Australian Historical Studies. Vol. 40, issue 2, June 2009

This slim volume has been sitting on my desk for some considerable time, I have to confess.  According to the blurb on the inside cover it is ‘concerned with aspects of the Australian past in all its forms’, which definitely means that it is interested in us, or we should be interested in it.

This issue features articles on race, missionaries, comunism and religion, domestic architecture, childhood and larrikinism.  Coming from a range of experienced and ‘early career’ historians they range over a gamut of sources, from the expected newspapers and reports, to architectural plans and correspondence files.  However, two authors in particular stand out for me for having used archival material in fresh and interesting ways.

The first of these is Hilary Carey who, in ‘Death, God and Linguistics’, has used the ethnographic materials, grammars and vocabularies produced by missionaries to analyse the way in which those missionaries came to understand and negotiate with the aboriginal cultures they were dealing with.  Many of the original sources she has used are also available online at   The second is Julie Collins, who  has used architectural journals and plans to analyse the way in which ideas about children, childhood and the home influenced domestic architecture in the  post WWII period.

In addition to the articles, there are reviews of books and exhibitions. Margaret Allen, of the University of Adelaide, reviewed Blue jeans jungle greens at the history trust of South Australia, while Kylie Mirmohamadi, La Trobe University, reviewed the Lost gardens of Sydney at the Museum of Sydney and the accompanying publication of the same name, which is also currently sitting on my desk.  In her review Kylie notes that:

these were significant gardens which were created, in the main, for wealthy men [which] has ensured the existence and survival of the artefacts gathered for this exhibition. But no traces remain of past gardens that were less grand. The paucity of archival and material evidence of ordinary gardens leads to the underrepresentation of vernacular gardens.  Some gardens, it seems, are more lost than others.

Archivists and curators generally will not only agree, but argue that the lack of documentation is further exacerbated by the many threats private and public collections now face.

Books reviewed are  Prison: cultural history and dark memory, a fascinating look at the rise of tourism directed at prisons; Talking and listening in the age of modernity; Land of vision and mirage: Western Australia since 1826; The Scots in Australia; Empire, barbarism and civilisation; Orb and sceptre, a set of essays presented in honour of Norm Etherington; Breaking the bank, a study of the robbery of the Bank of Australia in 1828; Tom Willis: his spectacular rise and tragic fall, a biography of ‘an enigmatic, ghostlike character’ who was nonetheless significant in the colonial history of Australian cricket and Aussie rules football; The secret war: a true history of Queensland’s native police; Political tourists: travellers from Australia to the Soviet Union in the 1920s – 1940sAborigines and activism; and last, but by no means least, Australians in Italy.


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Archivist, historian, avid reader

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