2012 History Lectures

August 4

The Two Depressions

Humphrey McQueen

Comparing the inter-war years with the ongoing economic catastrophe is to write a slate of differences. Australia slid into economic downturn from 1927 as world commodity prices declined whereas we have been kept afloat by revenues from selling dirt. The governmental response then was to enforce deflation against the stimulus package of 2008-9. Although the labour movement had suffered a run of defeats in the late 1920s, its organisational and ideological bases remained strong enough for a revival starting in 1934. Today’s labour movement has been on the ropes for nearly thirty years with nothing like the Communist Party of the 1930s to lead its resurgence. The global political scene focussed on the rise of fascism as a class issue compared to the current concerns with religious extremisms and ecological threats.

Humphrey McQueen is freelance historian working from Canberra. His seventeen books deal with Australian history, art, the media and political economy. His latest is We Built This Country, builders labourers and their unions (Ginninderra Press, 2011).


August 18

Dealing with American Generals

David Horner

As a result of Australia’s membership of the British Empire and the Commonwealth, Australian Army units served under British command in the Boer War, in the two world wars, in Korea, Malaya and Borneo. But in the Pacific War after 1942, in Korea, Vietnam, the Iraq wars and Afghanistan, Australian army units have also served under the command of American generals. How did the Australian commanders ensure that Australian sovereignty was safeguarded, and the lives of their troops were protected? It was not always an easy task. What lessons did the Australian commanders learn about fighting as part of coalition with a great and powerful ally?

David Horner AM, Dip Mil Stud, MA (Hons), PhD, is the Professor of Australian Defence History in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. Born on 12 March 1948, he graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1969 and served as an infantry platoon commander in Vietnam in 1971. He had various regimental and staff appointments and in 1983 graduated from the Australian Army’s Command and Staff College. From 1988, until he retired from the Regular Army as a lieutenant colonel towards the end of 1990, he was a member of the Directing Staff of the Joint Services Staff College.

Professor Horner is the author or editor of 30 books on Australian military history, strategy and defence including High Command (1982), Blamey: The Commander-in-Chief (1998), and Strategic Command, General Sir John Wilton and Australia’s Asian Wars (2005). He has been a consultant to various television programs and has lectured widely on military history and strategic affairs. He is the editor of the Australian Army’s military history series. As an Army Reserve colonel, from 1998 to 2002 he was the first Head of the Australian Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre. In 2004 he was appointed the Official Historian of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations. He is the General Editor of this six-volume series and is writing two of the volumes, the first of which, Australia and the ‘New World Order’, was published in January 2011.

He is a member of the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal. In the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to higher education in the area of Australian military history and heritage as a researcher, author and academic. In 2009 he was appointed official historian for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.


September 1

The Biggest Estate on Earth

Bill Gammage

The talk outlines Aboriginal land management at the time of contact (“1788”). It shows why Australia’s plants and animals made long-term, precise and detailed local management possible, especially with fire. It describes how the Law enforced management, then offers examples of the Law’s ecological impact. People distributed plants in patterns, to make plants and the animals which used them abundant, convenient and predictable.

Bill Gammage is an adjunct professor in the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University (ANU). He grew up in Wagga (NSW), and was an ANU undergraduate and postgraduate before teaching history at the Universities of Papua New Guinea and Adelaide. He wrote The Broken Years on Australian soldiers in the Great War (1974), Narrandera Shire (1986), The Sky Travellers on the 1938-39 Hagen-Sepik Patrol in New Guinea (1998), and The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia (2011).


September 15

Afghanistan: A Land of Long War

Amin Saikal

Afghanistan is the only country in the world that has gained the dubious reputation of having been invaded by all the three major powers of the last one and a half centuries: Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States. The First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars (1839-1842 and 1878-1880) ended in disaster for Britain, and the Third Anglo-Afghan War (6 May-8 August-1919) culminated with the declaration of Afghanistan’s full independence and Britain’s recognition of it. The Soviet invasion and occupation (1979-1989) resulted in the USSR’s retreat in defeat. The US-led NATO intervention, commencing in October 2001 and continuing to date, has failed to achieve its original main objective of generating a stable, secure and democratic Afghanistan. What has made Afghanistan so attractive to foreign powers? Why have these powers failed in fulfilling their goals? What fate is awaiting the current US-led NATO campaign and Afghanistan for the foreseeable future?

Amin Saikal is professor of Political Science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (the Middle East and Central Asia) at the Australian National University. A new edition of his book Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival was published by I.B. Tauris in London in June 2012.


September 29

The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

Judith Brett

Judith Brett is currently writing a biography of Alfred Deakin in which she will attempt to re-enliven him in the contemporary political imagination, by bringing out from behind the grey-beard worthy of Federation and the Commonwealth’s first decade the complex, gifted, and troubled man he was. The biography faces many challenges: understanding his religious life, including his spiritualism; connecting his often troubled inner life with his cheerful and charming social presence and spectacular political success; and locating him in his mid-nineteenth century colonial context.

Professor Brett is the Head of the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University. She has published extensively on the history of the Liberal Party of Australia and its relationship with the middle class people who support it, including: Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People, (Macmillan, 1992); Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class: from Alfred Deakin to John Howard (Cambridge, 2002); and Relaxed and Comfortable: The Liberal Party’s Australia (Quarterly Essay, 2005).


October 13

Thirsty Cities: A Short History of Urban Water Consumption in Australia.

Graeme Davison

At the end of the recent long drought, Australia’s cities faced a serious water crisis. Although the drought has now abated and the reservoirs have been replenished, the underlying problem remains: the thirst of our cities is gradually, or quickly, exceeding the capacity of their catchments to supply the ever-growing demand for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing, cleaning, watering and swimming, let alone the health of the waterways themselves. How did we get into this predicament? What can a history of water-use in Australian history contribute to an understanding of the current policy debate? Australians have developed a number of distinctive social and cultural practices that distinguish their water history from that of other similar countries. And the current crisis has also been shaped by a series of little-known changes in technology and social customs. In this talk I ponder what the contents of the bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens and garden sheds of Australia’s suburbs can tell us about our environmental past and future.

Graeme Davison is Emeritus Professor of History at Monash University. He has written widely on Australian History, especially the history of cities. Among his publications are The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne (1978 and 2004), The Unforgiving Minute (1994), The Use and Abuse of Australian Cities (2000), Car Wars (2004), University Unlimited: The Monash Story (2012) and, as an editor, The Oxford Companion to Australian History (1998) and Yesterday’s Tomorrows (2005) (with Kimberley Webber). He has held visiting appointments at Harvard, Edinburgh, King’s College London, the Australian National University and Tübingen, is a fellow of the Academies of Humanities and Social Sciences, and was made an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2011.


October 27

Race and the Constitution

George Williams

Race is written into Australia’s constitutional DNA. More than a century ago, the framers drafted a Constitution to enable discrimination between different races in voting, jobs and housing. This forms the backdrop against which current attempts to recognise Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution must be read. This talk will examine the place of race in Australia’s Constitution, and what this means for contemporary debates

George Williams AO is one of Australia’s leading constitutional lawyers and public commentators. He is a professor of law at the University of New South Wales, and has written and edited 28 books, including People Power: The History and Future of the Referendum in Australia. He has appeared as a barrister in the High Court of Australia in some of the most important constitutional law cases of the last two decades, and has also been appointed to a number of public inquiries. He is a well-known media commentator on legal issues as a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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