2013 History Lectures

August 3

The Sex Lives of Australians: a historical reflection

Frank Bongiorno

This talk will reflect on the research and writing of Bongiorno’s The Sex Lives of Australians: A History (2012). What can a study extending over the whole history of settler Australia – the first to attempt this kind of coverage – tell us about change and continuity in Australian sexual history? What do we learn by considering a range of topics – prostitution, censorship, birth control, sexology, homosexuality and many others – that have usually been treated separately rather than in an integrated way? Who are the major personalities who shaped, or who would have liked to shape, the sex lives of Australians? Can a focus on Australia illuminate world sexual history? And what are the implications of a study of the sex lives of Australians for our sense of the possibilities of Australian history generally? This talk will examine what we know, as well as indicating some of the things that remain to be explored in an increasingly busy field of historical research.

Frank Bongiorno is Associate Professor of History at the Australian National University and Deputy Director (Education) of the Research School of Social Sciences. He has taught history at King’s College London, the University of New England, and Griffith University. The author or co-author of two books on the history of the Australian Labor Party, he has recently co-edited a history of Australian High Commissioners in London. He is currently co-editor of the Australian Historical Association’s journal, History Australia, and a regular contributor to Inside Story and other media. From 2001 to 2005 he was a member of the New South Wales Ministry of the Arts Literature and History Committee (chair 2003-05). He has also served (2002-03) on the NSW State Government’s Arts Advisory Council.


August 17

A Voyage around Australia’s Origins – Or How We Got Here

John Gascoigne

This lecture aims to place the origins of Australia’s human population in the context of world history. Its central theme is how the original divergence and subsequent convergence of Homo sapiens drew Australia into the dynamics of globalization. Following its origins in Africa some 200,000 years earlier, the divergence of humanity eventually led to the arrival of the Aboriginal population around 60-50,000 years ago. The much shorter chapter of human history concerned with the convergence of humanity is largely associated with the efforts of dominant European powers to expand their trade and empires. As their global reach increased, so, too, did their interest in charting the Australian landmass. Increasing European knowledge of Australia – embedded in the development of their maps — then paved the way for a growing convergence between Europeans and other peoples around the globe, including those of Australia and the Pacific. This lecture concludes with the publication of Matthew Flinders’ 1814 map of Australia, marking the endpoint of increasing European preoccupation with establishing the contours of what was, for them, a new quarter of the globe.

John Gascoigne took his first degree from the University of Sydney, his masters from Princeton, and his PhD from Cambridge, which subsequently awarded him a Doctorate of Letters. His books include a two-volume study of Joseph Banks and his world, The Enlightenment and the Origins of European Australia, and, most recently, Captain Cook, Voyage between Worlds, winner of the Frank Broeze prize of the Australian Maritime History Association. Since 1980 he has taught at the University of New South Wales where he is now a Scientia Professor. He is also a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.


August 31

The Battle for Antarctica

David Day

The twentieth century saw a great struggle for possession of the Antarctic. Britain staked its first claim in 1908 before deciding in 1919 to grab the entire continent bit by bit. The secret British scheme raised many questions about how to make a valid legal claim to such a challenging territory. Britain argued that it was only necessary to explore and raise a flag for a claim to be created. The United States argued that ownership required actual occupation. Matters then came to a head in the late 1930s when Nazi Germany and Japan sent whaling ships to the Antarctic, with Germany also sending an expedition to plant the swastika on the ice. President Roosevelt responded by dispatching the first official American expedition for a hundred years. The American explorer, Richard E. Byrd, was given orders to colonize the continent and was equipped with a massive snow cruiser designed to explore Antarctica before being parked at the South Pole. The competition to control the continent had begun in earnest.

David Day is a graduate of Melbourne and Cambridge Universities. He was a research fellow at Clare College, Cambridge, and Professor of Australian History at University College, Dublin, before taking up a Senior Research Fellowship at La Trobe University in Melbourne. He has twice served as Professor of Australian Studies at the University of Tokyo, and been a visiting professor at the University of Aberdeen. His many books include best-selling histories of the Second World War, biographies of Australian prime ministers, and a study of Winston Churchill and Robert Menzies. His history of Australia, Claiming a Continent, won the prestigious non-fiction prize at the Adelaide Festival. Day’s Conquest: how societies overwhelm others has been translated into several languages. Antarctica: a biography, his latest book, was published in Australia in 2012. He has not yet been to Antarctica, because his ship twice failed this year to get through the pack ice.


September 14 (an official History Week talk)

The Image – Makers of Federation Australia

Gary Werskey

The talk will invite listeners/viewers to contrast our own era — saturated by digitally produced and transmitted images — with the pre-Federation period, when the illustrated press monopolised the production of images which reflected and reinforced how the colonists saw themselves and the making of their country. One exceptional feature of pre-Federation images is that they were mainly produced not by photographers but by some of the era’s leading painters and graphic artists — most of whom were based in Sydney. Unfortunately for Sydney’s artist-illustrators, their art has since been sidelined by the art-world and its chroniclers in favour of the ‘Heidelberg’ painters.

