Previous lectures

2021: ‘I don’t hold a hose, mate’: Power and sentiment in the Australian Federation

Dr Carolyn Holbrook

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.

2020: Futures Past and Possible: Histories of and for Tomorrow

Ruth Morgan

From bushfires to COVID-19, the trials of 2020 have left many wary of what tomorrow may bring. Yet ours is not the first generation to be preoccupied with tomorrow. Through historical narratives, we can reflect on futures of the past, that is, on the kinds of futures that peoples in the past expected, hoped, or feared. Although some futures past did unfold, it is not necessarily the realisation of these futures that makes them worthy of historical study. Rather, it is the particular conditions that produced those forecasts, predictions, or possibilities – as well as what they set in train and how – that is the historian’s concern. The future, after all, is always as much about the past as it is the present.

Focusing on Australian climate futures, past and possible, this lecture considers the ideas and ideals that have animated settler understandings of the continent’s climes and how their legacies may shape tomorrow.

Ruth Morgan is an environmental historian and historian of science at the Australian National University where she is Director of the Centre for Environmental History.

She has published widely on the climate and water histories of Australia and the British Empire, with the support of the Australian Research Council and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. She is the author of Running Out? Water in Western Australia (UWA Publishing, 2015) and is a Lead Author for Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, contributing to the Sixth Assessment Report due in 2021.

Ruth undertook her doctoral studies at the University of Western Australia, and was until recently based at Monash University in Melbourne. You can follow her on Twitter: @ruthamorgan


2019: Living on Mallee Country - Deep Time to 1900

Emeritus Professor RICHARD BROOME, FAHA, FRHSV, La Trobe University.

Abstract: Mallee country being semi-arid scrub country has made living upon it difficult for humans but not other living things. This lecture will explore how mallee country was used by Aboriginal people from Deep Time to the pastoral era and how Europeans found, settled and often abandoned it as marginal sheep country. Living on mallee country revealed how Nature and Culture each shaped the other.

Professor Broome is President of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, Chair of its Publications Committee, and Patron of the History Teacher’s Association of Victoria.  He has authored fourteen books. His latest book, Mallee Country: Land, People, History (launched in November 2019), was written with co-authors Charles Fahey, Andrea Gaynor and Katie Holmes.

The 2019 Annual Lecture was delivered on 2 October at the Village Roadshow Theatrette, State Library Victoria, with kind support from State Library Victoria and Monash University Publishing.

2018: Big history and truth: knowledge as mapping

Professor DAVID CHRISTIAN, Macquarie University, Sydney

Abstract: The recent burst of talk about fake news encourages us once again to think carefully about what we mean by ‘truth’, and how we know when we are dealing with ‘truth’. In this lecture, Professor Christian discusses the nature of truth from the perspective of big history, which links ideas from many different disciplines in order to construct a modern account of the history of everything, a modern discipline. Big History can be thought of as the attempt to tease out a modern equivalent of the origin stories that have guided the search for truth in all traditional societies. What has ‘truth’ meant in different human societies? And what does it mean within different scholarly disciplines, from cosmology to chemistry to biology and history?   
   Looking at different understandings of truth forces us to move beyond simple dichotomies between truth and falsehood, and towards a less stable but more realistic middle ground in which we work with truth as probability and approximation, but vital nonetheless. That sense of truth is, after all, anchored in our biological nature. As living organisms, getting some grip on the truth is a matter of life and death.  But we do not seek absolute or total truth because the cost of certainty is prohibitive. In the real world, the truths we seek are local and approximate, like maps of the Moscow underground. Bits are missing and not all the details are accurate, but they work pretty well most of the time and they provide precisely the sort of guidance we need in order to pursue our lives. Helping students towards this more nuanced idea of truth is a major challenge for educators of all kinds, and one of the major challenges of big history.

