Annual First-Year HDR Students' Thesis Proposal Presentation Day

Schedule and Abstracts

Session One:  9:30-11:00

Redcoats transported: a social history of the military convicts transported to Australia 1788-1868

Patricia Downes

My project proposes to answer the key questions: what was the experience of about 6,000 military convicts sent to the Australian colonies between 1788 and 1868, and what was their impact on the development of early European Australia?  My working hypothesis is they were the quintessential imperial servants, and their migration from all over the British Empire contributed a military character to the colonies which has not usually been attributed to this source.  Their numbers, while a small percentage of all the convicts, were substantially greater than other, higher profile groups, such as the 3,600 political and social protestors identified by George Rudé.  Moreover for most of the period the military convicts and ex-convicts outnumbered the military garrison which exceeded 3,000 only in the 1840s.  The military convicts brought distinct skills, useful to the colonies as constables, border police and members of exploring parties.  But their reputation as disgraced and disaffected soldiers and sailors has not served them well in the historiography, if scholars have considered them at all.  The idea that the military were part of the convict body forms no part of the cultural memory or the historiography of penal Australia.  I propose to explore the nature of the military convicts’ influence on colonial life through case studies of the men as members of the New South Wales Corps, in the exploring parties, in the Border Police, at Norfolk Island and in Western Australia.  I will exploit increasingly-available digital resources such as newspapers, parliamentary papers and family history sources, as well as imperial and local archives, to recover the soldiers’ and sailors’ experiences before, during and after their penal servitude, and changes over the entire transportation period.  I therefore seek to advance our knowledge of both an under-studied group of convicts and the nature of Australia’s military heritage.

Weaving the Web: Social Networks, Localism and Community in rural NSW 1919 1950

Megan Kelly

In rural New South Wales, between 1919 and 1950, community played a key role in the development of towns, which in turn played a role in the growth of the nation. Still, little has been done to study the changing influences on community, or even the changing nature of these collectives. For the purposes of this study, community, a social construct which adapts to changes over time, is envisaged as a web. This web consists of social networks, which are smaller communities within the whole. Drawing on the concept of localism - a sense of place which influences behaviour and identity - this project takes Young, town and district, as a major case study to investigate how social networks operated and interacted, and consequently how these interactions shaped the community as a whole. Associations and organisations such as the local fraternities, churches and sporting clubs will be explored as representative of the smaller networks within the web. In addition to these cohesive influences, potential corruptive forces, such as crime and social deviants, will also be addressed. Acknowledging a comprehensive study of all social networks in operation would not be feasible, a thematic approach will be taken whereby a single element of community, such as business, labour and leisure, will form the basis for each chapter. A strong emphasis will be placed on biography, making it possible to demonstrate how individuals both navigated and created networks. Due to the nature of this project, a previously unwritten local history of Young for the period will be produced, contributing to the ever-growing literature on rural Australia. More significantly though, it is believed this thesis will build on recent labour and social history which looks at the role of localism and communities at a local level.

Natural sociability and its influence upon British socialism

Rhianne Grieve

This thesis analyses conceptions of ‘sociability’ within late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century British socialist thought. Debates about the philosophical and historical basis of society were widespread in eighteenth-century Europe, and centred upon the natural or contingent factors that made humans sociable. These debates played a central part in the natural law tradition which underlay the moral and political philosophy of the Enlightenment. Their influence upon socialism has not been systematically studied, though the writings of British socialist thinkers indicate they were acquainted with natural law sources. This thesis examines how conceptions of the origins of society, either in systemic natural law or collective utility, were selectively taken up and adapted within British socialism. Preliminary findings indicate this process shaped how socialists challenged the dominant philosophical and political alignment of the civil sphere with individualism. Using alternative accounts of sociability, they insisted that co-operation and mutuality promoted the integrity of the individual; that the common right to land and subsistence prevailed over private interest; and that utility was best viewed through emphasis upon equal distribution of wealth, and ownership of one's labour. Traditional accounts of the rise of socialism emphasise its foundations in the economic and class relations engendered by industrialisation. While not denying the role of social conditions in facilitating its growth, this thesis aims to broaden our understanding of socialist thought by promoting a richer, more nuanced picture of its relationship with earlier traditions of political thought. Methodologically this project will undertake a close textual examination of socialist works and an analysis of how each adapted and transformed existing conceptions of sociability to justify social reorganisation. It will argue that an understanding of the contested status of sociability within socialism sheds light not only on the intellectual genesis of the movement, but also upon ongoing tensions within it.

