Billy Griffiths reviews 'Private Lives, Public History' by Anna Clark

Billy Griffiths reviews 'Private Lives, Public History' by Anna Clark

Private Lives, Public History

by Anna Clark

Melbourne University Publishing, $27.99 pb, 192 pp, 9780522868951

What do we talk about when we talk about history? This is a question that Anna Clark has devoted her career to answering. She has followed the conversations Australians have about history into museums and universities – The History Wars (2003) and Australian History Now! (2013) – and classrooms and staffrooms – Teaching the Nation (2006) and History's Children (2008). With Private Lives, Public History, she has turned her mind to the broader Australian public. She searches out 'ordinary' Australians – the 'working families', 'taxpayers', and 'battlers' who live out in 'lawnmower land' – to ask them what they think of Australian history.

But who are ordinary Australians? Who are the people over whom the history wars were fought? Clark's 'Mr Everyman' is made up of 100 interviewees, mostly women, from five communities that 'broadly reflect the geographical, cultural and socio-economic diversity of Australia': Marrickville, Chatswood, Brimbank, Rockhampton, and Derby. The interviews were conducted in small groups and one-on-ones. Clark laments that the rich sensory experience of these sessions is missing in the book: 'How to transcribe the loud crack of a tinnie during my visit to the Derby Bowling Club?'

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Published in April 2016, no. 380
Billy Griffiths

Billy Griffiths

Billy Griffiths is a Melbourne-based writer and historian. He is the author of The China Breakthrough: Whitlam in the Middle Kingdom, 1971 (2012) and co-editor (with Mike Smith) of The Australian Archaeologist's Book of Quotations (2015). His latest book is Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia (2018, Black Inc.).