Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Monday, September 04, 2017

Winners of the 2017 NSW Premier’s History Awards

On Friday night, 1 September, the 2017 NSW Premier’s History Awards were announced at the State Library of NSW as part of the official launch of NSW History Week.

Details of the winners are set out below. I have given links to the publishers plus the judge's comments for each award.

Australian History Prize ($15,000). From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories, Mark McKenna (Melbourne University Publishing) 

From the Edge contends that it is only when Australians look to the edge of their country that they can properly comprehend what makes their histories distinct. The book begins with an account of a walk along the southeast Australian coast in the late eighteenth
century, before moving on to the failed British attempt to establish a presence at Cobourg Peninsula, the search for profits at the Burrup Peninsula and James Cook’s stay at what is now Cooktown. The focus is on the encounter between Australia’s Indigenous and non‐
Indigenous inhabitants.

This evocatively written and innovative study is based on wide‐ranging research and fieldwork. It conveys a powerful sense of place. Attractive images are a vital component of the evidence it presents. A convincing case is made for the importance of historical connections between remote localities at opposite ends of the continent. By explaining why an understanding of these localities’ Indigenous stories is so essential, Mark McKenna makes a major contribution to the development of a more widely informed Australian historical consciousness.

From the Edge stands out in a competitive shortlist through the manner in which it highlights and makes sense of a complex network of local histories that deserve far greater attention than they have previously received. The book combines well‐told intriguing stories with sophisticated and clear analysis. McKenna demonstrates that Australians’ historical imagination can be enriched through a broader yet more geographically intimate view. He emphasises the significance of a local and regional perspective that emerges from the histories of locations that are ‘both on the edge of the continent and the edge of national consciousness’. Through detailed place studies that give special attention to Aboriginal–settler encounters, he offers a highly original contribution to understanding Australia’s past with considerable contemporary relevance.

General History Prize ($15,000). Japanese War Criminals: The Politics of Justice After the Second World War, Sandra Wilson, Robert Cribb, Beatrice Trefalt and Dean Aszkielowicz (Columbia University Press)

Japanese War Criminals showcases the power of collaboratively authored historical research. In its analysis of new sources written in multiple languages, it is truly transnational. It engages impressively with one of the most complex moral and legal problems — can we achieve justice and restitution for crimes committed during war?

Wilson, Cribb, Trefalt and Aszkielowicz have placed the war crimes tribunals in their full cultural, legal, diplomatic and political contexts. We read about the significance of the trials to people around the world as they struggled to return to ‘normal life’ and reconstitute moral order amid the wreckage produced by the war. The book skilfully shows that identifying criminal acts committed during militarised conflict is more than a matter of practical legal determination; it has implications that go well beyond setting parameters for just war and legal killing Japanese War Criminals is an exceptional book. It provides readers with fresh insights into the complex moral challenges, practical legal limitations and political constraints that influenced the Allied authorities in their execution of justice in the emotionally charged years following the Pacific War.

Never shying away from recognising the horror of crimes committed by the Japanese military, the book also reveals that the trials were complicated by the Allies’ efforts to prevent their own wartime atrocities from facing similar legal and moral attention. This powerful book shows us that the horror of war contaminates every aspect of civilised life, including the law and its ideals of justice and impartiality. It is a remarkable achievement, both for its intellectual reach and its deft handling of fraught ethical issues that continue to confront us today.

NSW Community and Regional History Prize ($15,000). Stories from the Sandstone: Quarantine Inscriptions from Australia’s Immigrant Past, Peter Hobbins, Ursula K. Frederick and Anne Clarke (Arbon Publishing)

The North Head Quarantine Station operated from the 1830s until it closed in 1984; it served as a holding station for passengers on inbound ships to New South Wales arriving from well‐known hotspots for contagious diseases. Stories from the Sandstone examines around 1600 engravings in many different languages that were carved into the rocks and walls around the Quarantine Station during its 150‐year history.

The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of the engravings and paintings of the area. In addition to the inscriptions and graffiti, sources include official records, personal recollections, unpublished diaries, private correspondence, family trees and various archives. The authors draw from this rich body of sources to spotlight individuals who passed through the station and left their signatures in stone.  This fascinating and accomplished history of the Quarantine Station firmly locates the experiences of the local within the broader context of the global. It covers the history of immigration to Australia, the conditions of ship travel for men, women and children, the start of government public health measures and the establishment of official quarantine policies to manage arrivals and the spread of disease. It is a history contoured by how the governments of the day applied ideas of gender, race and culture to the treatment of diverse individuals. Such local experiences are set within the broader transnational framework of the history of trade, trade routes, theories of disease and pandemics.

Young People’s History Prize ($15,000). Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story, Christobel Mattingley (Allen and Unwin)

On 24 June 1952, the Aṉangu people were forcibly dislocated from the Ooldea Lutheran mission on their traditional land in South Australia and sent to Yalata, another mission station in the country of another Aboriginal people. The traditional Aṉangu country was renamed ‘Maralinga’ and handed over to British scientists to carry out nuclear tests which would contaminate the land for the next 24,000 years.

Maralinga’s Long Shadow tells the story of Aṉangu woman Yvonne (also known as Tjintjiwara), who experienced this dislocation. Her husband and two sons died of cancer when they were granted ‘salvage rights’ and sent to clean up Maralinga many years later.

This well‐researched and original history interweaves the account of nuclear testing at Maralinga with Yvonne’s biography, community service and career as an artist. It tracks her experience of life on mission stations, her grief at being tricked into allowing her baby to be removed from her care, her marriage and family life, her reunion with her adult son, and how the introduction of alcohol began to destroy the Yalata community.

Christobel Mattingley does an outstanding job handling the many strands of this complex narrative, telling the tale in a simple but powerful and accessible voice. The book is beautifully illustrated with photos from Yvonne’s life and vivid reproductions of her artwork. Despite the tragic history it recounts, Maralinga’s Long Shadow is suffused with hope because of Yvonne’s resilience and her determination to serve her community both in practical ways, and by passing on Aṉangu stories, traditions, and her art. This is an
important, moving and inspiring story.

Multimedia History Prize ($15,000). The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial, Adam Clulow (Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media) 

In the 1620s, Dutch and English competition for control over the lucrative spice trade in the East Indies (present‐day Indonesia) reached a critical point. After uncovering an English plot to take the Dutch castle at Amboyna, the Dutch authorities tortured suspects, placed them on trial, and ultimately condemned to death 10 English merchants and 10 Japanese mercenaries. For the following decade, passions escalated as both sides clashed over the legitimacy of a trial that would become one of the most famous legal cases of its age.

The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial website invites us to revisit this seminal case. With a rich trove of digitised archival material, we become investigators, lawyers and jurors tasked with understanding historical events. The process is guided by insights from academic experts who explain the trial’s context within the spice trade and colonialism. Primarily designed for tertiary students, the interactive website is accessible to broader audiences. The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial asks us to investigate an event, on a human scale, that is dense with continuing issues of justice, journalism, politics and propaganda.

The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial website is an outstanding example of how maps, sketches, paintings and archival documents (in multiple languages) can be brought to life. It vividly and intelligently introduces us not only to the history surrounding the trial, but also to the tools of the historian in making sense of a trail of angry missives and public pamphlets. The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial is fresh, interesting and engaging. It is an important resource for teaching history and a model for multimedia history education.

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