2009 History Lectures

Debating Australian History


Aug 1

National or International? Does Australian history have a future?

Ann Curthoys

Australian historians are moving to look at how issues that affect Australia and Australians are part of broader transnational processes. Yet the nation still matters. In becoming international, are historians in danger of losing their national audience, and their relevance to the nation?

Ann Curthoys is an ARC Professorial Fellow at Sydney University and a Fellow of both the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia and the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She is the author of numerous works, including Freedom Ride: A Freedomrider Remembers (2002) and For and Against Feminism: A Personal Journey into Feminist Theory and History (1988). Her How to Write History that People Want to Read (with Ann McGrath) is forthcoming.


Aug 15

Other People’s Wars? Re-considering Australian attitudes to past conflicts

Peter Stanley

Will the Second World War soon be regarded as little more than a European trade war? Will the South African War be seen as a squalid bit of imperial bullying and the Great War regarded as an incomprehensible tragedy without justification or purpose? Today such conflicts are frequently described as ‘other people’s wars’ but the ‘other people’ in these scenarios are Australians of earlier generations whose motivation and commitment are becoming harder to understand as time passes. Peter Stanley will canvass our changing attitudes and the need to remember how these conflicts appeared at the time.

Dr Stanley is Director of the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia. From 1980 to 2007 he worked at the Australian War Memorial, where he was Principal Historian. He has published 22 books, including Tarakan: an Australian Tragedy, Quinn’s Post: Anzac, Gallipoli, Invading, Australia: Japan and the Battle for Australia, 1942 and A Stout Pair of Boots: A Guide to Exploring Australia’s Battlefields.


Aug 29

Black-White Relations in the Gulf Country to 1950

Tony Roberts

Building on his pioneering work into relations between the aboriginal peoples of the southern Gulf of Carpentaria and white overlanders, settlers, and police in the late nineteenth century, Tony Roberts has now extended his investigation to the mid-twentieth century. He uses a wide range of sources, including Aboriginal oral histories, to show that the violence was more horrific than previously thought, providing a powerful rebuttal of those who have suggested otherwise.

Tony Roberts is a retired former public servant who worked for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra, where he specialised in Northern Territory land rights and uranium mining legislation and served as an advisor to successive ministers. His Frontier Justice: A History of the Gulf Country to 1900 (UQ press, 2005), based on over four decades of meticulous research, won the NSW Premier’s Prize and the Australian Historical Association’s Hancock Prize.


Sep 12

How Labor Governed: Andrew Fisher and the world’s first socialist government

David Day

The inaugural VERE GORDON CHILDE LECTURE (A NSW History Week Event)

Australia made history in 1910 when it became the first country in the world to elect a socialist government. Prime minister, Andrew Fisher introduced a large number of measures designed to make Australians the ‘happiest and most prosperous’ people in the world.

Professor Day has written fifteen books on Australian history and the history of the Second World War. His Claiming a Continent: A New History of Australia won the Non-fiction Prize at the Adelaide Writers Festival, while his biography of John Curtin won the Queensland Premier’s Prize for History. His recent books include Conquest: How societies overwhelm others and Andrew Fisher: Prime Minister of Australia. David Day is with the History Program at La Trobe University and a visiting professor at the University of Aberdeen.


Sep 26

What Kind of Settlement?

Grace Karskens

Drawing on her new book The Colony, Grace Karskens explores the transformation of a campsite at Sydney cove to the town that later became Australia’s largest city. She will reveal how relationships between the colonial authorities and ordinary men and women broke with old patterns and how settler and Aboriginal histories became entwined.

Dr. Karskens teaches Australian History at the University of New South Wales. Her groundbreaking book The Rocks: Life in Early Sydney won the 1998 NSW Premier’s Award for Local and Regional History. As Project Historian for the world-renowned Cumberland-Gloucester Streets Archaeological Project (1994-1999) she combined history and archaeology in her book Inside the Rocks.


Oct 10

Convictism: How Did We Get It So Wrong?

Babette Smith

Why is it that Australians are still misled by myths about their convict heritage? Following on from her book Australia’s Birthstain, Babette Smith will reveal the involvement of British politicians and clergy in creating a stain that reached far beyond convict crimes and how the consequences still block our understanding of Australian society.

Babette Smith’s latest book Australia’s Birthstain is a controversial history of convicts in Australia, which exposes the distortions and myths that caused the nation to deny its own past. She is also the author of the groundbreaking A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson & the convicts of the Princess Royal, which traces the story of 100 women transported together in 1829 to Sydney. Her other books includes a fictional version of the women’s story called A Cargo of Women, the novel and Mothers & Sons, a non-fiction analysis of this relationship in the post-feminist era. She lives in the Blue Mountains and combines writing and occasional journalism with her practice as a mediator.


Oct 24

History: The Case for It

Bob Carr

The former NSW Premier and longtime history ‘buff’ will introduce a discussion of the proposed national history curriculum. Audience participation will undoubtedly be a highlight of this session. What history do you think our children should be learning?

Bob Carr was the longest continuously serving Premier in New South Wales history (1995-2005). A member of the advisory board of the Centre for Australian Studies at Georgetown University, he is the author of Thoughtlines (2002), What Australia Means to Me (2003), and My Reading Life (2008).

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