Wright, Clare: birth of Australian nation

Wright, Clare

‘”A splendid object lesson”: a transnational perspective on the birth of the Australian nation‘, Journal of Women’s History, 26, 4, Winter 2014, pp. 12-36

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Historians have attributed the rise of an independent and democratic Australian state to its men’s military accomplishments during World War I, especially the legendary heroism exhibited at Gallipoli. Wright, however, shows that the fledgling nation earned global respect as early as 1902 for providing white women political rights equal to white men. Wright thus challenges “the centrality of militarism in historical and popular accounts of nationhood,” moving gender equality to the heart of Australia’s founding story by demonstrating how reformers and leaders of western democracies—most notably in the United States and the United Kingdom—looked to Australia as a model of democratic governance and gender equality.

Wright acknowledges that white women’s political empowerment in Australia accompanied the disfranchisement of aborigines in what proved for white women “a timely alignment between the ideals of international feminism and the historical coincidence of federalism.” This fascinating story, then, counters “the androcentric underpinnings of Gallipoli’s enduring ‘birth of a nation’ mystique.” That mystique effectively drowned out collective memories about the nation’s founding achievements in legal equality. Indeed, Wright shows clearly that long before the First World War offered men opportunities to show off their military might, white Australians reveled in their global status as pioneers in the quest for more egalitarian political processes. (JWH editorial blurb)

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