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Australian Journal of Biography and History: No. 6, 2022 »

Publication date: May 2022
This special issue of Australian Journal of Biography and History, ‘Writing Slavery into Biography: Australian Legacies of British Slavery’, uses biographical approaches to explore how British slavery shaped the Australian colonies. It is the first stand-alone journal issue to feature an emerging body of historical work tracing the movement of people, investment and ideas from the Caribbean to Australia. Seven refereed articles and a roundtable discussion show how investment, imperial aspiration and migration turned towards Britain's ‘Second Empire’ in the aftermath of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. A substantive introduction reviews this emerging field of research and outlines preliminary findings. In her article, Jane Lydon examines the movement of two interconnected families (the Ridleys and Walcotts) from Demerara to Britain to the Swan River, where they acquired large land grants, participated in exploration and resource exploitation, and led the search for labour sources. Georgina Arnott investigates Western Australia’s first governor James Stirling’s biographical links to American and Caribbean slavery in light of ideas about race and labour that he promoted in Western Australia. And together Zoë Laidlaw and Georgina Arnott show how dictionaries of biography can be used alongside the Legacies of British Slavery database (hosted by University College London) to identify Australasian settlers with connections to slavery. They note the ways in which collective approaches to biography can reveal otherwise invisible patterns in global transfers of wealth, people and ideas. With an eye to regionally specific processes of subjugation and enslavement in the northern Western Australian pearling and pastoralist industries, Malcolm Allbrook considers biography’s potential to illustrate the shadowy world of ‘blackbirding’ in relation to the perpetrators, the officials and the Aboriginal enslaved. Emma Christopher brings to life the colonial legacies of slavery in her account of Albert Messiah, Ishmael Williamson and John Henderson, sailors of African origin who worked on Pacific labour ships during the late nineteenth century, and whose lives illuminate the complex racial hierarchies of the Queensland frontier. Beth Robertson tells the layered story of her own great-great-grandfather, Edward Stirling, the illegitimate son of a British slave-owner and a woman of Ghanaian descent, whose material benefit from slavery helped him become a successful pastoralist and miner in South Australia, despite remaining the subject of racial prejudice. Paul Arthur and Isabel Smith note the ‘biographical turn’ in museum exhibitions featuring stories of enslavement over the last two decades. They argue that this has enabled exhibitors to show stories of resistance, contingency and agency, albeit while navigating the ethical complexities of telling other people’s traumatic life stories. The feature section of this issue concludes with a roundtable discussion between Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland, Zoë Laidlaw, Jeremy Martens and Georgina Arnott on the topic of linking the legacies of British slave ownership to Australian colonisation. Here, Hall observes that biography, when used in combination with prosopography, reveals how the lives and family trajectories of slave owners were distinguished amongst imperial capitalists at large. This issue builds understanding of the precise ways that slavery shaped the Australian colonies.

Persons of Interest »

An Intimate Account of Cecily and John Burton

Publication date: April 2022
A world in upheaval; two lives lived under stress … This story is set in the social and political landscape of pre– and post–World War II. It tells two vastly different tales of Cecily and John’s lives in Australia and overseas, as nations clashed, and governments and international organisations tried to remake the world. Cecily Nixon knew that marrying John Burton would be bad for her. But she loved him and, impressed with this handsome, sullen young man and his belief that he could change the world for the better, saw her role in life as to serve the world through John. Cecily’s story is a deeply personal and psychological one of love, duty and betrayal that explores the complexities of relationships. In a world that overwhelmed her, Cecily searched for ‘wholeness’ and delved deep into her psyche to find herself and emerge from John’s shadow. John has been known as an influential and controversial young head of Australia’s Department of External Affairs – and as a would-be politician. It is less known that he was also an innovative farmer, bookseller, entrepreneur, arts patron and writer. He received international acclaim for his later work in conflict analysis and resolution. These combined stories of courage and achievement unfold amid political intrigue and psychological trauma. ASIO surveillance, love triangles, loyalty, infidelity and tragedy all play their part in the Burtons’ lives. ‘A remarkable memoir of a remarkable couple, exploring the fraught dynamic between the personal and political facets of their lives, the perspective lying at the core of modern feminism. Pamela Burton’s own insights are those of their youngest child, on whom the disruptions of the 1960s and 1970s had a heavy impact, but also that of her maturity, bringing her sharp forensic skills to the project. Assisted by Meredith Edwards, her eldest sister, Burton has given us an unflinchingly honest and utterly gripping record of our lives and times.’ — Sara Dowse, author of West Block and Sapphires

Dictionary of World Biography »

