Book Review: A Shorter History of Australia

A SHORTER HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA – GEOFFREY BLAINEY

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I read this book whilst travelling in Australia; it was bought in the New South Wales Museum, Sydney, and kept me entertained on the journey up to Port Douglas, Queensland.

I certainly enjoyed reading it. I had never delved into Australian history properly before, and I thought that this time s as good as any to do so! This book is well written and informative (in some areas); however, I had some qualms regarding the time span encompassed in the book, and the manner with which various historical issues were addressed.

Essentially, this was a history of the white man’s Australia, from the landing of Captain Cook onwards, with only a minor appreciation of the rich history of the Aboriginal peoples, who have been in residence for nearly 50,000 years. Thus, it really is a ‘shorter’ history of this vast country and the people who inhabit it. Furthermore, whilst at the museums I visited in Sydney and Brisbane offered exhibits and insights into the art, culture and history of Aboriginal peoples, and whilst the areas of tropical Queensland I explored clearly stated the traditional inhabitants or owners of the lands, this book hardly mentioned this rich and important part of Australian culture.

The parts of the book that did include information about Aboriginal peoples, did so in an extremely old-fashioned and rather reprehensible manner. Blainey makes no attempt to critique any wrongdoings by settlers, or hint at the greed of plantation owners. At some points, he almost seems to attempt to condone the enslavement and oppression of traditional landowners, including islanders. Moral issues are not addressed, and a balanced viewpoint is absent.

I though this was a great shame. As well as putting the book at risk of showing historical bias and being solely from one perspective, it meant that I was unable to read about what, for me, is one of the most interesting parts of Australia’s long history.

I loved visiting the NSW gallery, and gazing upon the amazing aboriginal artwork; it would have been interesting to read more about the background to this aspect of Australia’s culture in a so-called history of the country.

Furthermore, I thought it was a shame to present a viewpoint that I know is not shared by the majority of non-indigenous Australians. A Melbourne family, with whom I have close ties, pride themselves on their small collection of Aboriginal artworks, as part of their appreciation for the traditions and history of their country.

I read the 2014 revision of this book, first published in 1994. I would suggest that a few further revisions are necessary, and would benefit from both expanding the timeframe and balancing the viewpoint.

Personally, I felt I learned about one aspect of the last 200 years of Australian history. Perhaps the title should be altered to reflect this, rather than claiming to be a short overview of the whole of this fascinating country’s mixed and bountiful history.

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