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John Hirst

John Hirst

John Hirst was a historian. His most recent book was Looking for Australia: Historical Essays (2010).

John Hirst reviews ‘Black Kettle and Full Moon: Daily life in a vanished Australia’ by Geoffrey Blainey

November 2003, no. 256 01 November 2011
Geoffrey Blainey is seventy-three years old and has published thirty-two books. Since his last book was a history of the world, one might have assumed that he had reached the end of his career. But he is not done yet. He moves, as he has always done, from grand speculation to what might be thought trifles – in this case, the details of everyday life in Australia from the 1850s to 1914. Here the ... (read more)

John Hirst review 'History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom' by Anna Clark

May 2008, no. 301 01 May 2008
This is an honest, modest report of what students and teachers across the country think about the teaching of Australian history in schools. Anna Clark has allowed her subjects to speak for themselves; being a scrupulous historian, she has not edited their offerings. So we hear words like these: ‘Now they’re having like record numbers [at Anzac Day], and like huge ceremonies all over Australia ... (read more)

John Hirst reviews ‘What If?: Australian history as it might have been’ by Stuart Macintyre and Sean Scalmer

September 2006, no. 284 01 September 2006
Thirteen scholars here have fun changing the course of Australian history, but this diverting exercise has the serious purpose of making the real history fresher, more complex and surprising. Even the more implausible scenarios can have this effect. Marilyn Lake imagines Prime Minister Alfred Deakin declaring independence from Britain in 1908 and aligning Australia with the United States, which b ... (read more)

John Hirst reviews 'Gold: Forgotten Histories and Lost Objects of Australia' and 'Gold and Civilisation'

May 2001, no. 230 01 May 2001
Forgotten histories and lost objects of Australia: this is a five-star title for a three-star book of essays. Several of the essays are slight and pedestrian, and overall the subject of gold gets a patchy treatment; the contributors write about their specialties and we are not given much help to reach a new understanding of the whole phenomenon. But there is much that is interesting here; and some ... (read more)

John Hirst reviews 'Bad Dreaming: Aboriginal men's violence against women and children' by Louis Nowra

May 2007, no. 291 01 May 2007
There has been a concerted effort in the academy over three decades to argue that Aboriginal women were not oppressed by their men. How many times have I read of the autonomy women secured by being the chief food-gatherers, both for themselves and the men? On this basis the peasants in medieval Europe were the equal of their lords. Louis Nowra’s essay on the violence of Aboriginal men to their w ... (read more)

John Hirst reviews 'Australia and the British Embrace: The demise of the imperial ideal' by Stuart Ward

December 2001–January 2002, no. 237 01 December 2001
When did Australia grow up? Australian historians have accepted, almost as an obligation of their trade, that they must declare the moment when the child reached mature adulthood. Was it, as Justice Murphy proclaimed in splendid isolation on the High Court bench, at the moment of the adoption of the Commonwealth Constitution in 1901? He was, admittedly, an amateur historian. Was it with the passag ... (read more)

John Hirst reviews 'The Colony: A history of early Sydney' by Grace Karskens

September 2009, no. 314 01 September 2009
This is not so much a history of Sydney as a tour with a sensitive and alert guide who knows her history. The site is modern Sydney. Although Sydney was only just beginning to develop suburbs when the book ends – in the 1820s – Karskens tours the whole of the Cumberland Plain, the area that metropolitan Sydney now covers.   For the modern suburbs, as everywhere else, Karskens describ ... (read more)

John Hirst reviews 'The Europeans in Australia: Volume Two: Democracy' by Alan Atkinson

September 2004, no. 264 01 September 2004
Manning Clark rescued Australian history from blandness and predictability by making Australia a cockpit in which the great faiths of Europe continued their battle, with results that were distinctive. He concentrated on the great characters who were bearers of one of the faiths: Protestantism, Catholicism, or the Enlightenment. Alan Atkinson is modestly offering three volumes instead of Clark’s ... (read more)

John Hirst reviews 'A History of Tasmania' by Henry Reynolds

February 2012, no. 338 21 January 2012
Henry Reynolds is the pre-eminent historian of Aboriginal–settler relations in Australia, and with this theme he begins his history of Tasmania. He eschews the obligatory set piece description of Aboriginal society before the Europeans arrived, with which so many books now awkwardly commence. His opening chapter is ‘First Meetings: Extraordinary Encounters’, where the explorers and founders ... (read more)

John Hirst reviews 'Lazarus Rising: A Personal and Political Autobiography' by John Howard and 'A Journey' by Tony Blair

December 2010–January 2011, no. 327 30 November 2010
John Howard and Tony Blair both came to the prime ministership in landslides, Howard in 1996, Blair in 1997. They were on opposite sides of the traditional political divide, Howard leading a Liberal Party opposed to Australian Labor and Blair leading the British Labour Party. But both rebadged their parties, Blair as New Labour and Howard as Conservative. New Labour and Conservative meet in their ... (read more)