Julia Gillard’s dual biographies will make for interesting reading when they hit the streets in two instalments over the next 12 months.

The rival tomes, one penned by gallery stalwart and unauthorised John Hewson biographer Christine Wallace (Allen & Unwin), and the other by Graeme Richardson ghostwriter Jacqueline Kent (Penguin), threaten to take strikingly divergent paths when it comes to documenting the life and times of the fiery redhead from SA’s Unley High.

Both authors have form when it comes to ALP tell-alls. Kent has straddled the factional divide, ghosting both Richo’s and Labor Left luminary Tom Uren’s autobiographies. Wallace has a history of Labor Right loyalty that threatens to produce a rigorous re-telling of Gillard’s rise to the top.

So should the Deputy PM’s media minders start preparing the trenches for a political bloodbath?

Kent told Crikey that she will look at the woman behind the mask with an in-depth take on the internal emotions driving Gillard. By contrast, Wallace is expected to zoom in on the machinations that have entranced press gallery hacks for years. Wallace is an insiders’ insider, stemming from her gallery prowess and her marriage to former Kim Beazley chief of staff Michael Costello.

Kent and Wallace’s paths have crossed before, on this edition of the ABC’s Biographies series last November. The rival approaches were plain to see with Wallace launching a bullish defence of overtly critical approaches, whereas a less ebullient Kent appeared more concerned with issues of accuracy. During the interview, it emerged that Germaine Greer, who had described Wallace as a “dung eating beetle” was particularly perturbed by Wallace’s scrutiny during research for her Greer, Untamed Shrew expose:

WALLACE: …she was intellectually defensive, she was worried that someone would stand back and review her life’s work and see the big cracks running through the marble, the contradictions.

BYRNE: Which is what you did in that book.

WALLACE: I’m an admirer but I’m not an uncritical admirer and no biography should suspend their critical faculties, in the way you just described.

Indeed, when Wallace wants to open political wounds she can be deadly. Her series of AFR stories and subsequent Hewson biography in the 1990s helped closed the book on his life in politics:

BYRNE: Was Hewson antagonistic to the book or just ignored you?

WALLACE: Well, Hewson actually had an authorised biography on the go from someone who was on his staff and moved to another Liberal politician’s staff to write that book so I was being fended off and fended off and fended off, hoping I would drop off and that’s not my style.

BYRNE: Clearly!

On the evidence, Wallace might struggle to secure an extended interview with the Deputy PM although Crikey contacted Wallace who said she would interview Gillard when her research has been completed.

“The questions will be better informed and the time spent will be more valuable for both of us that way,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kent told Crikey she has received agreement for two lengthy interviews, one of which has already been completed.

Wallace’s factional allegiances might also count against her. In a telling 2005 New Matilda story, Wallace dismissed Kim Beazley’s likely challengers, claiming that “age and cunning will beat youth and promise any day”. The subsequent media campaign against Gillard’s rise was a vicious one, as Tony Kevin documents on his website.

Factionally, Wallace’s history of Beazley boosterism rivals Bob Ellis for cosiness. She strongly supported Bomber’s return to the leadership in 2005, claiming he was the only one who could defeat Howard. This, according to insiders, makes her about as unnatural a biographer of Gillard as it’s possible to be in the ALP camp.

Wallace told Michelle Grattan yesterday that she was keen to frame Gillard’s career as an inspiration for the glass-ceiling smashing sisterhood. These two recent Wallace-penned Herald Sun articles would appear to confirm this. But Gillard could object, judging by this comment to the Herald Sun’s Sally Morrell from 2006:

I can understand it all [feminism] at an intellectual level and I do admire it, but I think I just emotionally would have found that all very tough.

It is not known whether either Wallace or Kent will revisit the corruption allegations surrounding Gillard’s former lover Bruce Wilson and the AWU, a topic she is said to be enormously reluctant to discuss.

Wallace told Byrne that if private actions impacted on the public sphere, then they were legitimate fodder. But in the Wilson case, Gillard’s relationship appears to be immaterial to the Wilson’s future fraud.

By contrast, the other great smear over Gillard’s early-80s involvement with the shadowy Socialist Forum would seem ripe for the picking, until one considers that her Trotskyite connections were tangential at best.

Crikey understands that Wallace was enlisted by Allen & Unwin to go head-to-head with Kent and Penguin shortly after the publisher learnt of Kent’s looming effort through publishing backchannels.

The results will be pored over, both by ALP tragics and those keen to get a more nuanced insight into the country’s most popular political celebrity.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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