Thesis Proposal Review Presentation Day



Children of the wattle: Children’s play in Australia during the early-twentieth century

Emily Gallagher
This thesis is a study of children’s play in Australia in the early-twentieth century. Prioritising the child’s view of the world, it examines traditions of doll, street and militarised play, fairy folklore, and the importance of the bush and garden as children’s places. Adopting an international approach to the historiography, the project surveys an extensive range of primary evidence, including children’s writings and drawings, photographs and film, personal papers, autobiographies and material history. Considered together, these sources offer a lens on to how children not only understood their own social realities, but also strategised and acted within larger social structures. Beyond reiterating the importance of age and children’s experiences in the study of history, this thesis aims to deepen existing understandings of children as historical actors. Children’s cultures, many of which were orientated around different types of play, were characterised by distinctive codes and practices, some of which promoted strategies of everyday resistance and assent that fostered individual and collective agency. Most importantly, play is not merely a phenomenon whereby children passively adopt ideas reinforced by adults. It is an activity where children actively reinterpret the world around them, and through which they are able to have an impact on their social environment. By examining the ways children played, as well as the meanings they encoded in the world around them, this thesis argues that scholars can enrich their understanding the forces of change and continuity which shaped Australia throughout the early-twentieth century.

Threads in the Tapestry: Federation-era Migrants and Australian Identity

Susan Priestley
Migrants to Australia from Britain and the wider empire between 1880 and 1914 made a significant contribution to the emerging nation. Recognising the heterogeneous nature of that pan-Britannic cohort and its interaction with overlapping generations of the native-born allows for a deeper understanding of Australia in its foundational period, with implications for the ongoing historiographical debate about levels of Australianness and Britishness in Australian identity.  Rather than an oppositional Australian or British paradigm, this thesis proposes a composite identity, arising from ongoing interaction between migrant and native-born, and cultural affiliation with aspects of the British Empire. Using collective biography as a tool, it examines the migrant contribution towards evolving political and economic independence, cultural self-confidence, further education, technological and scientific advances, and codes of religious and philosophical thought, which developed in parallel with the political culmination of Federation. Demographic analysis of migrant intake and natural population growth will be matched with qualitative identity parameters using case studies of selected cohorts with significant interaction between migrant and native-born. ‘Notable’ cohorts initially identified through the Australian Dictionary of Biography are Victoria Cross winners in the South African and First World wars, ministers in the first nine Commonwealth governments, recruits to university and official positions, and female migrant ‘notables’. These studies are complemented by a group biography of nine non-notable immigrants, identified through private letters written in 1912 by a 22-year-old English visitor during a trip through urban, farming, pastoral and outback mining communities in south-eastern Australia. Before the perceived stamp arising from Gallipoli, a complex tapestry of distinctive threads in the national character was already on the frame. Preliminary research suggests that successive waves of British and Empire migrants interacting with the native-born had a crucial role in shaping Australia’s foundational identity.

Robert Randolph Garran and the Making of the Australian Commonwealth

Colin Milner

This thesis examines the contribution of the public servant Robert Randolph Garran (1867-1957) as a leading figure in making the Australian Commonwealth and the development of its dominion status within the British Empire-Commonwealth. Benedict Anderson’s celebrated argument that national identities are constructed as ‘imagined communities’ can be applied in assessing the role of ‘public service’ – broadly defined – in nation-making; and in particular, how, where and why the study of an individual public servant can provide fresh insights into this process. Garran’s ‘public service’ encompassed intellectual, bureaucratic, diplomatic and cultural leadership in a developing framework of national, imperial and international institutions, offering a rich tapestry for addressing this concept in the Australian context. Thus, an approach drawing on several genres of historical enquiry – not only national and imperial but open to biographical, cultural, diplomatic, intellectual, legal and political approaches too – is required. This project will contribute to the historiography on Australia’s emergence as a modern nation, much of which has traditionally focussed on the role of leading politicians supposedly animated by utilitarian ideology. It also aims to elaborate the idea of the ‘Commonwealth’, which Garran did much to popularise in Australia, as a collectivity that during his lifetime defined citizenship through inclusion and exclusion. Principal sources are personal papers in the National Library of Australia of Garran and his closest associates, government records in the National Archives of Australia, plus research in Britain and possibly other key former Dominions (Canada, New Zealand and South Africa). Garran’s published writings also strengthen the textual foundation for analysing his contribution. Subject to ethics approval, oral interviews of those who encountered Garran, or who now work in fields to which he contributed, might add a valuable dimension, connecting the past with the present.

