In the upside-down world of the Covid-19 pandemic business have closed or are running with skeleton staff, queues of newly unemployed people have stretched around the block from Centrelink offices and people have stopped spending money. Well-functioning economies require a healthy population. The economy declines if a rampant disease is affecting society.
In times like these many bookshops are struggling and have had to close their physical shops due to the stringent social-distancing regulations introduced. We may be reading more now that we are confined at home, but buying books is the kind of discretionary spending that you would think that people who are worried about their jobs would be cutting out.
Running a business is very difficult under the new regulations and in the current economic climate. I would understand if publishers were pausing the publication of new books so I was delighted when I saw news this morning that Australian publishers are continuing to publish new Australian history books and even sign up new authors!
Now more than ever, authors, bookshops and publishers need to be supported. In this post I highlight some new histories which have been published by Australasian publishers this year that you may want to consider buying. I include New Zealand publishers because I think Australians should support New Zealand as they support us. New Zealanders have made a wonderful contribution to Australian arts and our society generally.
Feel free to share publishers and books that I have missed. This list includes biographies but does not include historical fiction. I have not read any of these books, so the fact that a book is listed is not an endorsement of the book from me. Unless otherwise stated, all quotes that follow are from the publisher’s blurb about the book from their website. Where possible I have also linked to authors’ websites.
Melbourne University Press
Congratulations are in order for author Nathan Hobby for being signed up by Melbourne University Press. Hobby is writing a biography of Australian author, Katharine Susannah Prichard. We will have to wait until 2021 before we can read it.
Here are some more history publications that Melbourne University Press has published this year:
- Sue Silberberg, A Networked Community: Jewish Melbourne in the Nineteenth Century, $34.99 paperback: In my own research I have seen how Jews were part of the fabric of life in Melbourne and Ballarat during the nineteenth century. In her new book Silberberg traces Jewish life in Melbourne from when Jews financed Tasmanian settlers establishing themselves in the Port Phillip district in 1835.
- Romain Fathi, Emily Robertson, Proximity and Distance: Space, Time and World War I, $49.99 paperback: “This book explores how participants and observers in World War I negotiated the temporal and spatial challenges of the conflict.”
Wakefield Press specialises in South Australian books but does not restrict itself to them. Some quality books have come from this publisher over the years.
- Jill Roe, Searching for the Spirit: Theosophy in Australia, 1879-1939, $39.99 paperback: Many historians are excited about this volume by a much-loved historian who died in 2017. This book is a revised edition of her highly respected Beyond Belief which was published in 1986. Beverley Kingston says in the new preface to this book, “This modern revised edition will make it available once more to a wider readership and serve as a fitting memorial to the life and work of Jill Roe.”
- Nicholas Newland, Marra: The making of men, $29.95 paperback: “In an iconic Adelaide mansion, Simpson Newland raised five sons to fulfil a ‘manly’ ideal, his expectations a partial reflection of Victorian-era Australia and also an insight into the Newland family itself. Marra chronicles their important contributions as medical professionals, sportsmen, authors, businessmen, politicians and soldiers, to South Australia’s history and community.”
You can support the publication of more history books at Wakefield by making a tax-deductible donation to the History Trust of South Australia Wakefield Press History Initiative. Jill Roe’s book is one of the books that are being financed by this fund.
New South Publishing
New South Publishing has been a great publisher of history books over the years. Here are some
- Catherine Bond, Law in War, $34.99 paperback: “In this original book, lawyer and historian Catherine Bond breathes life into the laws that were central to the way that people’s daily lives were managed in Australia 1914–18.”
- Michael Bennett, Pathfinders: A history of Aboriginal Trackers in NSW, $34.99 paperback: Historian, Michael Bennett has immersed himself in this history over the years. Prior to publishing this book he explored this history on his Pathfinders website.
- Kama Maclean, British India, White Australia: Overseas Indians, intercolonial relations and empire, $39.99 paperback: This book looks at the lives of Indians in Australia from Federation to India’s independence. “In this original, landmark work Kama Maclean calls for more meaningful dialogue about and acknowledgment of the constraints placed upon Indians in Australia and those attempting to immigrate.”
This is not a publisher you would think of for publishing Australian history but it should be on your radar if you are interested in environmental history:
- Ben Wilkie, Gariwerd: An environmental history of the Grampians, $49.99 paperback: This book “explores the geological and ecological significance of the mountains and combines research from across disciplines to tell the story of how humans and the environment have interacted, and how the ways people have thought about the environments of the ranges have changed through time.”
Monash University Publishing
Monash University Publishing has increased its presence in the publishing of histories in Australia over the last few years. Keep an eye on this publisher as it has a number of interesting titles that will be published soon.
- Clem Gorman and Therese Gorman, Intrépide: Australian Women Artists in Early Twentieth-century France, $34.95 paperback: I cheated a bit by including this one as it is officially published next month (4 days time), but it is available as an early release now. This book is one of an increasing number of books addressing the traditional neglect of Australian women’s history.
