Who are the Australians?

Who are the Australians?


by Alan Atkinson

NewSouth, $49.99 pb, 492 pp, 9780868409979

On 17 January 1991, Alan Atkinson wrote to fellow historian Manning Clark to express his appreciation after reading The Puzzles of Childhood (1989) and The Quest for Grace (1990), Clark’s two volumes of autobiography. While Clark had only four months to live, Atkinson would soon begin work on The Europeans in Australia, a three-volume history of his country that would occupy him over the next twenty years. ‘I enjoyed both [the autobiographies],’ he told Clark; they ‘had a kind of subjectivity about them. It’s a remarkable style you use, which seemed to relate very much to me, so that they taught me a lot.’ Atkinson later described how he was ‘profoundly influenced’ by Clark’s work. Even more than the vast scale of Clark’s six-volume A History of Australia, it was the ‘infinite variety and open-ended stillness … of the past itself’ that affected him so intensely. Clark had shown Atkinson that the historian must ‘not just reimagine the national story but also do it in ways that ask questions about humanity itself’.

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Published in November 2014, no. 366
Mark McKenna

Mark McKenna

Mark McKenna is an Australian Research Council Research Fellow in History at the University of Sydney. His most recent book, An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark (Miegunyah Press, 2011) won the 2012 Prime Minister’s Prize for Non-Fiction.

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