Professor David Christian (D.Phil. Oxford, 1974) is Director of the Big History Institute and Distinguished Professor in History in the Department of Modern History at Macquarie University. By training he is a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, but since the 1980s he has become interested in World History on very large scales, or 'Big History'. He was founding President of the International Big History Association, and is co-founder with Bill Gates of the Big History Project, which has built a free on-line high school syllabus in big history. His latest book is Origin Story: A Big History of Everything (published May 2018). 

The 2018 Annual Lecture was hosted in partnership with the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Professor Christian's lecture was both the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Lecture and the HCV's Annual Lecture. It was delivered on Thursday 19 April 2018 at the University of Melbourne.

Did you miss this lecture, or would you like to hear it again? It was recorded, so you can watch and listen by clicking HERE.

2017: The craft of history in the age of fake news

Professor TOM GRIFFITHS AO FAHA, Australian National University, Canberra

Abstract: What is the prospect of history in the age of ‘alternative facts’? Historians have always been important in civil society – we are the great storytellers! But we are also the storytellers who, when the chips are down, are prepared to do the hard work to try to distinguish between truth and lies, between good history and fake news, between facts and their alternatives. We seem to be entering a time when a substantial proportion of people have lost faith in our ability to discern and agree upon a past reality, who don’t even know how one might go about such a task, who don’t understand what might constitute ‘evidence’ or what ‘context’ means. We seem to have lost faith in expertise and even any sense of what it might be based upon. The digital age has levelled and equalised sources and the internet has become a mire of undifferentiated information and opinion. This is a time when anything goes, and when the noisiest prevail. The need for history – for scholarly, balanced, self-critical history – has never been greater.

Professor Tom Griffiths is an historian whose books and essays have won prizes in history, science, literature, politics and journalism including the Douglas Stewart Prize, the Eureka Science Book Prize, the Ernest Scott Prize and the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History. He is the author of Hunters and Collectors (1996), Forests of Ash: An Environmental History (2001), Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica (2007) and The Art of Time Travel: Historians and their Craft (2016). He is the W K Hancock Professor of History and Director of the Centre for Environmental History at the Australian National University.

The 2017 Annual Lecture was hosted in partnership with the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Professor Griffiths was awarded the University's 2017 Ernest Scott Prize for his book The Art of Time Travel: Historians and Their Craft (Black Inc. 2016). The Ernest Scott Prize is awarded annually for the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand, or the history of colonisation.

Professor Griffiths' lecture was both the Ernest Scott Prize lecture and the HCV's Annual Lecture and was delivered on Tuesday 5 September 2017 at the University of Melbourne.

If you missed the event, or want to hear the lecture again, you can listen to it via this link:

2016: Locating the past: place and historical consciousness in Australia

Dr ANNA CLARK, University of Technology Sydney

Abstract: It’s hard to ignore the power of place in Australia’s historical narrative: Botany Bay, Port Arthur, Myall Creek, and Ballarat all resonate in our national historical imagination. Place literally locates our individual and collective historical consciousness in the world around us—family, community and national narratives are bound by the places in which they play out. (Just think of the extraordinary annual pilgrimage to that place, Gallipoli.) But what do Australians actually think about historical places such as these? And how do they place themselves in the past? This lecture draws on interviews with 100 Australians to explore the meaning of place in Australian history, and notes that even the past itself has become a ‘place’ of sorts in our historical consciousness.

Dr Anna Clark holds an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship and is Co-Director of the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney. She has written extensively on history education, historiography and historical consciousness, including: Teaching the Nation: Politics and Pedagogy in Australian History (2006), History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom (2008), Private Lives, Public History (2016), the History Wars (2003) with Stuart Macintyre, as well as two history books for children, Convicted! and Explored! Reflecting her love of fish and fishing, she has also recently finished a history of fishing in Australia.

This lecture was held in conjunction with Victoria's History Week 2016.

Click HERE to download a flyer that promoted the event.

If you missed the lecture, you can read it now. Click here to download a PDF file (252 KB).

