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RAHS Day Lecture – The Unfinished Nation: Contesting Symbols of Australia

February 2 @ 13:00 - 14:00

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National identities, and the symbols through which they are expressed, are never finished. This banal truth was brought home in preparing a new edition of a 2010 collection, Symbols of Australia, already in need of considerable updating. In just the last three years, Scott Morrison has decisively rejected the Akubra as an essential prime ministerial accoutrement.

The Holden, Australia’s Own Car, finally reached the scrap heap. Uluru is no longer climbed but symbolically represents the nation’s heart. The digger, who once represented the innocent citizen warrior, is (again) accused of war crimes. The Aboriginal flag is enmeshed in copyright disputes while the anthem gets another tweak. This paper surveys some of the shifts in Australian national symbolism over two centuries and especially the last decade, as some decline in popularity, some consolidate and others see shifts in their function and the meanings attached to them.

About the speaker: Richard White taught Australian history and the history of travel and tourism at the University of Sydney from 1989 to 2013. His publications include Inventing Australia, The Oxford Book of Australian Travel Writing and On Holidays: A History of Getting Away in Australia. He co-edited History Australia from 2008 to 2013 and current research interests include the history of ‘history tourism’ in Australia and the history of the cooee. A new edition of Symbols of Australia (co-edited with Melissa Harper) appeared in 2021.


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The Unfinished Nation
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February 2
13:00 - 14:00


Royal Australian Historical Society
(02) 9247 8001
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