Edmund Blacket: Gothicist, Agent of Change in Colonial Society

Joseph Kinsela

Edmund Blacket’s life and work has been thoroughly described in Morton Herman’s biography (1963) and in Joan Kerr’s catalogue raisonnée (1983); both celebrate his architectural style and breadth of achievement.  However, Blacket has yet to be understood as an agent in the mid 19th century social re-structuring of the NSW Colony. This thesis addresses the question – what was the significance of Blacket and of his architecture in a period of transformation in colonial society? Concentrating on architectural processes, it will add a material, visual and spatial dimension to debates about change over time in the colony and connections between religion and politics.  Responding to reform movements and revolutions, the British Government had legislated a program to build new churches with parish schools in England; the Gothic style became the expression of this movement. When Blacket arrived in NSW in 1842, the colony had a Calvinist, puritanical and austere tradition of Anglican religious practice. Churches were undecorated, the worship plain – seating itself reflected hierarchy. To encourage the democratic “High Church” or “catholic” worship tradition he favoured, Blacket took the lead in establishing the Gothic Style, which, through decoration and form, stimulated inclusive practices of worship. This style embodied new concepts of religious authority in society and government, patterns of relationship between elites, and – not least – transformed building skills and the role of public architecture. For these reasons, it was mistrusted by colonial congregations. This thesis explores material connections between the spiritual, the aesthetic and the sentimental within society.  Taking a new “pictorial” approach, and focussing on technical observations, alterations in individual designs, notes and drawings modifying architectural plans, specific building techniques and decorations in his built churches, and using archival texts, this thesis will examine Blacket’s effectiveness as an agent of change.

We Have Made Australia. Now We Must Make Australians’: Citizenship Education after Federation

Andrew Dillon
Two challenges faced by emergent democracies were to foster an imagined community and to educate their citizens for participation in the political nation.  But what should be taught: democratic values or national unity? What model of civic virtue should be promoted? Should any political or religious philosophy dominate?  How would civics fit with contemporary educational practices? What were the preconditions for the type of civics adopted? There is no comprehensive history of civics education in Australia. This study aims to fill part of that gap by studying the ways in which key agencies dealt with these questions. Using school textbooks, readers, examination papers, newspapers, and expert reports into education, this study will analyse civics in Victoria and New South Wales schools from Federation until the1960s. It focuses on education of children about: democracy; belonging in a federation; race; gender; and religion. Preliminary findings, based on surprisingly similar textbooks, suggest that civics predominantly promoted a social liberal, Protestant, model of active citizenship. The texts taught of citizenship split between Empire, Country, State and Municipality. Consistently with contemporary theories on race, the texts promoted the White Australia policy as central to democracy. Some authors conceived of women as citizens, but imply that the political nation does not need women’s participation. The texts largely ignore minorities, implying that they hold the same values as the majority, or, in the case of Indigenous people, that they are not part of the political nation. The authors tend to present the environment as something to populate and exploit commercially. I will develop these findings into an explanation of how civics was one factor in Australians coming to imagine themselves as a continental nation.

Mouthless gods: Kimberley rock art and the Australian imagination 1927 – 2000

Anthony Keith MacGregor
From the first European encounter with Kimberley rock art (by the Imperial soldier-explorer-administrator George Grey) in 1838, the quest to know the origin, meaning and purpose of these images has played out across multiple domains and disciplines: anthropology, archaeology, art, law, politics. Images of wanjina and gwion gwion have long circulated in different contexts, acquiring new meanings as they manifest across new modalities: explorers’ journals, novels, urban graffiti, European auction houses, the Sydney Olympics. This thesis seeks to conceptualise and contextualise the different ways through which knowledge about Kimberley rock art has been formed, shared and used, referencing both Indigenous and non-Indigenous epistemologies. How do the consequent shifts in understanding reflect post-contact Indigenous history, as well as changes in relevant research and administrative cultures? The thesis will focus on the work of several key figures whose quest to ‘know’ – even to ‘own’ – rock art can be seen to reflect a profound longing by non-Indigenous Australians for an authentic ‘connection to country’ at times of intense debate about Australian identity. Informed by the approaches of Ross Gibson (2015) and Paul Carter (1996) among others, this is a cultural history which also engages with recent discussions of Aboriginal art as ‘Art’ (Morphy 2008) and as a problematic signifier of Australian identity (McLean, 1998). It is structured by a series of encounters with rock art, iterations of rock art images, and biographies of key figures. The work draws upon a cache of recordings made by the writer with significant traditional owners, researchers and artists (including Randolph Stow, Andreas Lommel, and David Mowaljarlai, all since deceased). The originality of the project lies in bringing together domains previously considered incommensurate within a conceptually coherent narrative; hence the focus on the work of writers and artists alongside that of adventurers and researchers from diverse disciplines.

Date & time

Thu 30 Nov 2017, 9.30am–1.30pm


Law Link Theatre


Emily Gallagher
Susan Priestley
Colin Milner
Joseph Kinsela
Andrew Dillon
Anthony MacGregor


School of History


61 2 6125 3744


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