2015: Australia's big science picnic, 1914: some new evidence

Professor LYNETTE RUSSELL, Monash University

Abstract:  In 1914 the Australian Federal Government sponsored the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) to travel to Australia for their annual conference. Over 150 scientists were fully funded by the Australian Commonwealth government and they travelled on three ships especially commanded for this purpose. Across five major cities public talks, demonstrations and excursions familiarised the visiting scientists with Australian natural and hard sciences, geology, botany as well as anthropology. In terms of anthropology the congress presented a unique opportunity to showcase Aboriginal culture. This lecture draws on recently uncovered archival materials from Oxford’s Bodleian Library and considers the personalities, logistics, events and outcomes of this massive undertaking. In terms of outcomes just two of the Association’s recommendations were to establish a Commonwealth Scientific Institute (later CSIRO) and to develop a national telescope at Mt Stromlo. Although these were delayed by the outbreak of the Great War, it is clear that this Big Science Picnic was no mere singular event, but rather the BAAS in Australia left a legacy we are still beneficiaries of today.

Professor Lynette Russell, FRHistS, FASSA, is an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow (2011-2016) at Monash University and was a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College Oxford 2014-2015. She completed a PhD in history from the University of Melbourne and has taught and researched in the area of historical and Indigenous studies for nearly twenty years. She is author or editor of ten books. Her current work is in the cutting edge area of anthropological history. She is an elected fellow of Cambridge University’s Clare Hall, AIATSIS, the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Royal Historical Society.

This lecture was held in conjunction with Victoria's History Week 2015.

Click here to listen to a recording of the lecture.

2014: Worlds apart: a comparative history of responses to AIDS in Australia and the United States

Dr PAUL SENDZIUK, University of Adelaide

Abstract: In contrast to many countries, Australia quickly developed a range of pragmatic and innovative measures to prevent the spread of HIV. The United States largely failed to heed Australia’s example. This illustrated lecture outlines how two countries, facing similar epidemics, came to adopt such different approaches to AIDS control, and suggests the consequences.

Dr Paul Sendziuk, is the author of Learning to Trust: Australian Responses to AIDS and is an Associate Professor in the School of History and Politics at the University of Adelaide.

This lecture was held in conjunction with AIDS 2014: 20th International AIDS Conference and was part of the History Council of Victoria's Making Public Histories seminar series, organised in collaboration with the State Library of Victoria and the Institute of Public History (Monash University).

2013: From architecture to ornament: the Melbourne Public Library in the nineteenth century

Professor HARRIET EDQUIST, RMIT University

Abstract: In celebration of the centenary of the domed La Trobe Reading Room, Professor Harriet Edquist will reflect on the intersections of design and architectural history with the history of Melbourne and its public library, now the State Library of Victoria. Professor Edquist will also look at one of the featured items in the 'Enchanted Dome' exhibition, Owen Jones's book, The Grammar of Ornament, its influence on colonial liberals such as judge Sir Redmond Barry and architect Joseph Reed, and the design of Melbourne's historic public buildings.

Harriet Edquist is Professor of Architectural History at RMIT, Director of the RMIT Design Archives, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. She has published extensively on Australian architecture and she has contributed significantly to the Library's Dome Centenary Celebrations, including curating the exhibition 'Free, Secular and Democratic'. 

2012: 1977 and all that: cricket's revolution as event, history and drama

GIDEON HAIGH, journalist and author

Abstract: In this talk about history and the drama of the 1977 World Series Cricket Revolution, well known cricket writer Gideon Haigh will discuss the Packer cricket circus as he remembers it, as he wrote about it at the time, and as it is about to be dramatized in the upcoming Channel 9 television mini series. 

Gideon Haigh is one of the world's preeminent cricket writers. He has been a journalist for almost thirty years , and contributed to more than 100 newspapers and magazines; including the acclaimed The Cricket War: The Inside Story of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket.

