Finding Australian history resources

‘What’s the best way into Australian history resources?’ Honest History, 13 October 2015

First, there’s the Honest History website. There’s a guide to the site and we recommend browsing. You will see that, while we target issues of current relevance, we have also built up a substantial database of material across the whole range of Australian history (and, in some cases, beyond).

But Honest History is quite new on the block. There are other options, particularly ones that delve well back into our history.

Books_in_the_BodleianBooks in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University (Wikimedia Commons/Dollymoon)


Honest History uses Trove every day for our ‘Twistory’ tweet and for other research. Trove, run by the National Library of Australia, is an extensive source of Australian online information including:

  • newspapers: The full text of hundreds of Australian newspapers from 1803 up till the early 1950s and in special cases beyond this; for example, the electronic version of the Canberra Times is available up to 1995
  • photographs: Picture Australia was originally launched in September 2000. It brings together digitised images from cultural heritage collections around Australia. It began with less than half a million images from seven institutions and, over the years, has grown to two million images and more than 70 contributors.

Australian Dictionary of Biography

The Australian Dictionary of Biography is Australia’s pre-eminent dictionary of national biography. In it you will find concise, informative and fascinating descriptions of the lives of significant and representative persons in Australian history.

John Myrtle’s database

John Myrtle ( is a Canberra-based researcher and former librarian. John has a database of thousands of Australian history references dating from the early 20th century to the 1970s. Honest History has, for resource reasons, tended to concentrate on material more recent than this, so John’s focus on this earlier period complements Honest History’s collection.

John’s database offers full citations and sometimes a brief comment. Depending on your subject matter needs, John may be able to assist. Honest History is pleased to be able to facilitate use of John’s valuable resource.

John will also be contributing an occasional ‘Online gems’ column to Honest History, drawing upon his database. The first of these items are here: No. 1: Myall Creek Massacre; No. 2: Royalty in the Australian Women’s Weekly; No. 3: Canberra’s 1940 air crash.

ShowImageNational Library of Australia, Canberra, 1969 (National Archives of Australia A1500, 11842304)


Informit’, it tells you, ‘provides access to unique specialist content through its collection of over 100 databases. These cover a wide range of subjects, including health, engineering, business, education, law, humanities and social sciences.’ This list includes history. A search from Informit will give citations for articles, not the full text. Informit is wrangled by RMIT University. There are charges. Check with your library about using Informit.

Other sources

The list here could be endless so we will just pick a couple. We have some useful links from our site and the list will now include John Myrtle’s database. There are also bits and pieces under the ‘Teaching history’ heading.

Further afield, Wikipedia has come on in leaps and bounds since it began and in many respects fills the role that the hard copy Encyclopedia Britannica did for earlier generations. For illustrations, Wikimedia Commons often comes up trumps and is mostly free of that frustrating ‘All Rights Reserved’ tag which infects alternatives like Flickr Commons and some domestic databases. (Honest History is a strong supporters of Creative Commons and other similar arrangements.)

The Australian War Memorial has a superb collection of illustrations and other material relevant to Australian military history, most of it freely available. The collection is weak, however, on material that lacks an Australian connection – reflecting the Memorial’s narrow interpretation of its charter – and surprisingly underutilised: the same photographs appear again and again in military history publications while equally interesting ones gather digital dust.

Next steps

Obtaining these bibliographic records is, is of course, only half the story. Researchers then have to trot off to their local or institutional library and search for the relevant material. Meanwhile, if readers think we have missed out some useful sources, please tell us in the comments section below.

13 October 2015

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