Australian history

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In our era – like others – outrage and hyperbole seem to be par for the course. jenny downing

Moral panic is sown to make us scaredy-cats – that’s nothing new

In our era of 24-hour news, outrage and hyperbole seem to be par for the course. But as Sr John Madden's 1909 "gravest peril" speech illustrates, overblown moral panic, to fit an agenda, is nothing new.
Martha Rendell was the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia, in 1909. Depicted here as imagined by newspapers in the 1980s. Wikimedia Commons

Iconic murders: fictionalising the life of Martha Rendell

Iconic murderers such as Martha Rendell electrify our imaginations and passions. The turn of the century case demonstrates why fiction can be such an effective vessel for history.
Kate Grenville, with The Secret River, found herself in the middle of a debate at the heart of history. Chris Boland/Flickr

On the frontier: the intriguing dance of history and fiction

'History and fiction journey together and separately into the past; they are a tag team, sometimes taking turns, sometimes working in tandem.' Enjoy the second part of our series, Writing History.
A century after governments wished to erase the convict past, their place in Australian history was being celebrated in programs such as The Colony on SBS. AAP/Hilton Cordell Productions/Simon Cardwell

Stain or badge of honour? Convict heritage inspires mixed feelings

Today, a convict ancestor is a matter of pride. But for past generations, including some convicts themselves, it was a shame that had to be hidden at all costs.
Norfolk Island has always had a strained relationship with mainland Australia – and the repeal of self-governance may intensify that strain. AAP Image/Dean Lewins

Canberra will run Norfolk Island – but not all the locals are happy

Federal parliament has passed legislation that removes Norfolk Island's self-government but strong local views about the tiny island's independence have deep historical roots.
Drape ‘Anzac’ over an argument and, like a magic cloak, the argument is sacrosanct – even though it shouldn’t be. AAP/Alexander Turnbull Library

The past is not sacred: the ‘history wars’ over Anzac

Never has the Anzac tradition been more popular and yet never have its defenders been more chauvinistic, bellicose and intolerant of other viewpoints.
What is obscured in our understanding of returned servicemen’s problems is the private pain of families who bear the brunt of these psychological strains. AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Marked men: anxiety, alienation and the aftermath of war

Australia has continually faced a returned soldier crisis. This is something that marked men returning from all the wars of modern memory – from the Great War to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Labor has long had leaders, such as former prime minister Paul Keating, capable of speaking the language of Anzac. AAP/Alan Porritt

A legend with class: labour and Anzac

There is a complicated story involving the Anzac legend and the left between the 1920s and the 1960s which historians have barely begun to untangle.
Protesters attend a huge anti-conscription rally at Yarra Bank in Melbourne, 1916. National Library of Australia, n6487142

Lest we forget our other heroes of war, fighting for freedom at home

The democratic freedoms Australians hold dear today – freedom of the press, assembly and speech – were won on home soil by courageous women and men who sacrificed much, but rarely recognised for it.
The recent concentration on Victoria Cross heroes as major ‘carriers’ of the Anzac legend has skewed Australian military history. AAP/Mark Graham

A hundred in a million: our obsession with the Victoria Cross

Australians now seem so fascinated by the Victoria Cross that such attention has begun to get in the way of a balanced perspective on its place in military history.
The Whitlam government had a reformist vision whose origins lay in the future prime minister’s own wartime experience. AWM

Gough’s war: making a politician, changing a nation

While serving in the RAAF, future prime minister Gough Whitlam led his first political campaign, agitating among his own squadron in support of the 1944 referendum.
The Gallipoli campaign is frequently celebrated as the ‘birth’ of Australia as a nation, but were we already well on our way? AWM

How the Great War shaped the foundations of Australia’s future

Every country has its most symbolic year from each of the world wars, and can trace the consequences of the bloodletting that accompanied the global realignment of the last century.
Silent tributes at the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, representing more than 100,000 men and women lost in war. Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia’s unknown soldier: a powerful symbol of loss and faith

Why did it take three-quarters of a century beyond the first world war for Australians to build our own tomb of the unknown soldier, remembering the 23,000 Australians who died with no known grave?
The idea of the Anzac soldier, as crafted by Australia’s official historian at Gallipoli, Charles Bean, has dominated historical memory. AWM

Bean’s Anzac Book shaped how Australians think about Gallipoli

Charles Bean made editorial decisions to eliminate the bloody realities of war in favour of a specially crafted and idealised construction of the Anzacs and the Gallipoli campaign.
Had hundreds of thousands of young Turkish men not joined the army and headed to Gallipoli, it’s without doubt modern Turkey would not have been formed. AWM

Turkish view remains neglected in our understanding of Gallipoli

What is rare in Australia is an adequate explanation and understanding of the Turkish perspective of the Gallipoli campaign.
For nurses going on active service, to have the close friendship of at least one other woman was of primary importance. State Library of South Australia

Friendship in war was not just confined to bonds between men

The diaries of army nurses during the First World War are unsurpassed sources for discovering the nature of friendship during war.
In 1915, Australians came to terms with total war – and were prepared for the battle at Gallipoli and conscription in 1916. Australian War Memorial/Flickr

1915 in Australia: the reality of total war sinks in

It was not the excitement but the seriousness of the first world war that captured the imaginations of Australians. The experience of 1915 had a marked effect on local commitment to winning the war.

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