The West

Brown explains departure
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Former Greens leader Bob Brown has produced a political biography of a different flavour.

The quick read includes highlights from his career in the public eye but has a number of omissions.

Among the no-go list are his resignation as Greens leader on April 13, 2012, and his last days in the Senate before his departure on June 15 that year.

While Brown's reasons for his political exodus are off the menu for readers of the memoir he released last Friday, the environmental campaigner is willing to answer questions over the line from Tasmania.

Brown says he acknowledges some will be dissatisfied with the biography he is calling a "book of anecdotes".

"I think there will be some disappointment there is not a lot of cut-and-thrust political show-and-tell in it from my years in politics but so be it, I'm about much wider things," he said.

In response to a question about why he retired from politics, the Tasmanian says he had reached the height of his political wherewithal.

"I'd been in the Tasmanian parliament 10 years, and then, after a three-year break, in the Australian Senate for 16 years," he says. "I've watched for many years people stay on too long and be carted off, and knocked out, and I had a party room which I built up."

Brown says he had a party room of potential leaders.

"I had other things I wanted to do and the pettiness of politics has got a limit — the interest in who's cheating whom, or who's broken which rule or who's misused which political account, instead of are we really, as a nation, taking a lead in making sure this planet is livable for the next generation. I felt, having done my share in politics, including got up, through the Greens, the best global- warming protection legislation in the world, it was time to hand over and use the few years I've got left to work on the wider protection of the planet," he says.

Brown says he would like to live a long life but highlights a prediction he would live only to age 70 — made by an Exclusive Brethren leader during an encounter outlined in the book.

The 69-year-old believes the Greens have become a party for the people, and party members with leadership potential include WA Senator Scott Ludlam.

"The Greens' glory days are in front of them," he says.

The former general practitioner is not unfamiliar with biography territory, after Allen & Unwin released James Norman's unauthorised biography Bob Brown Gentle Revolutionary a decade ago.

Political biographies attract a keen audience among those looking for the inside story on why key figures have made important decisions, and insights into a politician's character and personal life.

Brown signed up to produce a book of anecdotes after the Hardie Grant publisher Pam Brewster pitched the idea to him at the Byron Bay Writers Festival two years ago.

"I'd much sooner have this form of anecdotes, (it) means you can talk about the things you want to," he says.

"I'm not into autobiographies because I think that we all tend to defend ourselves in autobiographies."

Brown's memoir does not exist in a vacuum and came out three days after former Labor minister Greg Combet's biography.

The retired politician wrote The Fight of My Life with author Mark Davis, with Combet's tale being launched last Tuesday by former prime minister Julia Gillard.

Gillard's own tale My Story is due out on September 24, with the former PM confirming she offered to endorse Combet as her successor.

The revelation may help boost sales for her former colleague.

However, Combet and Brown are in hard competition for book-buyers' coins, with rivals Ruth Rae and Tony Windsor: The Biography, released on July 14, and journalist Madonna King with her Hockey: Not Your Average Joe, out on July 24.

While King's tale of the Federal Treasurer is not being marketed as an authorised biography, she was given access to the Budget room as she prepared the tale dedicated to Hockey's father Richard.

Gillard is the sole author on the cover of her tale of life as Australia's first female prime minister, taking a path forged for her this June by Hillary Rodham Clinton in Hard Choices and powerbroker Rob Oakeshott in The Independent Member for Lyne, and John Howard in Lazarus Rising four years ago.

Other titles are Kate McClymont and Linton Besser's Eddie Obeid expose, He Who Must be Obeid, which came out last Thursday, and three wrap-ups — Mungo MacCullum's The Good, the Bad and the Unlikely: Australia's Prime Ministers, and The Whitlam Mob, both July 23 releases, and The Gate Keepers: Lessons From Prime Ministers' Chiefs of Staff by R.A.W. Rhodes and Anne Tiernan.

Brown is frank on his disappointment with the Abbott Government's repeal of the carbon tax.

"Australians have just voted for a government to turn around the Greens-inspired climate-change innovation of the last period of government and it will change again because climate change is impacting on us all, not least South West Western Australia and those impacts are going to get worse," he says.

Brown titled his memoir Optimism: Reflections on a Life of Action and opens the book by explaining he took a pessimistic approach to life for about a decade in his early years.

"When I was younger, I was struggling with my own identity and sexuality, and disappointment at the religion I believed in wasn't logical and didn't ring true any more," he says.

Brown, a trained GP, opted to go to Europe during the Cold War period and was — as he shares in an anecdote — the doctor on duty when an already-dead Jimi Hendrix was wheeled in on a gurney.

The activist says young people often ask him why he is not depressed.

"It is reasonable to get depressed, however, that knocks you out and ultimately could lead to a pretty unsatisfactory existence," he says.

Brown says optimism followed by action gives one a more satisfactory life.

"We don't know where the future is going," he says.

Brown has used his biography to share his approach to constructive action but it will be for readers to decide whether they believe the fare satisfies their tastes.

Optimism is published by Hardie Grant ($40, ebook $8); Bob Brown will join Gary Adshead for an in-conversation appearance at Fremantle Town Hall for Dymocks Garden City on Tuesday next week, at 7pm. To book tickets visit www.trybooking.com/FBUZ phone 9364 7687 or email gcorders@dymocks.com.au.

The West Australian

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