- Peter Browne and Kevin Sparke, eds., ‘I Wonder’: the life and work of Ken Inglis, $39.99 paperback: This is a collection written by Australian writers to recognise the life of an influential Australian historian who passed away in 2017
- Anne Scrimgeour, On Red Earth Walking: The Pilbara Aboriginal Strike, Western Australia 1946–1949, paperback, $39.95: “Using extensive and previously unsourced archival evidence, Anne Scrimgeour interrogates earlier historical accounts of the strike, delving beneath the strike’s mythology to uncover the rich complexity of its history. The use of Aboriginal oral history places Aboriginal actors at the centre of these events, foregrounding their agency and their experiences.” If Bain Attwood and Anne Scrimgeour’s, The Pilbara Aboriginal Strike digital exhibition is anything to go by, Scrimgeour’s book should be an insightful history that rightfully centres the Aboriginal experience of the strike at the forefront of the history of this important episode in Australia’s history.
- Hersri Setiawan, Jennifer Lindsay trans., Buru Island: A prison memoir, $29.95 paperback, free e-book download: This is the final in a series of non-fiction manuscripts about Indonesia that have not been previously translated into English. “Buru Island was the site of Indonesia’s most remote and infamous prison camp. In the wake of the 1965 repression of the political Left, between 1969 and 1979 approximately 12,000 men were held on Buru without formal charge or trial. During their detention prisoners suffered torture, forced labour and malnourishment, as well as social isolation. This book is an edited translation of the Indonesian language memoir by the writer Hersri Setiawan (b.1936) who was detained for nine years, including seven on Buru Island: as a young writer…”
Many people were shocked and surprised to hear that the University of Western Australia was considering closing this highly respected publisher late last year. The volume of concern expressed from around Australia seems to be leading the university to reconsider its decision, but the future of the publisher is still parlous. All publishers need our support at the moment, but given the perilous situation facing UWA Publishing it is particularly important to keep up our support for it now.
- Tiffany Shellam, Meeting the Waylo: Aboriginal Encounters in the Archipelago, $29.99 paperback: “Meeting the Waylo is a history of story-making about the experiences of Migeo, Boongaree and Bundle, three Indigenous Australians who were intermediaries on board maritime expeditions in the early nineteenth century… By following the footsteps and fingerprints of the archivists as well as explorers, Shellam reminds us that the archive is never a neutral storehouse for history.”
Sydney University Press
- Stephen Garton, The Cost of War: War, Return and Re-shaping of Australian Culture: This is a revised edition of Garton’s 1996 publication. “… Stephen Garton traces the experiences of Australia’s veterans, and asks what we can learn from their stories. He considers the long-term effects of war on returned servicemen and women, on their families and communities, and on Australian public life. He describes attempts to respond to the physical and psychological wounds of combat, from the first victims of shellshock during WWI to more recent understandings of post-traumatic stress disorder. And he examines the political and social repercussions of war, including debates over how we should commemorate conflict and how society should respond to the needs of veterans.”
- Jonathon Wooding, ed., Prophecy, Fate and Memory in the Early Medieval Celtic World, paperback: This is something a bit different from the modern history that features on this list. This book “… brings together a collection of studies that closely explore aspects of culture and history of Celtic-speaking nations. Non-narrative sources and cross-disciplinary approaches shed new light on traditional questions concerning commemoration, sources of political authority, and the nature of religious identity.”
The National Library of Australia is also a publisher.
- Christine Morton-Evans, Ellis Rowan: A life in pictures, $34.99: This is a depiction of the life of Australian wildflower painter, Ellis Rowan, born in 1848. Her extraordinary life venturing into places remote to European women in Australia, and later in her life, New Guinea, is told through her paintings that are held by the National Library of Australia.
New Zealand Publishers
Most of the New Zealand publishers I have checked seem to be publishing their 2020 titles from May onwards. Please let me know if other New Zealand publishers have published good history books this year.
Prices of these books are in $NZ unless stated otherwise.
Bridget Williams Books
This New Zealand publisher caught my eye last year through their publication of Rachel Buchanan’s XXX. I have not had a chance to delve into New Zealand history but these books sound interesting:
- Ian Smith, Pākehā Settlements in a Māori World: New Zealand Archaeology 1769–1860, $59.99 paperback: This book is an archaeologist’s view of early European settlement in New Zealand.
University of Canterbury Press
- Ngā Kōrero a Pita Kāpiti: The teachings of Pita Kāpiti, translated, edited and annoted by Anaru Reedy, free digital edition: “This landmark publication comprises two manuscripts written in the 1870s by one of the greatest tohunga of Ngāti Porou. Mohi Ruatapu, of Tokomaru Bay, was one of the teachers at the last Whare Wānanga (School of Learning) on the East Coast, north of Tūranga (Gisborne district). Much later, as an old man, he recorded the myths, legends and songs of his people.” This edition was first published in 1997 and has just been released as a free digital publication.
Over to you: Have you read any of these books? Have I missed some from the list? (I am only including ones that are currently available for purchase)
Addendum – 29/4/2020
I am glad I did not talk about upcoming releases except for the one book that is now actually available on early release. Books and Publishing published an article today discussing the work publishers are doing to reschedule book release dates, both bringing particularly pertinent books forward as well as delaying the release of others.