2011: Mothers of the revolution: sex, suffrage and the birth of a nation

Dr CLARE WRIGHT, historian, author and public commentator

Abstract: At the turn of the twentieth century, one country audaciously broke global ranks by setting the gold standard for women’s citizenship rights.  For the first time in modern history, women could both vote and stand for election in a federal parliament, a high water mark in the international struggle for democratic equality.  That country was not at the heart of Empire.  It was not the Land of the Free.  That country was the world’s newest nation—Australia—admired and closely observed for its progressive pluck. Drawing on research from her upcoming ABC TV documentary, Utopia Girls, Dr Clare Wright will discuss the women and men who put Australia on the political map.  At a time when the global community is calling for leadership on climate change and humanitarian policy, Clare will reflect on how history is made—and all too easily forgotten. 

Dr Clare Wright is an award-winning historian, author and public commentator who has worked in politics, academia and the media.

2010: The making of modern Australia: a people's history

WILLIAM McINNES, actor and author

Abstract: The Making of Modern Australia is a landmark social history series that tell the big stories of post-war Australia through the eyes and the personal archives of those that live it - the people of Australia themselves.

William McInnes is one of Australia's most popular stage and screen actors and the author of A Man's Got to Have a Hobby (2005), Cricket Kings (2006) and That'd Be Right (2008).  His fourth book, The Making of Modern Australia, combines McInnes's laconic skills with anecdotes and Australians.  It accompanies the television documentary series of the same name, narrated by McInnes and screened early in 2010 on the ABC.

2009: A Tasmanian in Victoria


Abstract: Tasmania and Victoria: two different states; two different histories; two very different psyches. Martin Flanagan was born in Tasmania in 1955 and graduated in law from the University of Tasmania in 1975. In 1985, he settled in Melbourne to work at the Age (where he has been ever since). Growing up in Tasmania, Flanagan was acutely aware of the great absences that define so much of the island state’s history—of histories buried, denied and hidden. On the mainland, by contrast, Victoria’s history seemed populated by great, grand narratives. Learn how, ultimately, Flanagan’s origins and his time in Melbourne came to influence and inform his view of contemporary Australia—and even his sports writing.

2008: Ranking Australia's Prime Ministers: an exercise in interpretation


Abstract: Our public discourse, such as it is, and our democratic ethos, rests on the assumption of a common memory, a common context, shared understanding and experience. Sometimes confidence in this can be shaken. Australian history has become a battleground in which political partisans claim ownership of our past. Most history debates have been crude and superficial, compounded by a shallow grasp of historical detail. Geoffrey Bolton observed that, to a seventeen year old, Paul Keating was medieval history, Bob Hawke was ancient history and Bob Menzies was pre-history. Of Australia's 26 Prime Ministers, only a handful are remembered.

Download a transcript of this lecture

2007: Fractional identities: the political arithmetic of Aboriginal Victorians


Abstract: The story of how a team that included an Aboriginal genealogist, a demographer and a medico, as well as historians and computer specialists, recreated the history of Aboriginal Victoria, and uncovered the hidden political arithmetic of colonisation.

2006: Australia and Turkey: uncomfortable thoughts on Gallipoli and the Armenian genocide


Abstract: The Armenians remember their national tragedy on April 24 each year. Australians celebrate ANZAC Day on April 25. The two events remembered - the Armenian genocide and the Gallipoli landings - occurred on Ottoman Turkish soil at exactly the same time. In this interesting and thought-provoking lecture Robert Manne considered why the two events are never linked in our minds and suggested why they ought to be.

Click here to listen to the 2006 lecture

One of Australia’s best known intellectuals, Robert Manne is a prominent writer and political commentator. He is a Professor of Politics at La Trobe University and a former editor of Quadrant.

2005: Creating a national heritage list


2004: The cars that ate Melbourne: triumph and tragedy in the history of the postwar city


Abstract: Nothing changed Melbourne in the late twentieth century as much as the car. Yet the car is now so taken for granted that we do not recognise that it has a cultural and political history.



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.

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