Australian History

When John Hirst accepted the challenge of writing a history of Federation of scholarly quality but fit for a broad popular readership, he may have felt himself on a hiding to nothing. Previous historians have succeeded in convincing Australians that the story of the making of the Australian Commonweal this at best dull. Who wants to know about a collection of hirsute, largely overweight and overdressed middle-class politicians arguing about the nexus between the Senate and the House of Representatives?

Unlike the Americans, we did not begin with a ringing declaration of independence from Mother England. Unlike the French Revolution, we offer no images of impassioned crowds storming Pentridge. ‘Advance Australia Fair’ is no substitute for the Marseillaise. Unlike the old Soviet Union, our constitution contains no mission statement of community values and aspirations, and some, such as Don Watson, argue that we are the poorer for it.

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Bob Dixon has researched Australian Indigenous languages since the 1960s, has constructed grammars of five languages, and has written numerous scholarly books and articles on Aboriginal languages ...

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Towards the end of his informative introduction, Robert Manne, the editor of Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle’s fabrication of Aboriginal history, outlines the collective intention of the book’s nineteen contributors. He refers to Windschuttle’s The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002), a revisionist text dealing with early colonial history and violence in nineteenth-century Tasmania, as ‘so ignorant, so polemical and so pitiless a book’ ... 

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Australian football has lost its magic, a unique quality existing in the 1950s, and even as late as the 1970s. It derived from the fixed positions that players adopted and from their physical diversity. In their competing forms, they became metaphysical constructs – good versus evil, beauty versus ugliness, benign innocence versus malevolent experience – constructs limited only by the human imagination ...

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Keith Windschuttle seeks to undermine a ‘mindset’ among historians of Tasmania that started in Henry Melville’s History of Van Diemen’s Land (1835) and continues in Henry Reynolds’s An Indelible Stain (2001). Mindsets, or ‘interpretive frameworks’, sensitise historians to ‘evidence’ that fits their ‘assumptions’ ...

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It seems to be only a couple of years ago that my students declared gender and race to be the ‘hot’ topics in culture. Now, I confidently predict, they will relegate gender (still acknowledging its importance) and reformulate the second term by adding a third: race and its intersection with religion, in its broadest definition.

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Manning Clark rescued Australian history from blandness and predictability by making Australia a cockpit in which the great faiths of Europe continued their battle, with results that were distinctive. He concentrated on the great characters who were bearers of one of the faiths: Protestantism, Catholicism, or the Enlightenment.

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When John Hirst accepted the challenge of writing a history of Federation of scholarly quality but fit for a broad popular readership, he may have felt himself on a hiding to nothing. Previous historians have succeeded in convincing Australians that the story of the making of the Australian Commonwealth is at best dull.

... (read more)

Anyone who heard Inga Clendinnen’s 1999 Boyer Lectures or who has listened to her in any other way will hear her voice clearly in this book: contemplative, reflective, warm, gently paced. Dancing with Strangers seems to have been written as if it were meant to be read aloud. It reaches out to its listeners ...

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The first volume in this series, Beverley Kingston’s A History of New South Wales, was published in 2006. Since then another five have appeared, including a book on Tasmania by Henry Reynolds and another on Victoria by Geoffrey Blainey. Cambridge University Press may be proceeding with its ...

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