Eighth edition

Authored by: Barry Jones
Publication date: September 2021
Jones, Barry Owen (1932– ). Australian politician, writer and lawyer, born in Geelong. Educated at Melbourne University, he was a public servant, high school teacher, television and radio performer, university lecturer and lawyer before serving as a Labor MP in the Victorian Parliament 1972–77 and the Australian House of Representatives 1977–98. He took a leading role in reviving the Australian film industry, abolishing the death penalty in Australia, and was the first politician to raise public awareness of global warming, the ‘post-industrial’ society, the IT revolution, biotechnology, the rise of ‘the Third Age’ and the need to preserve Antarctica as a wilderness. In the Hawke Government, he was Minister for Science 1983–90, Prices and Consumer Affairs 1987, Small Business 1987–90 and Customs 1988–90. He became a member of the Executive Board of UNESCO, Paris 1991–95 and National President of the Australian Labor Party 1992–2000, 2005–06. He was Deputy Chairman of the Constitutional Convention 1998. His books include Decades of Decision 1860– (1965), Joseph II (1968), Age of Apocalypse (1975), and he edited The Penalty is Death (1968). Sleepers, Wake!: Technology and the Future of Work was published by Oxford University Press in 1982, became a bestseller and has been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Swedish and braille. The fourth edition was published in 1995. Knowledge Courage Leadership, a collection of speeches and essays, appeared in 2016. He received a DSc for his services to science in 1988 and a DLitt in 1993 for his work on information theory. Elected FTSE (1992), FAHA (1993), FAA (1996) and FASSA (2003), he is the only person to have become a Fellow of four of Australia’s five learned Academies. Awarded an AO in 1993, named as one of Australia’s 100 ‘living national treasures’ in 1997, he was elected a Visiting Fellow Commoner of Trinity College, Cambridge in 1999. His autobiography, A Thinking Reed, was published in 2006 and The Shock of Recognition, about music and literature, in 2016. In 2014 he received an AC for services ‘as a leading intellectual in Australian public life’. What Is to Be Done was published by Scribe in 2020.

Australian Journal of Biography and History: No. 5, 2021 »

Publication date: August 2021
This special issue of the Australian Journal of Biography and History focuses on political biography. The 10 peer-reviewed articles and review essays collectively demonstrate that political biography is growing beyond just ‘one damned life after another’, and that there are new and productive paths open for practitioners, readers and critics of this genre. They offer a critical snapshot of the diverse approaches and attitudes to political biography in contemporary Australia. Forty years after her first critical examination of the state of political biography in Australia, Kate White makes a bold call for academics to ‘rethink their approach’ by considering novel strategies to ‘move beyond the narrative form’. Blair Williams demonstrates that although increasing numbers of women are writing and practising political biography, there remain few good examples of feminist political biography; more can be done to develop a framework for feminist political biography in Australia. Joshua Black examines the political memoir and diary genres in the broader context of the rise of life writing in the twentieth century, adopting former minister Neal Blewett’s A Cabinet Diary (1999) as a case study. In a sweeping examination of prime ministerial portraiture, Sarah Engledow reconsiders the visual performance of leadership for posterity and, ultimately, questions the biographical utility of such performances. Daniel Oakman delineates the links that politics has to mainstream Australian life via that great staple of popular culture, sport. Chris Wallace in her account of a quietly controversial and eventually abandoned biography of Robert Menzies early in his second prime ministership demonstrates that life stories are powerful but risky commodities in the fast-changing political domain. Similarly, in a methodological reflection on his award-winning biography Tiberius with a Telephone, Patrick Mullins critically explores the concerted attempts of the former prime minister to control and manipulate the public and archival record of his life. Robert Tickner, the only contributor who was also an elected political practitioner, uses his very personal article to call on others to write political and policy memoirs as a ‘public good’ that helps to encourage the ‘noble enterprise’ of participation in public life. In his analysis of backbencher memoirs, Stephen Wilks calls for more of the foot soldiers of politics—backbenchers, humble and otherwise—to write memoirs as an insight into the working lives of the typical politician, and to explore what wider significance they have as political players. And Tim Rowse and Murray Goot indicate in a powerful review essay that critically examines Warren Mundine’s political memoir In Black + White, political life narratives are implicated in the difficult postcolonial politics of race, representation and recognition.

Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19 »

1991–1995 (A–Z)

Edited by: Melanie Nolan
Publication date: March 2021
Volume 19 of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) contains concise biographies of individuals who died between 1991 and 1995. The first of two volumes for the 1990s, it presents a colourful montage of late twentieth-century Australian life, containing the biographies of significant and representative Australians. The volume is still in the shadow of World War II with servicemen and women who enlisted young appearing, but these influences are dimming and there are now increasing numbers of non-white, non-male, non-privileged and non-straight subjects. The 680 individuals recorded in volume 19 of the ADB include Wiradjuri midwife and Ngunnawal Elder Violet Bulger; Aboriginal rights activist, poet, playwright and artist Kevin Gilbert; and Torres Strait Islander community leader and land rights campaigner Eddie Mabo. HIV/AIDS child activists Tony Lovegrove and Eve Van Grafhorst have entries, as does conductor Stuart Challender, ‘the first Australian celebrity to go public’ about his HIV/AIDS condition in 1991. The arts are, as always, well-represented, including writers Frank Hardy, Mary Durack and Nene Gare, actors Frank Thring and Leonard Teale and arts patron Ian Potter. We are beginning to see the effects of the steep rise in postwar immigration flow through to the ADB. Artist Joseph Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski was born in Poland. Pilar Moreno de Otaegui, co-founded the Spanish Club of Sydney. Chinese restaurateur and community leader Ming Poon (Dick) Low migrated to Victoria in 1953. Often we have a dearth of information about the domestic lives of our subjects; politician Olive Zakharov, however, bravely disclosed at the Victorian launch of the federal government’s campaign to Stop Violence Against Women in 1993 that she was a survivor of domestic violence in her second marriage. Take a dip into the many fascinating lives of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

At Home in Exile »

A Memoir

Authored by: Helga M Griffin
Publication date: February 2021
This is a story of a girl’s construction of her identity, and of her family’s search for a place in the world, for the Heimat that is so resonant for those of German background. We follow Helga through an adventurous childhood in Iran, whose vast open spaces her mother called ‘my spiritual home’. Her engineer father worked on a grand scale, designing and laying roads and railways, and tunnelling through mountain ranges. Then came the invasions of World War II, and the family, half-German, half-Austrian, found themselves on a long voyage to Australia, designated enemy aliens. They were interned for nearly five years in the dusty Victorian countryside. On their release at the end of the War, stranded in Melbourne, they sought another home. The children were dispatched to convents, and at the Academy of Mary Immaculate, Helga found a temporary homeland, in faith. Everyday life in the Australia of the late 1940s and early 1950s is freshly seen by this feisty, loving migrant family. Through their eyes, we encounter a strange place, Australia, as if for the first time. Helga’s development from a thoughtful, sensitive child to a self-possessed young woman, wrestling with her faith and with how to live a decent life, is vividly recounted.

Australian Journal of Biography and History: No. 4, 2020 »

Publication date: December 2020
This issue of the Australian Journal of Biography and History includes eight peer-reviewed articles, and 12 book reviews. Each of the articles uses biography to illustrate historical themes and to add texture to historical episodes. Patricia Clarke examines the role of four women journalists who were recruited by the Australian Government to tour operational bases in eastern Australia during a critical phase in the Pacific War. In the field of journalism, women faced systemic barriers to employment; the women described in Clarke’s article went to great efforts to attain equality in the workplace, yet they were often restricted to weekly publications while the dailies remained the province of men. Lyndon and Lyne Megarrity, in their article on the two wives of the Queensland businessman and later premier Robert Philp (1899–1903, 1907–08), use the biographies of Jessie (née Bannister; 1856–90), and Mina (née Munro; 1867–1940) to illustrate the changes in the role of elite Queensland women over the relatively short period of a decade. The next two articles consider the problems of constructing biographies of those who are essentially invisible in the historical record. Melanie Nolan, Christine Fernon and Rebecca Kippen discuss the ’first-fleeter’ Sarah Bellamy’s seemingly ‘insignificant life’ to illustrate various aspects of the British colonisation of the continent. The biography of the Boonwurrung man Kurrburra (1797–1849) forms the subject of the contribution by Ian Clark, Rolf Schlagloth, Fred Cahir and Gabrielle McGinnis. By setting out to consider the whole of Kurrburra’s life rather than only the moments of contact (or conflict) with colonial society, he can be re-presented as one who was respected and important in his Aboriginal community, and who managed, negotiated and sought to control his interactions with the colonising forces. Sophie Scott-Brown, in her article on the British Marxist historian Raphael Samuel, considers the utility of biography in relation to intellectual history, and the relationship between what she terms ‘cultural persona’ and the empirical personality. By contrast, Michael Davis’s biographical portrait of the anthropologist Leonhard Adam reveals a figure who some viewed as an outsider, but whose works on Aboriginal art were highly successful. In his study of the Australian delegation to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, David Lee looks at the men who between them forcefully asserted Australia’s position, and thus contributed to the country’s consolidation as an independent nation-state during the inter-war period. In the final article, Stephen Wilks argues that biography is founded on human agency, and that political history is ‘rich in interpersonal interaction’. He concludes that biography provides scholars with ‘a platform for exploring the tortuous chains of decision, chance and error that characterise the political past and the legacies it imparts’.

