The Place Economy – edited and curated by Andrew Hoyne

A gargantuan and gorgeous tome, The Place Economy brings together essays, case studies and first-person perspectives from academics, architects, developers, designers, local government and other stakeholders in our built environment.

It looks both at what has been achieved by some of the outstanding projects and initiatives in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Asia, while also looking to the future of the cities we could co-create – greener cities, cities that promote wellbeing, walkable, inclusive and culture-rich cities.

It is the kind of book that diving into any random opening of the pages will offer something visually exciting, thought-provoking or inspiring. Scattered throughout are quotes from thought leaders.

My personal favourite, which encapsulates one of the book’s main themes, is from philosopher Alain de Botton.

“Ugly cities are just an unnecessary suffering we impose on ourselves.”

Designing for sustainability, beauty and inspiration is possible – this book gives plenty of fuel for the fire in the belly that drives those kind of visions.

The hidden life of trees – Peter Wohllenben

This is a must-read for anyone in the urban greening, urban forest or land stewardship space. Written by a professional German forester and ecologist, it bringstogether both the experiential and the scientific knowledge of how trees behave biologically, socially and in relation to the wider environment.

It tackles the big questions, like how trees communicate with each other and how they defend themselves from predators like hungry beetles or giraffes.

It also explores some of the issues that are germane to current urban forestry trends, like why “street kid” trees often do not thrive as well as those surrounded by a diversity of other trees.

Wohllenben writes beautifully, and with an obvious love for both trees and the lives they support including other plants, fungi, soil organisms and fauna.

The anecdotes raise the book far above just being about a specific area of science, into one that is very much an attempt to inspire the same affection for trees in readers.

Living with the locals, early Europeans experience of Indigenous life – John Maynard and Victoria Haskins

Stepping into somewhere altogether different to the usual histories of interactions between Europeans and Indigenous Australians, Living with the Locals tells
the stories of those who were taken in by Aboriginal people due tomisadventure.

Some of the stories, like that of the shipwrecked Eliza Fraser, have been told from every perspective but the Indigenous one. Others are less well-known. Each story gives important insights into how Aboriginal and Islander culture was lived before colonialism impacted on the people to a major extent.

In some of the stories, there are already traces of the changes starting to manifest – the use of and trading of iron acquired from settlers, explorers or shipwrecks, for example, and how this altered dynamics and practices.

One of the reasons this book can have such value for readers is it explains aspects of Indigenous culture that are still very relevant today such as kinship, territory, traditional law and the relationship to country.

It is also an exceptionally well-crafted set of narratives, which does not draw back from questioning previous reportage, records or claims. This leads to another important insight – history is not always empirically true.

Much of what may have been taught about a person, an event or a culture is unavoidably shaded by those doing the telling and those passing the story on through various mediums.

The story of John Ireland and William D’Oyley, who were rescued by a Torres Strait Islanders following a shipwreck is a good example. The reportage following their return to the European Australian community made claims of cannibalism and deprivation, and downplayed the care and kindness the boys experienced from the families that adopted them.

Highly recommended reading for those looking for a fresh Indigenous-led insight into an important and untaught part of this country’s history.

Beyond the vapour trail – Brett Pierce

Aid workers have one of the toughest jobs on the planet – what this book also makes clear is they also have to be some of the most resilient people on the planet.

Brett Pierce’s memoir of working for World Vision in war zones, refugee camps, disaster zones and other challenging places ranges from the profoundly moving and confronting to the downright laugh-out-loud funny.

It covers both the personal toll and the broader context of organisational, national and global politics.

He also acutely highlights the difficulties an aid worker can encounter when they simply cannot disengage from someone in need and move onto the next project.

The story that weaves through the book of how Pierce went above and beyond to help rescue the life of one orphaned and kidnapped girl in Africa is both a glimpse into the fundamentals of human decency and kindness, but also an amazing illustration of how a wider force for good sometimes appears to operate in the world.

Miracles can and do happen is one of the book’s many positive messages. Sometimes it’s because people make them happen through enormous effort and application. Sometimes they simply happen.

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