Historicising Australia's Nuclear Debate

Thursday, May 30, 2024 at 05:00 PM



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Stephanie Holt

Energy Transitions: Historicising Australia’s Nuclear Debate 

Australia is in the midst of an energy transition, but specific policies and decisions around the shift to more renewable forms of energy production, storage and use have become the subject of heated debate. Historians have an important role to play in this debate, shedding light on the historical factors that shape ideas and attitudes in the present. How have Australians thought about nuclear energy, and the extractive processes that underpin it, over the last seventy years? What cultural attitudes have developed around coal and coal mining in Australia, and how do they shape attitudes and policy today? And how have we transitioned between energy regimes in the past? In this seminar, three leading scholars consider how Australia’s past shapes debates about the nation’s contested energy transition today. 

Nancy Cushing is Associate Professor of History at the University of Newcastle, Australia on Awabakal and Worimi country. An environmental historian whose interests range from coal mining to human-other animal relations, her current project is A New History of Australia in 15 Animals (Bloomsbury).  In 2024 and 2025, she is the Coral Thomas Fellow at the State Library of NSW, researching the non-human animals of Sydney.  Nancy is on the executives of the Australian Aotearoa NZ Environmental History Network and the Australian Historical Association and a member of the NSW Working Party for the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Nancy can be found on Twitter as @ncushing12 and Facebook as @History at Newcastle. (Photo: Joy Lai)

Matthew Ryan
 is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Climate & Energy Program at the Australia Institute. With a background in political economy and environmental history, he has published in the Journal of Agrarian Change, the Journal of Australian Political Economy and Competition & Change. Matthew holds a PhD in political economy from The University of Sydney, as well as degrees in politics and economic history, from the universities of New England and Cambridge.

Jess Urwin
 is a postdoctoral research fellow at La Trobe University and a research assistant within the Australian National University’s Centre for Environmental History and Research Centre for Deep History. Her research charts the history of "nuclear colonialism" in Australia, exploring the intersection between nuclear processes in Australia – including uranium and radium mining, weapons testing, and waste disposal – and colonialism. Her work has received numerous awards, including the American Society for Environmental History’s Rachel Carson Prize for best dissertation.

This event will be chaired by Rohan Howitt of Monash University.

The seminar is part of an ongoing series, Making Public Histories, that is offered jointly by the Monash University History Program, the History Council of Victoria and the Old Treasury Building. Each seminar aims to explore issues and approaches in making public histories. The seminars are open, free of charge, to anyone interested in the creation and impact of history in contemporary society. Click HERE to learn about other events in the series.

We thank the series sponsors, Monash University Publishingthe Monash University History Program and the Old Treasury Building.


Posted by on July 18, 2023

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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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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.

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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