‘Now is the Psychological Moment’ »

Earle Page and the Imagining of Australia

Authored by: Stephen Wilks
Publication date: October 2020
Earle Christmas Grafton Page (1880–1961) – surgeon, Country Party leader, treasurer and prime minister – was perhaps the most extraordinary visionary to hold high public office in twentieth-century Australia. Over decades, he made determined efforts to seize ‘the psychological moment’, and thereby realise his vision of a decentralised, regionalised and rationally ordered nation. Page’s unique dreaming of a very different Australia encompassed new states, hydroelectricity, economic planning, cooperative federalism and rural universities. His story casts light on the wider place in history of visions of national development. He was Australia’s most important advocate of developmentalism, the important yet little-studied stream of thought that assumes that governments can lead the nation to realise its economic potential. His audacious synthesis of ideas delineated and stretched the Australian political imagination. Page’s rich career confirms that Australia has long inspired popular ideals of national development, but also suggests that their practical implementation was increasingly challenged during the twentieth century. Effervescent, intelligent and somewhat eccentric, Page was one of Australia’s great optimists. Few Australian leaders who stood for so much have since been so neglected.

What’s France got to do with it? »

Contemporary memoirs of Australians in France

Authored by: Juliana de Nooy
Publication date: July 2020
While only one book-length memoir recounting the sojourn of an Australian in France was published in the 1990s, well over 40 have been published since 2000, overwhelmingly written by women. Although we might expect a focus on travel, intercultural adjustment and communication in these texts, this is the case only in a minority of accounts. More frequently, France serves as a backdrop to a project of self-renovation in which transplantation to another country is incidental, hence the question ‘What’s France got to do with it?’ The book delves into what France represents in the various narratives, its role in the self-transformation, and the reasons for the seemingly insatiable demand among readers and publishers for these stories. It asks why these memoirs have gained such traction among Australian women at the dawn of the twenty-first century and what is at stake in the fascination with France.

Australian Journal of Biography and History: No. 3, 2020 »

Publication date: April 2020
The articles in this issue of the Australian Journal of Biography and History consider subjects who have lived across and between national and internal Australian boundaries, and the authors have thus been compelled to address the methodological and theoretical problems of mobility. Kate Bagnall addresses the seemingly insurmountable problem of writing about Chinese women who settled in Australia in the second half of the twentieth century. Contrasting with the dearth of information on Chinese women immigrants to colonial New South Wales, Jackie Dickenson’s chapter on Hong Kong–based merchant and trader Melbourne-born Elma Kelly (1895–1974) benefits from an abundance of documentation, both in the realm of the personal and official. In her article on the Corney family in the aftermath of World War I, Alexandra McKinnon considers the record of loss and sorrow preserved in the archives of the Australian War Memorial. Very different methodological questions are explored by Suzanne Robinson in her reflections on writing a biography of the Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912–90). As a feminist biographer, Robinson had to face a most ‘troublesome question’ of whether her subject’s considerable imperfections, which became evident during research, risked undermining her status as a composer, particularly one whose reputation was yet to be fully established. A different form of methodological question is posed by Pat Buckridge in his article on three generations of Macdougall men, each of whom became journalists—Dugald (1833–79), who also excelled in business and politics, Dugald the younger (1872–1947), and James (1903–95). The question Buckridge considers is whether his subjects can ‘usefully be considered as a grouped biographical entity signifying more than the sum of its parts, which is to say more than the three separate lives’. By contrast, Peter Crabb’s article on the colonial goldfields reporter John Augustus Hux (1826–64) relates the story of a single figure who, having made connections in his English homeland that would serve him well in Australia, provided eyewitness accounts of a number of significant goldfields in New South Wales, which were widely read in the colony and thus helped to form popular images of the industry. Finally, in a departure from the theme of mobility characterising the other contributions, Nichola Garvey documents her experiences of working with the Western Australian iron ore magnate Andrew Forrest to research and write his biography. In what was conceived by both the author and the subject as an ‘authorised biography’, Garvey’s article raises some fundamental questions about biographical writing of living persons, including the utility and pitfalls of what she calls ‘expressivist anthropology’, as well as the scope of authorisation in biographical writing.