds; his long and deep immersion in the labouring workforce also means he developed strong self-respect and individuality that have helped him resist/escape the cap-in-hand-defer-to-intellectual-power-elites mode of conduct that tends to come with professional writer training and with academia. 

Involvement in unionism, militant unionism in Tognolini’s case, led him to make two documentary films that are worth chasing down, one (1992) on the deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation in Victoria, the other (with Frances Kelly) on the three-month occupation/strike by militant trade unions of Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, 1989, in which John was involved. Both substantial films are available on Youtube.

Tognolini does not need peer- reviewing or permission to speak, nor does he need the approbation of pecking orders to comment and create his brand of opposition and dissidence. He does not agonise as to where to act, where to ‘say’. He simply goes out and does/say it, and as I said earlier, makes his own spaces. There is a valuable message, and example, here that I regard highly, and respect. 

Rowan Cahill, 10 November 2015 Radical Sydney 





A History Man’s Past & Other People’s Stories: A Shared Memoir. Part One: Other People’s Wars is a shared history in many ways. It’s where part of my story reflects the people I’ve interviewed with my media work over thirty years.

My interview with retired Australian SAS Warrant Officer Dr Brian Day, who served with the US Special Forces in Vietnam and Cambodia. He was also a founding member of the Australian Vietnam Veterans Association. I interviewed him in 1992 on Anzac, Racism, and the Madness of the Vietnam War.


My interview with Stan Goff, a retired US Army Special Forces Master Sergeant and Vietnam Veteran who served in the US Army up until Haiti in 1996. He became involved in Military Families Against War that was formed when George W.Bush invaded Iraq in 2003.
My question to Veteran Journalist, Writer and Filmmaker John Pilger, at a public meeting in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains about history being memory in 2008.


My question to Activist, Academic, Writer and Linguist Noam Chomsky, and coverage of his Sydney Press Conference, when he visited Australia in 1995, campaigning for an independent East Timor, then under the murderous Indonesian Occupation.


A shared history in another way too, I argue here that Australia’s Frontier Wars against our Indigenous Peoples should be recognised in the Australian War Memorial.


I also argue against former prime minister Tony Abbott’s $90 million dollar John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux, France and highlight the $400 million spent on the Centenary of Australia’s involvement in World War One as a major act of hypocrisy, when one in ten of our nation’s homeless are War Veterans.


This book is also an attempt to answer that big question, why has Australia been at War so much in so many places normally as junior partner to Britain or the United States?

John Tognolini 16th September 2015

just click on the link available as eBook: AUD$5.00

Paperback: AUD$24.00
plus delivery 





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