Accessibility Tools

  • Content scaling 100%
  • Font size 100%
  • Line height 100%
  • Letter spacing 100%

Australian Historical Studies

I am writing this review in a cafe in the main street of Gympie, a town founded on gold discoveries in 1867. It is 200 kilometres north of Brisbane and seventy kilometres from the coast. Frontier types abound in a town population of 11,000 and in farming communities around. Rough, craggy, sunburnt faces, wizened facial muscles, arms creased by years of hard work and a determined walk. In their everyday habits they exhibit loyalty to friends, a capacity to improvise and a contempt for blacks. And these are the women.

As our feminist historians have pointed out, there are few women in Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend, first published in 1958. Indeed in the index there are only a handful of entries: ‘on goldfields’, ‘prostitution’ or and ‘shortage of, in bush’, the last being the longest entry.

... (read more)

Australian Historical Studies edited by Joy Damousi & Australian Historical Studies edited by Shurlee Swain and Stuart Macintyre

February 2007, no. 288

‘Nothing bad has ever happened in the last 218 years of European settlement – and if anything ever did, it has been inflated out of all proportion by self-serving lefty academics.’ The perpetually angry right-wing commentators that dominate the so-called ‘history wars’ would never write anything so crass, but that is the message which appears to permeate the ‘three cheers’ school of Australian history supported by the present neo-liberal establishment. In contrast, recent contributors to Australian Historical Studies (AHS) provide a more nuanced version of Australian history that transcends pointless debates about the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ of the past. In general, the essayists seek to understand past realities rather than to pass judgment on historical actors and their eras. Race is one of the strongest themes in both issues of AHS. David Walker’s ‘Strange Reading’ (No. 128) is a well-written assessment of Keith Windschuttle’s The White Australia Policy (2004). Walker shows that by ignoring key evidence and through selected use of edited historical quotations, Windschuttle has constructed a bogus Australian past in which racist attitudes towards Asia represented a minimal part of the national story. Gillian Cowlishaw (No. 127) also tackles the history wars and the construction of national myths. Cowlishaw stresses the importance of creating Aboriginal history that reflects the personalities and values of the participants: ‘Indigenous Australians remain shadows in the scholar’s margins, passive recipients of “our” actions in the past and “our” regrets in the present.’ This problem can be hard to rectify, because the public record has a tendency to focus on European attempts to ‘manage’ the indigenous ‘issue’; the perceptions of indigenous people regarding cultural change and continuities are not always sufficiently documented, even in recent times.

... (read more)