Ann Curthoys – Previous Winners

2021 Winner

Amy Way, “Displacing history, shifting paradigms: erasing Aboriginal antiquity from Australian anthropology”

This outstanding submission traces the elimination of the concept of Aboriginal antiquity from the Australian discipline of anthropology. While Aboriginal ‘timelessness’ is often recognised as a key feature of early-twentieth-century Australian scholarship, Amy Way’s compelling article provides a trenchant and original intellectual history of how, why and where it emerged. It traces Australian anthropology’s rise from British schools of thought to a uniquely settler variant, which had lasting effects on the representation of the Aboriginal past. Cogently written and grounded in a sophisticated understanding of the relevant historiography, the work promises to make a significant contribution to the histories of science, Indigeneity, and Australian foundation.

Judges: Professor Angela Woollacott (ANU) and Professor Kate Fullagar (ACU)

2020 Winner

Laura Rademaker, ‘A history of Deep Time: Indigenous knowledges and deep pasts in settler-colonial presents’.

In ‘A History of Deep Time’, Laura Rademaker offers a subtle and insightful exploration of the many ways in which settler Australians have engaged with Aboriginal ‘Dreaming’ stories. As she shows, settler Australians have long sought to extract kernels of historical truth from Aboriginal ‘myth’ and ‘legend’, although the truths they found were protean, changing in accordance with shifts in the relationship between Indigenous and settler peoples. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Aboriginal stories were read as revelations of ancient waves of migration. By the turn of the twenty-first century, settler Australians were interpreting Aboriginal stories as memories of long-ago environmental events or as metaphorical confirmations of what science already knew. Today, more than ever, settler Australians are grasping onto Aboriginal narratives, with their supposed reach into deep time, as a means of bequeathing a vast time-depth to the Australian nation. Rademaker recounts these transformations and transactions with sensitivity and acuity, in an essay that is both morally engaged and historiographically sophisticated. Elegantly written, ‘A History of Deep Time’ provides a timely reminder of the complications inherent in reading stories across cultures.

Highly Commended: Mike Jones, ‘The Temple of History: historians and the sacralisation of archival work’.

In this bold and ambitious essay, Mike Jones undertakes a fine-grained analysis of historians’ use of sacred language in their descriptions of archives and archival research. Drawing on both Australian and international examples, he contends that historians’ descriptions of ‘silent communion’ in archival ‘temples’ perpetuates a mystique about archives that also, crucially, conceals the labour of archivists. Jones calls upon historians to ‘reveal, rather than revere, the value of archival research’. Demystifying and explaining the work of historians and archivists, he contends, will help rebuild public trust and respect for historical expertise in the ‘post-truth’ era. ‘The Temple of History’ is a beautifully written and provocative work of cultural history.

Judges: Adjunct Professor Russell McGregor (History Australia board member) and Professor Michelle Arrow (co-editor, History Australia

2019 Winner

Skye Krichauff, for ‘Recognising Country: tracing stories of wounded spaces in mid-northern South Australia’

Skye Krichauff’s article explores how descendants of settlers who still live on and around Booboorowie and Woolgangi in South Australia’s mid-North have differently engaged, remembered and sometimes forgotten the Indigenous geographies upon which their present day lives unfold and the people who their forebears displaced. Employing careful local historical investigations in combination with sensitive oral histories, ‘Recognizing Country’ examines how settler descendants are often oriented towards the landscape in ways that cannot see the frontier or pre-frontier history of this place, nor imagine a future or present that includes Indigenous peoples within it. Krichauff also discovers a growing minority of descendants who, on their own landholdings, are seeking to assist Indigenous people to restore connections to Country and to reverse some of the destructive effects of settler farming and water use. By taking the concept of Country seriously as an epistemological and historical category, this essay explores how attending to and caring for Country can act as a vehicle for settlers to engage in reconciliatory projects with Indigenous Australia. In this sense the essay is transformative in historical and political terms, drawing our attention to the ways in which local initiatives can produce pathways for reconciliation that are proving very difficult to imagine at a national level.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Kate Laing & Lucy Davies, for ‘Intersecting paths of the local and the international: Joyce Clague’s activist journeys’

Kate Laing and Lucy Davies have engaged in painstaking and extensive biographical and historical research to produce a compelling account of the local, national and international contexts of and influences upon the life of one Indigenous activist. Combining oral history and biography, ‘Intersecting Paths of the Local and the International’ traces in detail the political life and activities of Joyce Clague, a woman of Yaegl, Bundjalung and Gumbainggirr heritage who began her life on a reserve in NSW in the 1930s. In so doing, with insight and sensitivity, they expand our understanding of twentieth-century Indigenous political thought and practice and the geographies and relationships that influenced it.

Judges: Professor Ann Curthoys (Sydney) and Dr Leigh Boucher (MQ)