Australian History

In April 2011, the landmark High Court victory of four elderly Kenyans revealed a dark episode in British colonial history. Between 1952 and 1960, barbaric practices, including forced removal and torture, were widely employed against ‘Mau Mau’ rebels, real or imagined. Upon the granting of independence in 1963, thousands of files documenting such atrocities were ‘retained’ by the British authorities, eventually coming to rest in the vast, secret Foreign and Commonwealth Office archives at Hanslope Park. Now a small portion of that archive was opened to scrutiny, and a tiny ray of light shone on one of history’s greatest cover-ups.

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Kathy Mexted was a teenager when the possibility of becoming a pilot entered her head. The year was 1978, and she was airborne in a plane commanded by her father. The latter turned to his daughter and remarked: ‘If you’d like to learn to fly, I’ll pay for it.’ Nonetheless, it would take twelve years for the author to seriously pursue her piloting ambitions. This delay was due to several factors, not least of which was that flying has long been a ‘male dominated industry’.

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Clyde Cameron reviews 'The Shearers' by Patsy Adam-Smith

Clyde Cameron
Wednesday, 25 November 2020

The Shearers by Patsy Adam-Smith is worth a place in the best of libraries if only for its superb collection of photographs and reproductions – 291 of them! She is to be commended for including reproductions of an 1891 ‘Loyalty’ certificate, an 1890 Queensland Shearers’ Union ticket and three ‘shearing ticket’ versions of the Amalgamated Workers’ Union. I wish I could claim possession of an original of these. I do, however, have a complete collection of every membership certificate issued in what is now called The Australian Workers’ Union right from its very beginning in 1886, when it was called the Australasian Shearers’ Union.

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Professor Mulvaney’s thematic history of encounters between outsiders and Aboriginal Australians is developed through a discussion of events located in specific places. He has selected places which are in the Register of the National Estate (many of which he initially nominated) or are being considered for inclusion. The places, then, are by definition part of Australia’s cultural heritage, and an important focus of the book is to illuminate some of the types of events which have shaped Australian society.

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Russel Ward’s new book is a revision of History, which he published in 1965, mainly for an American audience. In fact, it was read more in Australia and now he has extended the work, put in more detail, and, presumably in response to recent developments, included some cursory glances at the doings of Aborigines, explorers, and the female half of the Australian people.

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At the time that I was asked to review Rosemary Lancaster’s Je Suis Australienne: Remarkable Women in France, 1880–1945, I was reading American writer Helen Barolini’s Their Other Side: Six American Women and the Lure of Italy (2006). The books are similar: five of Lancaster’s six chapters are devoted to individual women whose lives and experience, like those in Barolini, cover the period from the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth. Both books are very much of the transnational moment, with its preoccupations with movement, connections and experience across borders, and premises that the identities of individuals and nations are formed abroad in contact and collision with others, as well as at home. The number of studies of overseas lives continues to grow but is surpassed by transcultural life writing, including Australian, in what has been described as ‘villa/ge’ books, travel writing that is about the destination not the voyaging, about living abroad rather than touring, about subject in situ rather than ‘situ’.

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The paths of James Macarthur and Philip Gidley King crossed in 1801 when Macarthur was a very small boy. King, then governor of New South Wales, sent Macarthur’s father, John, to England for trial for illicit duelling, fearing that Macarthur Senior had too many allies in the colony to secure a conviction there. Young James Macarthur was six by the time his father returned, far from the chastened man King had hoped. In fact, he brought with him instructions that he was to be granted additional land, making his holdings the most substantial in the colony. It was not exactly the victory that King had envisaged (or that his biographers seem to think he won.)

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Warren Osmond reviews 'John Monash' by Geoffrey Serle

Warren Osmond
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Poor John Monash has waited a long time. Before he died in 1931, he clearly hoped for a friendly posthumous biography. He destroyed his collection of erotica and some extramarital love letters. This was characteristically called ‘Emergency Action’. Less characteristically, he instructed his son-in-law and executor, Gershon Bennett, not to ‘preserve indefinitely’ the enormous collection of letters, diaries, cuttings, etc.

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According to the back cover: ‘This book explores the way common conversation matters … that during the last two hundred years we have been beguiled by reading and writing. Only during the last part of the twentieth century have we begun to remember the importance of speech as a source of truth in human affairs.’ It could also be noted that the seven essays collected here began as lectures, seminars or articles on such themes as the role of the monarchy in modern Australia (Prince Charles is judged a better speechmaker than his mum, therefore we have hope), the republican movement, the significance of Manning Clark and Henry Reynolds as influential Australian historians, the early nineteenth-century views of Edward Smith Hall and James Macarthur on the rights of Aboriginal people, and Raffaello Carboni’s account of the Eureka Stockade.

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Bill Gammage reviews 'Lords of Death' by Suzanne Welborn

Bill Gammage
Wednesday, 28 October 2020

This book is concerned essentially with the impact of the environment upon Europeans in Australia. It sets out to test C.E.W. Bean’s thesis that during the Great War the most effective Australian soldiers came from the bush. It does this in relation to men from Western Australia, arguing that the West was one of the most predominantly bush areas of Australia, and therefore that there, if anywhere, the influence of the bush should show up in the achievements of soldiers.

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