By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Sense & Nonsense in Australian History
By John Hirst (Black Inc. Agenda, $24.95, softcover, 325 pages)
A lifetime of original contemplation by one of Australia’s pioneering and probing historians is keenly represented in Sense & Nonsense in Australian History.
John Hirst’s collection of old and new essays range from pioneer legend, Australian egalitarianism and colonial culture and the Gallipoli landing to celebrated critiques of The Tyranny of Distance, multiculturalism and nationalistic history, as well as a substantial essay on Aboriginal dispossession and the history wars.
The articles are intriguing as some overturn familiar conceptions and deepen our sense of Australia’s development from convict society to distinctive democracy.
Hirst is most illuminating when he uncovers the Australian democracy’s distinctive link with the federation of Australia in 1901.
Drawn from a variety of sources, the significant collection provides insight, a knowledgeable path over time, with distinctive designs of idea and invigorating fluctuations of mind.
He also is unusually frank: “By the time I acquired my BA I believed that the Labor Party was the only party decent people could support. Labor promised a new, just social order; Liberals were the tools of big business, selfish and stupid”.
He admits to being ‘taught’ Australian history by Russell Ward, Robin Gollan and Ian Turner. They were “more than left-leaning, progressive people … they were all properly trained academic historians and none was a crude propagandist”.
Multi-faceted reasons are presented and he’s an informed advocate who is also challenging and contentious on some topics like Aboriginal issues and feminist history.
Lending further credence to the author (in promoting the book) are two sycophantic quotes by senior Australian historians.
Hirst is described by Geoffrey Blainey as “one of the nation’s most independent and original historians”, while Stuart Macintyre refers to him as “the gadfly of Australian history, stinging and provocative”.
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.