Australian History

For anyone who has spent substantial time recording Aboriginal cultural traditions in remote areas of Australia with its most senior living knowledge holders, bestselling writer Bruce Pascoe’s view that Aboriginal people were agriculturalists has never rung true. Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate – co-authored by veteran Australian anthropologist Peter Sutton and archaeologist Keryn Walshe – has already been welcomed by Aboriginal academics Hannah McGlade and Victoria Grieve-Williams, who reject Dark Emu’s hypothesis that their ancestors were farmers (like Pascoe himself).

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‘People are not entitled in a civil society to pursue a malicious campaign of character assassination based on a big lie.’ This was Andrew Clark, son of the historian Manning Clark, expressing understandable outrage on behalf of his family. The issue was the infamous allegation, based on nebulous evidence, that Manning was ‘an agent of Soviet influence’ and had been awarded the Order of Lenin. Unfortunately, as the Clarks will know, the big lie, even when refuted, spreads across generations. Although the onus is supposed to be on the accusers to prove their allegations, in reality it is easily, plausibly reversed.

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This book is about the battles in which the First Australian Imperial Force took part between June and November 1917. It is not, however, a battle history. Rather, it takes the interesting approach of investigating how Australians remember these battles. Spoiler alert: they don’t.

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In the process of British colonisation, Aboriginal people lost their country, kin, culture, and languages. They also lost their freedom. Governed after 1901 by different state and territory laws, Aboriginal peoples were subject to the direction of Chief Protectors and Protection Boards, and were told where they could live, travel, and seek employment, and whom they might marry. They were also subject to the forced removal of their children by state authorities. Exemption certificates promised family safety, dignity, a choice of work, a passport to travel, and freedom. Too often, in practice, exemption also meant enhanced surveillance, family breakup, and new forms of racial discrimination and social segregation.

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As readers of her two volumes of memoirs will know, Sheila Fitzpatrick trained at the University of Melbourne until departing for Oxford in 1964 to pursue doctoral research on the history of the Soviet Union. That took her to Moscow, where she gained access to Soviet archives. Fitzpatrick would make her name as an archival historian, in contrast to earlier Western scholars who relied, both of necessity and by inclination, on other sources; she showed remarkable ingenuity in using the officially sanctioned records.

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In 1969, an Anzac veteran visiting Gallipoli fell into conversation with a retired Turkish school teacher. The teacher had with him a guidebook featuring a quote from Şükrü Kaya, the former head of the Ottoman Directorate for the Settlement of Tribes and Immigrants. The quote came from a 1953 interview Kaya gave, in which he recalled a 1934 speech he made on behalf of Mustafa Kemal, a sentimental entreaty to Anzac mothers to ‘wipe away’ their tears. The teacher shared Kemal’s supposed words with the Australian visitor, who returned to Brisbane and passed them on to Alan J. Campbell, a Gallipoli veteran. Campbell, who was involved in the creation of a Gallipoli memorial in Brisbane, contacted the Turkish Historical Society to verify the quote. They could only confirm Kaya’s 1953 interview, but this was considered good enough. In this convoluted way, ‘the most iconic refrain of Anzac Day’ ended up on the memorial’s plaque, attributed to Kemal, with one addition. Campbell invented the now well-worn line about ‘the Johnnies and the Mehmets [lying] side by side’.

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Bain Attwood’s Empire and the Making of Native Title is a welcome contribution to the field. Like many good historians of sovereignty and native title in Australia and New Zealand, Attwood stresses the importance of contingency and complexity in the first decades of British settlement on both sides of the Tasman Sea. His early chapters focus on the local and imperial contexts that shaped Crown approaches to Indigenous title in New South Wales, Port Phillip, and South Australia. The rest of the book provides a forensic account of the lead-up to and aftermath of the British assumption of sovereignty in New Zealand, and its shifting ramifications for legal arguments about Māori land title.

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Founded in 1831, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) sought to redress impediments to scientific progress that arose in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, determining that the BAAS would ‘give a stronger impulse and more systematic direction to scientific inquiry … [and] promote the intercourse of cultivators of science’.

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What kinds of stories are possible now about a mission community at the height of the assimilation era? How might scholars narrate the lives of religious women who ran an institution for Indigenous children?

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Into the Loneliness is the story of two Australian women, opposites in temperament, who eschewed the conventional roles expected of women of their eras, lived unconventional lives, and produced books that influenced the culture and imagination of twentieth-century Australia. The book focuses on their complicated friendship, and on Ernestine Hill’s role in assisting Daisy Bates to produce the manuscript that was published in 1938 as The Passing of the Aborigines, which became a bestseller in Australia and Britain. Hill, a successful and popular journalist, organised the anthropological material and ghost-wrote much of the book, for which Bates privately expressed her gratitude, while not acknowledging it publicly.

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