Advance praise for The Honest History Book (to be published by NewSouth in April 2017)

‘This is collective history at its finest.’  (Melanie Oppenheimer, Flinders University)

Honest History FINAL front

What people are saying about The Honest History Book

  • ‘[A] series of compelling, highly readable essays by some of Australia’s most distinguished historians.’ (Michelle Arrow, Macquarie University)
  • ‘[A] primer to fresh and challenging thinking about key moments in the sculpting of our shared identity.’ (Jonathan Green, Meanjin, ex-ABC)
  • The Honest History Book introduces some inconvenient truths.’ (Gideon Haigh, author and journalist)
  • ‘The fascinating and vital question this outstanding and highly readable collection poses is whether an honest version of history can displace or modify the comforts and dangers of state-cultivated and politically motivated myth.’ (Robert Manne, La Trobe University)
  • ‘This is collective history at its finest.’ (Melanie Oppenheimer, Flinders University)
  • ‘Timely because it provides a powerful and much needed riposte to the current practice of elevating military history above all other aspects of the nation’s past.’ (Henry Reynolds, University of Tasmania)
  • ‘In making its compelling case for ‘not only Anzac, but also’, this book not only offers a vital corrective to the flimflams and taradiddles of Anzackery, but also gives us a new collection of fascinating essays on Australian history … A timely reminder that there is no such thing as post-truth history.’ (Clare Wright, La Trobe University)

Read more opinions below …

And more about the book

Michelle Arrow, Macquarie University, author of Friday on Our Minds: Popular Culture in Australia since 1945

Martin Crotty, University of Queensland, author of Making the Australian Male: Middle-class Masculinity 1870–1920

Matthew Esterman, educator, My Mind’s Museum blog

Jonathan Green, editor, Meanjin, formerly ABC Radio National and The Drum

Gideon Haigh, author and journalist, author of Certain Admissions: A Beach, a Body and a Lifetime of Secrets and Stroke of Genius

Robert Manne, La Trobe University, author of The Mind of the Islamic State and Cypherpunk Revolutionary: On Julian Assange

John Menadue, former senior public servant and businessman, Pearls and Irritations blog, co-editor of Fairness, Opportunity and Security: Filling the Policy Vacuum

Bobbie Oliver, Curtin University, author of War and Peace in Western Australia: The Social and Political Impact of the Great War, 1914–1926

Melanie Oppenheimer, Flinders University, co-author of The Last Battle: Soldier Settlement in Australia, 1916–1939

Henry Reynolds, University of Tasmania, author of Forgotten War and Unnecessary Wars

Christina Twomey, Monash University, co-author of A History of Australia

Clare Wright, La Trobe University, Stella Prize winner for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka

 

Michelle Arrow, Macquarie University, author of Friday on Our Minds: Popular Culture in Australia since 1945

The Honest History group announced its arrival in 2013 with a clear, urgent purpose: to challenge the dominance of the Anzac legend in Australian popular memory. As the centenary of World War I approached, it seemed more important than ever to remind Australians not just of heroism and sacrifice, but of the social and political costs of war.

Honest History also took as its mission to remind Australians of the diversity of our history – of ‘not only Anzac but also’. The advocates of Anzackery would have us believe that our national past is truly revealed to us through war. But an Australian history comprised only of tales of war is a very narrow one indeed.

The Honest History Book distils this approach to our history in a series of compelling, highly readable essays by some of Australia’s most distinguished historians. Mythbusting and questioning, The Honest History Book will challenge readers to think not only about the ways our national stories are told, but who funds them and for what purpose. Why have we spent more than $500m commemorating the Great War? Why does the Australian War Memorial refuse to include the Frontier Wars Aboriginal people fought in defence of their country?

The Honest History Book challenges us to rethink our assumptions about our history. It will also encourage Australians to demand more from the media, government and cultural institutions that shape our views of our past.

Martin Crotty, University of Queensland, author of Making the Australian Male: Middle-class Masculinity 1870–1920

Fake history is as dangerous as fake news. It distorts our understanding of the world we live in and hinders individual and collective attempts to deploy the wisdom that can be garnered from understanding the world as it in fact is, and has in reality been.

This has never been more apparent in Australia than during the Anzac revival, where the relentless focus on Australian military history has overshadowed the past contributions and experiences of other Australians, the vast majority of whom never saw armed conflict. Anzac as revered and understood today is distorted, jingoistic and simplistic; and its proponents are bellicose and militant in maintaining that it is the ‘main game’.

Honest history – and The Honest History Book – demands better. It requires that we put Anzac in its place as but one light in the historical cosmos. If history gives us our bearings, we need to know all of the stars that we have steered by in the past to understand where we are now, and to plot a future course.

We need to consider our past as it was, with all of its messiness, complications and disappointments, and not just as we wish it could have been. History should inspire and reassure and instruct us – but it should also rattle, provoke and trouble those with open minds.

The Honest History Book lights the way, pointing to a past beyond Anzac. Understanding gender, ethnicity, Indigenous relations, economics and immigration are at least as important as war in explaining our path to the present ­– and even more so in charting our future.

Matthew Esterman, educator, My Mind’s Museum blog

The Honest History Book lives up to its deceptively humble title and is incredibly timely in its arrival, considering we now live in a world in which ‘alternative facts’ can be put forward by authority figures and institutions. One of the essential skills we will need to develop in ourselves is the ability to think critically about the past and how we remember, recall and revisit it. We cannot afford to be merely passive consumers of information about the past and expect to grow as individuals or as a society.

This book delves into issues that are at the same time pertinent, painful and part of our wider story. It demands of us that we activate our critical thinking, not dull it down and accept what is written.