Coffee:  11:00-11:15

Maori adoptees and their Maori families of origin: The on-going Maori experience of closed stranger adoption

Maria Haenga-Collins

My research examines the experiences of Maori people affected by the practice of closed stranger adoption and the impacts of such on the wider Maori community in New Zealand. ‘Closed stranger adoption’ is a practice whereby a child is adopted by strangers and neither the birth nor adoptive parents are able to obtain identifying information about the other. Subsequently adopted children cannot trace their families of origin. A significant proportion of the 80 000 adoptions which occurred in New Zealand between 1955-1985 were closed stranger adoptions and involved children of Maori ancestry, although exact numbers are unknown. I will examine how closed stranger adoption impacts upon traditional family values, kinship ties and social organisation in Maori communities raising issues of cultural identity and inheritance, assimilation and colonialism. With a commitment to a Maori centred research approach a number of key research strategies will be used. Oral history interviews will be recorded with Maori adoptees, Maori related to a child who was adopted (including adoptees adult children and non-Maori birth parents), and professionals who worked in adoptions. These oral history narratives will inform a thematic analysis. Archival material, including parliamentary debates/submissions, legislation and government records, will also be examined. These sources will be used to provide historical context and insights into the rationale behind social policies and practices which were foundational in the implementation and maintenance of closed stranger adoption in New Zealand. My research will provide an original historical account of the experiences of Maori in the context of closed stranger adoption, while critically exploring aspects of the relationship between state practices and assimilationist post war colonial relations in New Zealand. It will contribute to a contemporary Maori telling of New Zealand history.

Selling cosmetics and consumer culture in Victorian Britain, 1851-1901

Samantha Khaw

Changes in British consumer markets and culture throughout the nineteenth century sparked much concern about the artifice involved in new technologies of retail. Of especial concern were the highly visible products of the cosmetic and publishing industries. This thesis will provide the first systematic analysis of the cultural history of cosmetics in Victorian Britain. The production and marketing of cosmetic products and their everyday existence in commerce and society enables insight into the construction of ideal male and female aesthetics and overall body image, and also into the wider context of social and cultural ideals surrounding gender and consumer culture in this period. By utilising the ongoing digitisation projects of newspapers and other popular press from the nineteenth century, I will analyse the cultural currency of cosmetics in British society in the late Victorian period. These print sources reveal contemporary social ideals of beauty, wealth, and status, and illuminate anxieties regarding the complex role of women in Victorian Britain and its wider Empire. This research emphasises the role of the Imperial worldview involved in shaping the manner in which products were promoted in a growing consumer market. It also seeks to place the Victorian culture of cosmetics within a global framework yet to be fully connected by previous scholarship. Using existing scholarship on the history of cosmetics in France and the USA, it examines the extent to which the history of cosmetics in Britain should be understood as part of an international story or the product of a uniquely British context.

