Tag Archives: reading list

Never speak about the lower classes

Thinking about the Great Strike of 1917 and Australia’s convict heritage, had me thinking about The Luck of the Irish by Babette Smith. This is a great book to add to your reading list if you are interested in colonial Australia.

In 1835 the ship The Hive sank off the New South Wales coast, south of Jervis Bay. On board were 250 Irish convicts. Miraculously all survived. Babette tracked what happened to the survivors and found in their personal histories much that explains the Australian way of life.

One of Babette’s arguments is that Australia’s egalitarianism was founded in the work practices and attitudes that were required because the government, in the early years of the colony, were completely dependent on the convict workforce to sustain the colony. Babette explains it like this:

The penal colonies created a dilemma for leaders who were faced with extracting productivity from workers who had no predisposition to cooperation, let alone obedience. In fact, the opposite. They were likely to respond with subterranean ridicule or dumb insolence to someone in command. And they could counter harsh commands or coercion by reducing their productivity. While the lash might punish them, it could not deliver a workplace result.

According to Babette the desire for classlessness continued after the convict era. In 1902, Henry Montgomery, an English bishop wrote a manual for clergyman heading to the colonies. His advice included:

Never speak about “the lower classes”. Australians don’t like it.

Do you agree Australia’s egalitarianism is founded in Australia’s convict heritage?

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Chain gang, Hobart



1965 Freedom Ride

As covered in Professor Ann Curthoys the 1965 Freedom Ride was a significant moment in the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activism. If you would like to know more about the Freedom Ride The 1965 Freedom Ride online exhibition by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) is a great resource. You can also find here a comprehensive Reading list: Freedom Ride and Ann Curthoys’ diaries. Happy exploring.

Professor Ann Curthoys

History at war referred to Anne Curthoys and John Docker’s description of history wars in  Is History Fiction? (2006).

Professor Anne Curthoys is one of the reasons why I love Australian history. I feel very lucky that I took her course History and Theory at the Australian National University. It was so thought-provoking. Like all great classes, at the end I had more questions than answers.

In the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activism, Anne Curthoys is both historian and participant. She was part of the 1965 Freedom Ride. Inspired by the United States 1961 Freedom Rides, University of Sydney students, travelled through regional towns such as Walgett, Gulargambone, Kempsey, Bowraville and Moree to show wider Australia the racism and disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians. In 2002 Anne’s account of the 14 days she spent as a freedom rider was published — Freedom ride : a freedom rider remembers. 

Do you know other historians who have been participants in the history they document?

Caledonia Australis

Imagine the injustice, imagine the justice explained how Paul Keating’s 1992 Redfern speech was a landmark moment for race relations in Australia.

The speech’s potency owed much to Paul Keating’s speech-writer Don Watson. His 1984 book Caledonia Australis: Scottish highlanders on the frontier of Australia, is a book to read for those who want to understand the injustice of the Australian frontier.

It has stayed with me. I love the way the story is rooted in Don Watson’s own family history of pioneering ancestors; and then grows to tell how the Scottish Highlanders were dispossessed, and in turn, dispossessed the Kurnai of Gippsland in south-eastern Victoria. All the time reminding us of the shared humanity of these people.

1856, Winning the Eight Hour Day

Work-life balance is an enduring concern. Time has always been precious for working people. May Day 1890, the first time, marked the international campaign to deliver the Eight Hour Day to working people.

Industrialisation had ended the relaxed pace of rural working life for many people. Instead work hours were long and rigid. Dividing the day into eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure and eight hours of rest seemed to be a fair solution, for those who wanted something better.

Assisted emigrants to Australia wanted something better and were at the right place and the right time to achieve it. Almost forty years before the first May Day in 1890, the Eight Hour Day was won by Australian workers.

If you want to know more, a book for your reading list is The Australian Colonists by Ken Inglis. Ken’s classic book covers the social history of Australia from 1788 to 1870. This is the book to read to start understanding how people lived in colonial Australia.

As explained in The Australian Colonists, in early 1856, the stonemasons of Melbourne resolved not to work more than eight hours a day, six days a week. Two employers held out. On 21 April 1856, the stonemasons stopped work to protest against the employers. The workers marched to Eastern Hill, others joined in, until about 700 were marching. The stonemasons were clear they would not work for any employer who held out.

Within a few weeks nearly all workers in the building trades in Melbourne won the Eight Hour Day without any loss of wages, and it was extended to other jobs, including quarrymen, saddlers and harness-makers.

In Melbourne the anniversary of the 1856 protest became a major celebration and prominent reminder for working people of the continuing fight to improve working conditions. The day’s festivities included a toast: the Eight Hours System, may its physical, intellectual, moral and social advantages be extended to every member of the human family.

Does anyone know why getting the Eight Hour Day was called obtaining the boon?

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Eight Hour Day Trade Union banner

Gallipoli, the long and the short of it (Pt.2)

In Gallipoli, the long and the short of it I recommended Gallipoli: A Short History by Michael McKernan for those interested in Gallipoli but time-poor.

For those who want to read more about Gallipoli, a good starting point may be the very comprehensive reading list compiled by Colin Simpson, a member of the Military Historical Society of Australia. You can find this in the Special Gallipoli Centenary Edition of Sabretache published by the Society in 2015.

The Special Gallipoli Centenary Edition doesn’t appear to be online but you should be able to find it at the library. At the National Library of Australia you can find Sabretache here.

Have you read a book about Gallipoli that you would recommend to others?


Gallipoli, the long and the short of it

Today is Anzac Day. It is a day of national remembrance and the anniversary of Gallipoli — the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.

Gallipoli must be the most written about event in Australian history. When I first became interested in the First World War I found the volume of information overwhelming.  I am a slow reader and with not a lot of spare time I felt understanding Gallipoli was always going to elude me.

Gallipoli: A Short History by Michael McKernan was the book that explained Gallipoli for me. Published in 2010, the author’s intention in writing a short history was to make the Gallipoli story accessible to the general reader in the twenty-first century. I think he achieved it!

Besides the engaging narrative, the book includes: a comprehensive timeline; maps; photographs; and an appendix explaining Gallipoli place names. These additions really contributed to my understanding.

If you are interested in knowing more about Gallipoli this may be a book for your reading list.

Gallipoli_a short history

Gallipoli: A Short History