An honest history will certainly invite criticism and controversy, though later generations will thank those brave enough to strive for such a worthwhile aim. I would be happy to recommend this book to any of my students, which is the greatest praise I can give.

Jonathan Green, editor, Meanjin, formerly ABC Radio National and The Drum

Perhaps the one unassailable fact of Australian history is just how much the accepted version sells us short: that cliché of fair go, dour struggle and sunny triumph. Our history is more than war, wool and a beach.

The Honest History Book is an inspiration to think more broadly, to challenge preconceptions and serially authorised misrepresentations of our past. This is vital work as Australia rattles around trying to define some agreed notion of national self. So much is contested, so much is taken for granted.

The essays gathered here are a primer to fresh and challenging thinking about key moments in the sculpting of our shared identity. It may be that we are not quite the country we thought we were. Or, perhaps more accurately, had been told we were. It’s a must read for thinking Australians, for the great truth is that until we acknowledge, understand and face up to our past, we’ll all be living a bit of a lie.

Gideon Haigh, author and journalist, author of Certain Admissions: A Beach, a Body and a Lifetime of Secrets and Stroke of Genius

Mark Twain once said that Australia’s history read like ‘the most beautiful lies’. The Honest History Book introduces some inconvenient truths. With so many contemporary debates involving appeals to history, the book concerns the present and future as well as the past, and invites the kind of contention that a confident country should welcome.

Australian humanities research is often deemed moribund. The contributions here suggest, to paraphrase Twain, that reports of its demise have been exaggerated.

Robert Manne, La Trobe University, author of The Mind of the Islamic State and Cypherpunk Revolutionary: On Julian Assange

For the past thirty years Australians have been enchanted by the story of the heroic landing of our soldiers at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and by a highly romanticised version of the century-long Anzac military tradition. The fascinating and vital question this outstanding and highly readable collection poses is whether an honest version of history can displace or modify the comforts and dangers of state-cultivated and politically motivated myth. The book would be excellent for high school students and undergraduates; the articles are just the right length and the choice of topics perfect.

John Menadue, former senior public servant and businessman, Pearls and Irritations blog, co-editor of Fairness, Opportunity and Security: Filling the Policy Vacuum

It is a pleasure to endorse The Honest History Book. Honest and relevant history is important for a proper understanding of one’s own society and country. Unless we do that we are likely to keep repeating the mistakes of the past.

Our history of World War I blots out the decades at the turn of the century in Australia’s quite remarkable development – Federation, the basic wage and the Australian ballot. So much of that has been lost to us as a result of the myths engineered by military historians about Gallipoli and the Somme. To hide our true history, these historians highlighted the valour of Australian soldiers rather than the more important question of why we were fighting at all.

Being honest about our own country is essential so that we can properly assess both our achievements and our shortcomings, our strengths and weaknesses. We cannot be a harmonious, confident Australia unless we are honest with ourselves about our history.

Bobbie Oliver, Curtin University, author of War and Peace in Western Australia: The Social and Political Impact of the Great War, 1914–1926

For some years now the Honest History website has been doing historians a great service by presenting alternative views and encouraging debate about many aspects of Australian history that become obfuscated by myths and half-truths. The publication of The Honest History Book is timely during both the centenary of World War I and debates about the appropriateness of celebrating ‘Australia Day’.

Among many truths in this excellent book is a warning that ‘public memory’ and ‘history’ are not interchangeable. Public memory, unfortunately, seems to have taken precedence in much that is written about the Great War (and especially the Gallipoli campaign). School children should indeed be taught, as Carolyn Holbrook says in her chapter, ‘that there is much more to Australian history than the grim middens of Anzac’.

We are reminded by Gwenda Tavan that, far from being ‘innocent or arbitrary’, the ‘reconstruction of Australia Day and Anzac Day as Australia’s national days … has been part of a self-conscious governmental strategy to undermine post-colonial, multicultural understandings of nationhood and reinvigorate a narrative of white, Anglo-Australian (masculine) achievement’.

This is a troubling thought, but one that we ought to be exploring. Here is a book that should be on the reading list in every tertiary Australian History course.

Melanie Oppenheimer, Flinders University, co-author of The Last Battle: Soldier Settlement in Australia, 1916–1939

This is collective history at its finest. In promoting non-khaki stories of our history, The Honest History Book provides us with an invaluable perspective and a balanced approach to the past. Highly recommended.

Henry Reynolds, University of Tasmania, author of Forgotten War and Unnecessary Wars

An important book, both timely and compelling. Timely because it provides a powerful and much needed riposte to the current practice of elevating military history above all other aspects of the nation’s past.

Christina Twomey, Monash University, co-author of A History of Australia

This collection puts Anzac on the rocks, and provides a cocktail of perspectives on the Australian past. What really matters in Australian history? Why has Anzac wielded such influence in our national conversation about the past? Leading journalists, historians and writers take on the Anzac industry, and offer compelling alternative stories about the forces that have shaped Australia.

Honesty is the best policy. This book puts Anzac in its place, and offers stories and analysis that account for so much of Australian history that the ‘Anzac spirit’ cannot explain.

Clare Wright, La Trobe University, Stella Prize winner for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka

In making its compelling case for ‘not only Anzac, but also’, this book not only offers a vital corrective to the flimflams and taradiddles of Anzackery, but also gives us a new collection of fascinating essays on Australian history. Complex, inclusive, balanced, disruptive and – crucially – evidence-based, The Honest History Book is destined to provide a much-needed talking point for teachers, journalists, general readers and, with any luck, politicians and policy makers. A timely reminder that there is no such thing as post-truth history.

Honest History

20 February 2017

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