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Stuart Ward

Two of my favourite images in Stuart Ward’s important new book reproduce black-and-white photographs. One captures the life-sized butter sculpture of the prince of Wales and his favourite Canadian horse, the star exhibit of the 1924 Empire Exhibition at Wembley. The other shows a group of protesters in London in 1973 contesting European Economic Community restrictions on imports of Commonwealth cane sugar from the West Indies and Queensland. Most of the faces in the picture are obscured, but the body language of a man to the left of the frame, slumped over his hand-rendered ‘Beat Beet. Keep Cane’ placard, communicates depression and dejection.

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Australia’s Empire edited by Deryck M. Schreuder and Stuart Ward

October 2008, no. 305

One of the more successful ventures of Oxford University Press in the closing decades of the last century was a five-volume History of the British Empire. With more than a hundred contributors, this was a major undertaking, but its beginnings were not auspicious. Roger Louis, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, was appointed editor-in-chief. That drew a public complaint from Max Beloff, an Oxford professor and founding principal of the private University of Buckingham, who was raised to the peerage by Margaret Thatcher. Beloff wanted to know why OUP was allowing an American to rewrite ‘our colonial history’.

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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 passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, when the Dominions were given the right to have their own defence and foreign policies? Or in 1942, when Prime Minister Curtin looked to the United States ‘free of any pangs as to our traditional links and kinship with the United Kingdom’? Or with the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951? Or is the safest thing to stick with the election of the Whitlam government in 1972?

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