One of the notable casualties of this telling of history was the Anglo-Australian artist A.H. Fullwood, who was equally prominent as a painter and black-and-white artist. He was also a close mate of Streeton and Roberts not only in Sydney but later in London at the Chelsea Arts Club and, during WW1, as medical orderlies at Wandsworth Hospital and official war artists. A Bohemian to his velvet boots he returned to Sydney in the 1920s and remained a lively presence in the local art scene until his death in 1930. The talk will feature a full range of his arresting images –so well known in his own day — which should provoke the audience to wonder why some image-makers (and their images) become lost to history.

Gary Werskey trained as an historian at Northwestern and Harvard Universities, before holding teaching appointments in the 1970s and 1980s at Edinburgh, Bath, and London Universities. Since 1987 he has been resident in Australia where he has worked as a university executive and management consultant. Officially retired since 2006 he has returned to his former calling as an Hon. Associate of the University of Sydney’s History Department and a founder of the Blackheath History Forum. His best-known work is The Visible College: a collective biography of British scientists and socialists of the 1930s (1978/1988), which is currently being translated into Korean!


September 28 (2013 Vere Gordon Childe Memorial Lecture)

Australia in the Nuclear Age: Has the Past a Future?

Roy MacLeod

Within a few months of Hiroshima (August 1945), Australia entered the ‘atomic age’. Nuclear power held great promise. To many in government and industry, national defence and economic growth seemed to depend upon the successful application of nuclear technology. With every hope of becoming a member of the ‘nuclear club’, Australia welcomed British nuclear tests, set up a nuclear research establishment, and cultivated its apparent destiny as an efficient supplier of uranium to the world.

Over the next forty years, this promise steadily evaporated. Australia had believed itself secure under the American nuclear umbrella but nuclear proliferation soon made the world less safe. Early forecasts of economic benefits faded before mounting evidence of unforeseen costs and environmental risks. By the 1990s, Australia led the world in advocating non-proliferation and international safeguards. Today, faced by the prospect of a ‘nuclear renaissance’ in Asia, Australia is challenged to satisfy its legitimate national security and economic interests.

This lecture will examine Australia’s nuclear history, focusing on leading personalities, doctrines, and turning points; on the ways in which nuclear policy has been formulated and applied; and on the possible shape of Australia’s nuclear future.

Roy MacLeod is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Sydney. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Cambridge University (PhD, 1967; DLitt, 2001), as well as holding an honorary doctorate from the University of Bologna. He has held a variety of senior academic positions in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and the USA. The author or co-editor of more than 20 books, he also served for many years as the Editor of Social Studies of Science and later Minerva. His research interests encompass an unusually broad range of disciplines, including the history of science and technology, higher education, and European expansion into the Asia-Pacific region. He has also made substantial contributions to military and nuclear history in the twentieth century, including his work on post-war Australian policy in these areas. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Royal Historical Society of England, and the Australian Academies of Humanities and the Social Sciences.


October 12

Tasmanian Aborigines and the Question of Evidence of Settler Massacres in the Black War

Lyndall Ryan

In 2002, Keith Windschuttle argued in his The Fabrication of Aboriginal History Volume 1: Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1847 that Lyndall Ryan’s The Aboriginal Tasmanians (2nd ed., 1996) had relied on hearsay evidence which vastly exaggerated Tasmanian Aboriginal deaths from frontier violence in the Black War of the 1820s. He concluded: ‘the fact that Lyndall Ryan’s work is devoid of credibility at so many places is a reflection not only on her own standards but also of the school of historiography of which she has long been an esteemed member’.

In her new book, Tasmanian Aborigines: a history since 1803 (2012), Ryan has used new methods of investigations to reconsider the Black War and has found that, contrary to Windschuttle’s assertions, far from exaggerating Aboriginal deaths, she had considerably under-estimated them. This lecture will review how the author assessed the evidence of frontier violence and why the issue of settler massacre remains at the heart of Aboriginal history wars.

Lyndall Ryan is Research Professor in the Centre for the History of Violence at the University of Newcastle. Over the last thirty years she has established an international reputation as an expert on the study of violence on the Australian frontier. Her most recent publications include: Tasmanian Aborigines: a history since 1803 (2012); Theatres of Violence: massacre, mass milling and atrocity throughout History (2012), co-edited with Philip G. Dwyer; and an article on ‘The Black Line’ in the Journal of Australian Studies (2013). She is currently working on an international project on massacre and colonization in the modern world, 1780-1820.


October 26

The Queen of Queensland (and the other States) – The ‘Secret History’ of the Queen and the Australian States

Anne Twomey

By the 1970s Australia was well and truly regarded by Australians as an independent nation. Yet the Australian States retained the anachronistic status of colonial dependencies of the British Crown. This meant that it was the ‘Queen of the United Kingdom’, advised by British Ministers, who performed constitutional functions in relation to the States, even though State Premiers thought that they were advising her as Queen of their State.

This talk will reveal the Queen’s role in Australian State political affairs in the 1970s and 1980s and the fraught negotiations that resulted in the limitation and transformation of the Queen’s role in 1986, contrary to the Queen’s wishes. It will also discuss the Queen’s current role in relation to Australia and the Queensland Government’s proposed legislation to change succession to the Crown of Queensland.

Anne Twomey is a Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Sydney. She has previously worked for the High Court of Australia, the Commonwealth Parliament, and the Cabinet Office of New South Wales. Her book, The Chameleon Crown – The Queen and her Australian Governors (Federation Press, 2006), is based on previously secret documents that reveal the Queen’s significant role in the affairs of Australian States.

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