The Jill Roe Prize, for the best unpublished article-length work by a postgraduate, was announced at the 2021 AHA AGM on the 1st of July. Thank you to all entrants and congratulations to the winner.
Awardee: Jessica Urwin (ANU), ‘”The old colonial power can stand proxy”: The Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia and the politics of the 1980s’
Citation: This beautifully crafted essay is an important contribution to knowledge about race and politics in late-twentieth-century Australia. It makes a wide-ranging contribution to debates around the enduring repercussions of colonialism, illuminating the deep and unexpected impacts of white authority. The essay investigates the underlying political circumstances that propelled the Hawke federal government to call for a Royal Commission into the British nuclear tests in Australia. The author critically and closely examines relevant primary sources to provide a comprehensive and convincing account of the political motives behind the timing of the Labor government’s call for a Royal Commission and the (narrow) composition of the Commission’s terms of reference. The tests themselves, the commission, the subsequent historiography and popular understandings are historically and politically contextualized with skill and sophistication. The findings that the potential of the Commission to shed light on the long-term consequences of colonization and, consequently, to contribute to wider debates on Aboriginal land rights, was stymied due to the political motivations of the Labor Party, remain pertinent today. This is a beautifully written, engaging, well-structured essay that provides evidence of how individuals and political parties use Royal Commissions to further their own political ends, and how historians, journalists and consequently the public uncritically accept the popular, nationalistic narrative if it doesn’t challenge the status quo with regard to Indigenous rights. We congratulate the author on a fine, thought-provoking piece of work.