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‘…Just as It would have been in 1861’: Stuttering Colonial Beginnings in ABC’s Outback House

Chapter
Part of the Reenactment History book series (REH)

Abstract

In July 2005, Australian novelist Kate Grenville was invited by Radio National’s Books and Writing programme to talk about The Secret River, her latest novel loosely based on the life of her ancestor Solomon Wiseman, who had been transported to the penal colony of New South Wales in 1817 and later settled on the Hawkesbury River.1 The show’s host, Ramona Koval, congratulated Grenville on the poetic tone and language of her narrative and praised the text as ‘a wonderful and disturbing novel, full of detail about life and work in the colony … and daring descriptions of the land and the strangeness of the encounters between black and white people’.2 Grenville, in turn, read a passage from the book and reflected comprehensively on what had motivated her to write it. Then came Koval’s final question and Grenville’s reply which would irritate and preoccupy the country’s historians for months to come: ‘So, where would you slot your book’, Koval had enquired, ‘if you were laying out books on the history wars? Whereabouts would you slot yours?’ Australia’s ‘history wars’, heated debates among historians and public intellectuals over the nature of the country’s colonial legacy,3 had over the previous decade caused a deep rift between the so-called black armband historians on the political left and conservative scholars accused of wearing a ‘white blindfold’4 on the right.

Keywords

Station Hand Historical Accuracy History Question Historical Writing Colonial Past 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    K. Grenville (2005) The Secret River (Melbourne: Text Publishing).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For an accessible summary of the debate, see S. Macintyre and A. Clark (2003) The History Wars (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press).Google Scholar
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    N. Ferguson (1999) Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (New York: Basic Books).Google Scholar
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    Ferguson quoted in K. Jenkins (2001) ‘Review’ Niall Ferguson, (ed.) Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals. London: PicadorGoogle Scholar
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    E. P. Thompson (1978) The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (London: Merlin Press), p. 100.Google Scholar
  36. 81.
    As Gavriel Rosenfeld explains, alternate history traces its roots back to the first allohistorical novels published in post-Napoleonic France. Like counterfactual history and re-enactments, the genre became increasingly popular in the decades after 1960. See G. Rosenfeld (2002) ‘Why Do We Ask “What If?”: Reflections on the Functions of Alternate History’, History and Theory, 41, p. 92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    I discuss the employment of the gothic mode in another television re-enactment in A. Schwarz (2007) ‘“Not This Year!” Reenacting Contested Pasts Aboard The Ship’, Rethinking History, 11:3, pp. 427–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Anja Schwarz 2010

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