Ann Curthoys – Previous Winners

2023 Winner

Geraldine Fela, ‘Don’t Be Shame Be Game! Responding to HIV and AIDS in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities’

This article opens up the history of Australia’s HIV and Aids crisis to include the story of the response of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and leaders to the threat HIV and Aids posed to their own communities. It follows the story of healthcare worker Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood, and documents her role in shaping the highly successful approaches to HIV Aids adopted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This illuminating article investigates the various frames imposed on the perceived threat to Indigenous communities by high-profile medicos, public servants and politicians. But more importantly, it brings to the fore how leaders like Smallwood resisted these frames, as they persevered with the development of programs that reflected their own local and deep understandings of the particular threat of HIV Aids in their communities.

By drawing on oral histories, government documents, medical and public health literature, and media reporting, the author conveys the crucial role Indigenous leaders played in effectively managing this stigmatised health crisis, placing their innovations in both national and international contexts. ‘The low rate of HIV among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to this day’, the author concludes, ‘is an important lesson. It shows that when Indigenous health is in Indigenous hands, the results can be extraordinary.’

Highly Commended:

Jacqueline Newling, ‘This Starving Island: Plenty, Paucity and Providence on Norfolk Island’

In this engaging and innovative article, the author transports us to Norfolk Island in 1790, where five hundred First Fleet colonists found themselves desperately stranded and facing starvation following the wreck of the Sirius. Combining a modern forensic approach with detailed research in colonial-era sources, the article investigates the role of ‘’Providence Petrels’ (Pterodroma solandri) upon the nutritional and social dynamics of the ‘starving island’. It provides a fascinating account of how hunting vast numbers (over 170,000) of these wild seabirds and their eggs became integral to the survival of the stranded colonists, while decimating the bird’s populations. In telling this story through meticulous research, the author provides insight into the power structures, patterns of usage, and states of psychological distress that underpinned this colonial micro-society and illuminates the importance of the birds and their consumption in shaping this dramatic episode in Australia’s early colonial history.

Judges: Ben Mountford (ACU) and Catherine Kevin (Flinders)

2022 Winner

The Ann Curthoys Prize was not awarded in 2022.

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)