THE HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA: The Twentieth Century, 1901-1975 by Russel Ward
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THE HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA: The Twentieth Century, 1901-1975

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Australia still awaits its Macaulay or Froude, but meanwhile students and interested bystanders can profit from Russel Ward's close, sharp chronicle of events since the continent's six colonies became a Commonwealth in 1900. True nationhood, he emphasizes, was delayed by a colonialist mentality that routinely elevated British interests--and culture--over Australian. Strikingly, Australia failed to ratify the 1931 Statute of Westminster, granting it the power to conduct its own foreign affairs, until World War II--while the elite Adelaide Club, whose members made some of the country's finest wine, served only French and other foreign vintages. The persistence of deference despite Australia's early distinction as a ""working man's paradise"" is one of the ironies that gives an edge to Ward's account;another, no less forthrightly acknowledged, is the exclusionary policy that, until very recently, kept ostensibly progressive Australia 100% white. Indeed, ""the more democratic, the more radical, the more progressive' a person was in other ways, the more strongly racist he was likely to be."" A zest for combat also sparks Ward's detailed report of elections, public issues, and political brawls, which is further heightened by his appreciation for the personalities involved. ""Even his worst enemies,"" he writes of Labor sparkplug Billy Hughes, ""were half-charmed by his murderous wit, the sheer effrontery of his opportunism, and the broad larrikin streak of his character."" Only in the Sixties do ephemeral matters begin to obscure the lines of development; but it is good to have spelled out, nonetheless, Ward's positive view of activist Gough Whitlam's aborted administration. Overall he is partisan, caustic, systematic, precise--by contrast, too, with Fred Alexander's blander, more generalized Australia Since Federation (Rev. 1972)--and he has produced, as a result, a standard reference with bite. Coming next year: the 19th century.

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row