Australian & NZ Publishers Release New Histories During Covid-19

Australian governments don’t want people to wear masks outside for numerous reasons. However, if you are even slightly unwell and travelling to a testing centre to be tested for the virus you must wear a mask. This is a photo of us on the way to get tested for Covid-19. We live within walking distance from a testing centre but were told to drive there and wear masks. Our test results were negative.

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. Continue reading

Review: The Art of Time Travel by Tom Griffiths

Book Cover

The Art of Time Travel by Tom Griffiths (Black Inc, 2016).

The Art of Time Travel: Historians and their craft is a very readable exploration of the writing of history in Australia since World War II. Written by highly respected historian, Tom Griffiths, The Art of Time Travel examines the work of fourteen influential historical writers who have developed the way we understand history in Australia.

Each chapter focuses on a different writer and their most influential work. Griffiths starts with Eleanor Dark’s, The Timeless Land written by the novelist, in 1941. This work of historical fiction is about the Aboriginal man, Bennelong and his first encounter with white settlers in Sydney. The history of first encounters, and particularly the story of Bennelong is a thread that runs through the book.

Griffiths’ has a professional connection with each writer featured. Most of the writers Griffiths highlights are historians, but historians are not the only people who write histories. Included in his list are a novelist, a farmer, a poet and an archaeologist. Tom Griffiths does not merely recount the contribution of these writers, he also weaves in delightful anecdotes about his personal relationship with them and their writing. We read about the experiences of Griffiths as a student of Greg Dening at the University of Melbourne and his later experiences participating in Dening’s guest workshops at the Australian National University. We see some glimpses of Griffiths’ childhood in the Melbourne suburb of Balwyn while reading his chapter about the historian of the suburbs – Graeme Davison. Griffiths’ anecdotes throughout the book are carefully chosen and always relevant to Griffiths’ discussion of his chosen writer. Continue reading

Review: Waging Peace by Anne Deveson

Book Cover of Waging Peace

Waging Peace by Anne Deveson (Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2013).

Anne Deveson was a highly regarded journalist, film-maker and human rights activist who died late last year. Her last book was a memoir titled Waging Peace and was published in 2013. Anne Deveson was a groundbreaker in many ways. She helped Australian society grapple with serious issues that people experienced silently such as mental illness, poverty and abuse. As I expected this book caused me to think.

Deveson was born into a family of the British Empire. Her father lived in the colony of Malaya as a rubber planter while Deveson spent her early childhood in England. Her comfortable life was upturned when World War II was declared. She was nine years old.

France fell to the Nazis in the middle of 1940. England was alone and bombs rained down on the cities and towns throughout the country. Deveson’s father was working in Malaya, far away from the hostilities. It was prior to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour and the British still thought the sun would not set on their empire. Deveson’s father urged his family to flee to the safety of Malaya so Deveson, her brother and mother left England on a passenger ship. Their ship was part of a convoy that sailed through dangerous waters hoping to escape the German U-boats circling the British Isles. They arrived safely in Malaya but a few months later they had to evacuate again, this time to Australia. Continue reading

Review: South Australia on the Eve of War

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South Australia on the Eve of War, edited by Melanie Oppenheimer, Margaret Anderson and Mandy Paul, (Mile End, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 2017).

South Australia on the Eve of War paints a picture of life in South Australia before the outbreak of World War I. Its ten chapters, each written by a different historian, are easy to read overviews of various aspects of life in South Australia before the outbreak of war. These chapters provide an introduction to topics such as South Australian politics, families, the lives of immigrants, Aboriginal people, rural life and town planning. With the assistance of endnotes for each chapter, the curious reader can delve further into any topic that interests them.

The time between the 1890s and the outbreak of war in August 1914 should receive more attention as it was during this era that people formed the attitudes which they brought with them to the Great War. But history is more than a series of wars with a bit of peace in between. This era is fascinating in itself as it was the era which saw the birth of Australia as a newly unified nation. Continue reading

Review: The Anzacs by Patsy Adam-Smith

Cover of the Anzacs

The Anzacs by Patsy Adam-Smith, (Melbourne: Thomas Nelson Australia, 1985)

The fog rolled down the river and engulf our house. The cold and damp penetrated the walls and windows. Our only view, an opaque whiteness. Through the stillness, the sound of a lone bugler playing the Last Post reached us from the nearby cemetery. Another old soldier had died.

This was the house our family was living in when Patsy Adam-Smith published The Anzacs, her iconic history of Australian participation in World War I. Adam-Smith recognised that the 1970s were the last chance to talk to many of the surviving soldiers, so she interviewed veterans for her book as well as reading copious letters and diaries written during the War.

The Anzacs sold over 100,000 copies after it was published in 1978, at a time when Australia’s population was 14 million. But like other popular books, publishers were not very keen on it when Patsy Adam-Smith approached them seeking a contract. “It won’t sell. It’s about war,” one publisher said. This was the era of the peace movement and revulsion about the war in Vietnam. Compared to now, war histories were not prominent in bookshops. Continue reading