2021 Annual Lecture

Thursday, October 21, 2021 at 05:30 PM

HCV's Annual Lecture

Each year, the History Council of Victoria presents a public lecture that shares fresh thinking and new evidence on an historical topic. This year, Dr Carolyn Holbrook will explore power and sentiment in the Australian Federation.

To complete the evening, we will announce the inaugural winner of the Jane Hansen Prize for History Advocacy.

This event will be presented online.

‘I don’t hold a hose, mate’: Power and sentiment in the Australian Federation

If a good portion of Australians did not realise before the COVID-19 pandemic that they were living in a federation, they would be hard-pressed to maintain their ignorance now. While previous national crises have aggrandised the Commonwealth, this pandemic has elevated the states to a prominence they have not enjoyed since the earliest days of the Federation. ‘Gladys’, ‘Dan’ and ‘Annastacia’, in particular, have become national figures and the subjects, variously, of idolatry and derision. The COVID-sponsored resurgence of the states has revealed how little notice we typically take of our federal compact, and how ignorant we are of its history.

Western Australia’s Mark McGowan has enjoyed the most conspicuous political success. The premier-hero has charmed the West Australian public with a mix of humour and competence that even inspired a fan-girling comedian to write a country music song about her ‘knight in shinin’ armour[’s] … hard, hard, hard border’. Despite his success in managing the virus, McGowan’s historic election win in March 2021 can only be explained with reference to WA’s historical relationship to the rest of the Federation.

In this talk, I trace various episodes in federal history, including the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1919, WA’s secessionist bid in the 1930s and the 1951 Commonwealth Jubilee, to understand why Western Australia has often felt like ‘the Cinderella state of the Australian Federation’. I will also reflect on the structures of power and influence in public debate and the historical profession itself, which have worked to mute understanding of the Federation and its ingrained eastern states biases.

Dr Carolyn Holbrook

Carolyn Holbrook is an ARC DECRA Fellow in the Contemporary Histories Research Group at Deakin University. She is writing a cultural history of the Australian federation.

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The History Council of Victoria Incorporated (HCV) is the peak body for history in the Australian state of Victoria. Its vision is to connect Victorians with history and to inspire engagement with the past, their identity and the world today. The HCV champions the work of historians and the value of history. It recognises that history can be written about any place, any person, any period. The HCV advocates why history matters.

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As the peak body for history in Victoria, the History Council makes submissions on current issues. In doing this, the HCV Board is guided by its Advocacy Policy and by the Value of History, a statement developed co-operatively by the HCV and the History Councils of New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.

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The HCV was formed as an advisory body in 2001 and incorporated in 2003. It comprises representatives from cultural and educational institutions and heritage bodies; history teachers and curriculum advisors; academic and professional historians; and local, Indigenous, community and specialist history organisations.

As the peak body for history, the HCV has both ‘outward-looking’ roles (including advocacy and representation to government and the wider community, consultation, community education, and networking with allied interest groups) and ‘inward-looking’ roles (including member support, information dissemination, and networking between members).



The History Council of Victoria acknowledges the State Library of Victoria and the Public Record Office Victoria for supply of the archival images that appear on this website.

We acknowledge the National Film and Sound Archive for the right to use of the video footage on the home page, titled "Melbourne: Life in Australia (1966)".

Image credits

  • Italian sailors on ship at Port Melbourne 1938, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese procession in Collins near Elizabeth Street 1901, Harvie & Sutcliffe, photographers, State Library of Victoria
  • People’s homes, Aboriginal station Coranderrk 1878, Fred Kruger Photographer, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese nurses at Children’s Hospital under scholarship 1947, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Ladies physical culture class VRI Melbourne c1931, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001, 011/02
  • Melbourne Cup, Derby and Oaks Day, Flemington Racecourse 1936, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001/4802, 372/30
  • Flinders Street viaduct at foot of Market Street with advertisement for McRobertson’s Chocolate on bridge, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12800/P0003, ADV 1342