A People’s History of Australia

Members of the Sydney branch of the Australian Society for the study of Labour History will welcome the news that the dead hand of conservative orthodoxy in Australian historical writing is to be countered by a group of socialist historians. Their intention is to write a readable account of how the broad sweep of Australian history has related to the lives of ordinary working people. As a contribution to the forthcoming BiCentenary in 1988 and called, Australia since the British Invasion: a People’s History, it will advance an interpretation that confronts the widespread view that Australian history has been characterised by a progressive expansion of democratic liberties and an increasingly equitable distribution of wealth. The work of Raphael Samuel in the editorial prefaces to his People’s History and Socialist Theory is an important theoretical cornerstone but the project is in every sense a home grown product, carrying on the work of Brian Fitzpatrick and labour movement radicals like Norman Jeffery, who began, in his retirement, to write a series of people’s history reminiscences in mimeographed form that are both illuminating and inspiring.

At this stage Australia since the British Invasion is conceived of as occupying three volumes. The first will be concerned with the elements of production and the necessities of life, the second with the politics of everyday life and the third with crises and mobilisation. Some of Australia’s top historians have been persuaded to contribute.

For the benefit of Sydney based participants a meeting was held in McMahon’s Point in early July. The three Melbourneans who will act as editors, Verity Burgmann, Jenny Lee and Peter Love, all of whom possess close links with the ASSLH and Labour History, were present and explained the project in some detail. A fruitful discussion ensued. A definite schedule has been thrashed out and it seems that the project is definitely off and running. The Hummer wishes every success to this long 0verdue exercise in working-class history.