History

Into the Jaws of the Monster: Fromelles and Pozières, 1916

Roger Lee’s The Battle of Fromelles and Meleah Hampton’s Attack on the Somme are part of a relatively recent shift in the focus of Australian military history: they revisit big battles on the Western Front, which few works have done since Charles Bean’s Official History (1921-42). It’s as though, inflated with myths of Gallipoli, our Great War literature has had little use for strategic reality. Perhaps it takes a century to get clear of the revulsion aroused by the killing in that war – which Bean blocked out by writing the original romance of it as heroic achievement.

The Honest History Book Cover

Trench Warfare: The Honest History Book

'It seems we are living through a near perfect storm of Anzac historical consumption, with a number of factors working in concert. First, Australian historical narratives have been deeply challenged by the emergence and power of Indigenous historical perspectives, especially since the 1970s and 1980s. Australia’s ‘origin story’, once characterised by discovery, nascent democracy and workers’ rights, has been powerfully reimagined by Indigenous writers and rights activists as a narrative of invasion and dispossession.'

Dancing with Strangers by Inga Clendinnen book cover

Origin Story: Dancing with Strangers

'Dancing with Strangers would have an honoured place in Australian historiography by virtue of the skill, intelligence and literary brilliance of its author alone. It is the product of a lifetime spent interrogating first-encounter texts to reveal and make understandable their hidden truths. But what is most remarkable about the book is the invitation it extends to readers to learn and wonder in the company of such a brilliant historian. '

The Vanquished Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923 by Robert Gerwarth Book Cover

The Long First World War: The Vanquished by Robert Gerwarth

'The recent victory of nationalist parties in Hungary and Poland, with their anti-immigrant rhetoric, has emboldened the likeminded in their western neighbours; they eagerly await coming elections while entreating Australia’s hardline refugee policy. They have already set the agenda with Brexit and in the United States, where rightwing populism prevails. Liberal and leftist pundits are plundering European history for analogies to understand these developments, invoking the German template in particular. Is Trump a fascist, indeed a Nazi? Or, if not, at least some (or many) of his supporters? Reading The Vanquished suggests that excessive attention is paid to Hitler and the 1930s, the politics of which were over-determined by the Great Depression. To understand the fragility of parliamentary regimes and the authoritarian appeal, we need to return to the origin of the interwar conflicts in the years covered by this book.'

Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men cover

Gallipoli Reckoning

On Anzac Day, Australian culture anticipates what it confirms: the sending of long-range military expeditions to encourage and support wars in which British or American forces are engaged. Just as there is no serious parliamentary debate over decisions to go to war in the political culture, no interest in ‘war powers’ reform, which might minimise that power in the executive as there has been in Britain, there is little if any questioning of these issues in Australian literary culture either. As Chris Roberts elegantly concludes, Bean’s romance of Anzac excuses our Gallipoli failure by turning ‘failure into heroic achievement’ – or, we could say, by functioning to institutionalise ignorance of our imperial history in a romance that hides behind the false and misleading glory that the nation was born at Gallipoli.

The Grand Deception cover

Churchill’s Silver Bullet: The Grand Deception by Tom Curran

‘We all have an idea that the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns did not turn out well. Dealing with that failure has after all helped to shape the Australian identity. It has given us the Anzac tradition, which rests on a story of heroism in defeat. In his new book on Churchill and the Dardanelles campaign, Tom Curran gives us a penetrating new account of the inception and failure of those campaigns, and so takes us into areas Australian historians have tended to overlook.’

Lost Relations by Graeme Davison Cover

The Dread of Bad Blood: Lost Relations
by Graeme Davison

‘It’s as though a well-dressed man has taken off his hat to pat his hair and found a bald spot he then delights in scratching. Never overplayed, and modestly developed, the interplay between the stories of the past and the historian’s self-scrutiny in recounting them is a device that is both charming and revelatory.’ Rosemary Sorensen on Graeme Davison, ‘chattering genealogists’ and family history.

Across the Seas: Australia’s Response to Refugees: A History by Klaus Neumann

The wall of race: Across the Seas
by Klaus Neumann

The use of individual cases throughout Across the Seas throws the issues into relief. As Neumann comments, the strategy of rendering refugees anonymous has done much to distance these issues from everyday Australians. It has allowed governments to control the agenda.

Hell Bent Cover

Imperial Romance: Broken Nation & Hell-Bent

Beaumont refers to the expectation that if Britain declared war ‘Australia and the other dominions would follow’. She says, wrongly, that ‘the Cook government accepted the British decision without question’ and uses the term ‘consensus’ to describe the political foundations on which the troops went to war. This misconception is characteristic of the imperial romance that still influences the writing of Australia’s Great War history.

Forgotten War by Henry Reynolds cover

An epic forgetting: Forgotten War & The Black War

The recent skirmishes over the meaning of Anzac Day and the implementation of the national history curriculum suggest that Forgotten War is unlikely to dampen the flames of historiographical contest. But Reynolds claims that Nicholas Clements’ Black War: Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania will do just that. In contrast to Reynolds’ overview of the frontier wars, Clements has chosen just one — Tasmania’s ‘Black War’ — and has reached deep into the archives to produce a painstakingly researched social history of this episodic conflict.