Book Review: Warren Mundine’s In Black + White is a searing look at Australian history & politics

If anyone knows the definition of the word “tough” then it’s Warren Mundine. This businessman and advisor to five Australian Prime Minsters grew up in poverty in Grafton. He faced racism and discrimination but he was also buoyed by the success of boxer, Lionel Rose. Mundine managed to rise above all of this and become a leading voice on Indigenous issues and an influential person in politics and business. In his memoir, In Black + White, Mundine takes the reader on a journey through his life story as well as indigenous affairs, politics and Australian history and he does this with a raw sense of truth that is unprecedented in politics.

Warren Mundine was child number nine in a family of 11 children. Former boxer, Tony Mundine is Warren’s cousin and boxer and former rugby league player, Anthony Mundine is his nephew even though Warren often describes these other Mundines as his brothers (he also says the same about Stan Grant who pens a beautiful introduction to this book.) Warren Mundine had very humble beginnings, living in a shantytown until his family eventually scraped together enough money to purchase a house. This was a pretty incredible feat at the time because Mundine’s father – like all indigenous workers during this bleak chapter in history – earned a fraction of what their white counterparts’ earnt.

As a child, Warren was aware that he and his family were being treated like second class citizens in their own country. He once witnessed his father being punished by the local police (his Dad was also punished by the cops for being outside after 5pm one time and this was a liberty that white folk did not even have to worry about.) In his text, Mundine gives a lot of background and history with respect to what was taking place at any given time, which gives good context to the reader.

It will be eye-opening to some readers when they learn that Mundine was born in a segregated section of Grafton Hospital in 1956. It is also shocking that his father had to apply for a form of identification from the government (something the Aboriginal people referred to as “dog tags”) and also to apply for an exemption to be allowed to live outside of the reserves. Mundine is quite critical in describing the harmful and long-term effects of the Aborigines Protection Act. He also weighs in on other political issues and offers his opinions on land rights, the rates of Aborigines in custody and Kevin Rudd’s sorry speech, to name a few.

This volume can be quite illuminating at times and at other moments it feels like Mundine is offering it all up, warts and all. This is certainly no hagiography. Mundine describes his first and second marriages and implicates himself in wrecking the latter one thanks to his own infidelity. He describes the political power plays that he witnessed as a Federal President of the Australian Labor Party. Mundine has ultimately had a long history in politics, a career that saw him first acting as a unionist before taking on a role as a local councillor in Dubbo and eventually graduating to federal politics and advising the likes of: John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull on indigenous affairs. Mundine confronts all of his past head-on and the result is a story that is brutally honest, explosive and inspiring in equal measure.

In In Black + White, Warren Mundine tackles some difficult subjects but does this in an incredibly engaging way. In some respects you can see why he has become an influential voice and someone who is also considered somewhat controversial thanks to some of his opinions. In spite of this, there is no denying the important role that he has played in Australian politics and local affairs. A proud member of the Bundjalung and Gumbaynggirr peoples, Mundine’s inspiring story is a testament to a brilliant career and is ultimately one searing and mesmerising Australian story.

Warren Mundine’s In Black + White is available now through Pantera Press.