Abstracts – JRAHS Volume 96 Part 1 June 2010

Whiteness of the Frontiers of Empire: Hebridean Scots and Group Settlement in Western Australia 1923-1928

Timothy S. Forest

In October 1923, a group of 85 crofters, or small-scale farmers and fishers from the Outer Hebrides off of the north-west coast of Scotland, arrived in Western Australia under the terms of the Empire Settlement Act of 1922, which aimed to resettle thousands if not millions of Britons in the Dominions, particularly Canada and Australia. But these Gaelic-speaking ‘listless barbarians’ were even before their arrival also cast as a people apart from the other ‘Groupies’, as many of these sponsored immigrants were called. The woeful fate these settlers suffered stands out even from the overall dismal record of Group Settlement. This scheme was born out of high hopes to enrich and enliven the Hebrideans, Western Australia, the Commonwealth, and the Empire during one of the darkest periods they collectively had faced, but it also failed to take into account the new dilemmas and realities that World War I wrought. The bifurcated status of the Hebridean immigrant to Western Australia is a window to analysing the simultaneously bivalent attitudes towards Empire settlement, the goals it was to achieve, the status of Britishness in a newly uncertain time, and the inherent weaknesses that scuttled it.


The South Head Peninsula of Sydney Harbour: boundaries in space and time

Robin Derricourt

The South Head of Sydney Harbour (Port Jackson) provides a boundary locality in both spatial and historical terms: an ecotone which could also be described as a ‘chronotone’. This area supported intensification of the Aboriginal littoral economy, saw the first European landfall in Port Jackson, held the sites from where the first European settlers in New South Wales looked out for arriving ships, and provided welcome and warning signals, and in due course pilotage. This was initially a place at the edge of the settled colonial world, beyond which lay the promise of escape for convicts and with a need to guard against military incursion. But it became a major leisure destination for the early colony, and in due course a village near the growing city of Sydney. It also developed a more sinister role as the ultimate frontier between life and death. The special human ecology of the peninsula provides a framework for some major themes in Australia’s early history.


Australia’s Mixed Gauge Railway System: a reassessment of its origins

John Mills

The origin of diversity in gauge in Australia’s railway systems lies in the contemporaneous decisions by the colony of New South Wales to build its railway at a gauge of 4ft 8½in, and that of the colony of Victoria at 5ft 3in. The origin of these choices has attracted many commentators. It is argued that features of conventional accounts are based on three misconceptions or misreadings or omissions of available evidence. First it is widely held that William Gladstone initiated action to establish the gauge of 4ft 8½in in the colonies; second, that the two engineers of the Sydney Railway Company are responsible for the mixed gauge condition; and third, that the Victorian choice of 5ft 3in was made in order to protect a committed investment in locomotives and rolling stock at that gauge by its three railway companies. None of these is true. The evidence is that some writers about the early history of Australian railways failed to consult important original sources, and misinterpreted some key secondary sources.


How Arthur Griffith came to despair of the industrial arbitration system in NSW

Morris Graham

By the time he became Minister for Public Works in the first Labor government in New South Wales in 1910 Arthur Griffith (1862-1946) had seen the evolution of a system of compulsory industrial arbitration and totally supported it. After four years as minister he despaired of it as an answer to industrial disputes in NSW and became increasingly embroiled in disputes with unions and the labour movement, eventually leading to his removal as a minister. Self-confidence and an aggressive determination to win were the features of his public life. The great hurt he felt was that he had not been defeated by labour’s enemies: his political opponents, the private employers and the capitalist press. He had been betrayed by the enemy within the labour movement itself. A fresh cause of dispute with the labour movement and the party arose over his support for conscription for overseas service in 1916. He and other prominent Labor parliamentarians were expelled from the Labor Party.


Maypoles and Electric Fences: Centenary celebrations in 1950s Victoria

Jessie Mitchell

This article examines the anniversary celebrations held in Victoria during the 1950s to mark centenaries of separate, responsible and local government, as well as the jubilee of Australia’s federation. At first glance, these public festivities seemed to portray a jolly and unified nation with strong British loyalties. However, a closer examination reveals a more complex dialogue occurring about the nature of history and government, and the need to negotiate a frontier past and a Cold War present. The article concludes by considering the Indigenous protests that also marked these anniversaries, and their alternative visions of Australia.