Lunch: 12:15-1:00

Power and Organisation within the NSW Labour Movement 1910-39

Scott Stephenson

The period from 1910 to 1939 was one of the most turbulent chapters in NSW labour history. It was defined by intense ideological conflict, winner-take-all factional warfare, widespread accusations of corruption, and multiple party splits. This thesis will focus on four key institutions - the Labor Party, the Labor Council, the Australian Workers Union, and the Miners Federation - in order to provide a detailed, theoretically-based investigation into how power was produced and distributed within the labour movement, and what effects this had on its industrial and political dynamics. I will adopt Steven Lukes’ “three dimensional” view of power, as the ability to realise one’s own will even against resistance, set the agenda, and manipulate others’ thinking. My thesis will consider how the movement was organised and structured, which individuals and groups had power, and how they sought, won, exercised, and lost that power. This study will be relational and comparative. It is guided by the uncontentious hypothesis that what was happening inside any one labour organisation affected what was happening inside the others. I predict that historians have not appreciated the extent or importance of this influence, despite the interaction of different kinds of union organisational cultures, and ideological dispositions, within peak bodies and the Labor Party. My key primary sources are institutional archives, personal papers and memoirs, and newspapers. Theoretical literature on power, democracy within political parties and trade unions, trade union-labour party relationships, and gender, will inform my analysis. Historians of the NSW labour movement in my period have engaged very little with this theory. The concepts at the core of my study are power, democracy, factionalism, and corruption, within democratic organisations. These remain important issues today. By studying them historically within the NSW labour movement, I will make an original and significant contribution to contemporary debates.

Green Heroines? Women and the Nineteenth Century English Environmental Movement

Robyn Curtis

For the majority of people today environmental activism refers to a modern movement stemming from the protests of the 1960s.  By examining the meanings of environmentalism it may be possible to extend this history.  Starting with the Commons Preservation Society (CPS) established in 1865 it is the aim here to study the work of four nascent environmental organisations in Victorian England.  More specifically, as a means to elucidate social attitudes, it examines the contribution of women to these groups at a time when women’s roles were circumscribed by societal and legal restrictions.  The project considers four organisations spanning the period 1865-1895, alongside the position of the women members in these societies.  Apart from the CPS, membership of the Metropolitan Public Garden Association, the Kyrle Society and the National Trust are examined.  Research of significant British archival material will utilise demographic analysis along with legal and census documentation to explore the people, places and boundaries involved.  Readers’ letters, newspaper articles and parliamentary submissions also will enable a review of the official organisational discourse.  Further, private papers will provide a more personal insight into the inspiration, aspirations, aims and emotions of individual members.  Whether or not these organisations represent the birth of environmentalism is one of the key questions investigated here, as is the varying motivations that brought different people to various levels of environmental activism during the second half of the nineteenth century.  Previous work on Victorian philanthropic groups evidences women’s significant involvement.  However the level of female membership and the importance of their overall contribution to early environmentalism have not been considered yet, nor has their degree of agency in the political and legislative endeavours of these organisations.  These nineteenth century groups highlight the importance of understanding how grass roots activism can result in significant national and even international change.

‘Racy of the soil’: writing and re-writing the Australian environment 1930-1950.

Jayne Regan

In 1930 W.K. Hancock published his widely read, and oft-quoted, Australia. Australia, though primarily a political and economic history, conveys a tension in Hancock’s environmental sensibility as he alternately, and even simultaneously, criticises and praises the environmental legacy of white colonisers. Australia has received much scholarly attention, but little consideration has been given to the range of other writers who began to question and criticise the popular imaginative representation, and actual management, of the Australian environment in the years subsequent to the publication of Australia. My thesis will investigate the social, cultural, political and environmental circumstances which shaped environmental awareness and concern in Australian literature between 1930 and 1950. How was environmental awareness influenced by factors ranging from Depression and war to increased ability to travel, new scientific knowledge to drought and dust storms? To what extent was environmental concern related to other issues such as the treatment of Indigenous Australians and the desire to both discredit and generate particular myths and representations around the Australian national character? I hope to show that between 1930 and 1950 a distinctive environmental sensibility arose among some Australian writers, and potentially the wider Australian community, which warrants closer investigation than has been accorded in existing environmental and literary history. I will use a cultural history approach, but also draw on, and make a significant contribution to, both environmental and literary history. I intend to base each chapter around a different literary source, and use close textual analysis, as well as consideration of production and reception, to draw out bigger themes which reveal trends in environmental awareness in the period. I am keeping my definition of ‘Australian literature’ broad, and am considering novels, poetry, history, travel books and comics, among other forms, for inclusion.


Date & time

Fri 29 Nov 2013, 9.30am–3.30pm


Sparke Helmore Theatre 2 (Law School)


School of History


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