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Book Launch Speech: Australia on the World Stage

The Rockhampton book launch of Australia on the World Stage: History, Politics, and International Relations (Routledge, 2022) took place on 9 November 2022 at Central Queensland University. It was officially launched by Vice Chancellor, Pr Nick Klomp. The below speech was delivered by co-editor Benjamin T. Jones.

L-R: Acting Dean of the School of Education and the Arts, Rickie Fisher, Benjamin T. Jones, and Vice Chancellor Nick Klomp.

I’d like to start by acknowledging that we are gathered on Darumbal country and pay respect to their elders and I acknowledge any Darumbal people who are here today. Coincidentally, Nick and I started working at CQU at the same time nearly 4 years ago and both traded the cold of Canberra for the warmth of Rockhampton and what a wonderful decision that has turned out to be. A few of my former colleagues expressed concerns at the time if I’d be able to remain as research active as I had been at a regional university but the answer is a resounding yes. This is the second book I’ve published since moving CQU and my third is well advanced, I’ve been a keynote speaker at a major international conference at the University of Texas, I’ve just returned from a Visiting Fellowship at the University of Cologne, I was elected National Secretary of the Australian Historical Association, I’ve been an invited speaker for the British houses of parliament and next month I’ve been invited to Canberra to speak at a symposium at our parliament house. And I say all this not to boast – well a bit to boast – but mainly to highlight that this is a research active university, we don’t just teach the research of others but CQU is publishing original research and taking part in important national and international conversations about history and in many other fields.

But research does take time, it is a lot of work and it requires a genuinely supportive academic environment, so before talking about the book, I’d like to thank Nick again for his ongoing support, our wonderful acting Dean Rickie Fisher, Celeste Lawson who is just the most encouraging supervisor you can ask for, and especially Mike Danaher who has been my most immediate and regularly called on mentor, supervisor, colleague and friend. I also want to acknowledge the School or Education and the Arts more generally, we have a vibrant, collegial, research active school and I impress on our students, especially those who go on to be history teachers that you should say with great pride that you are a graduate of this School. And I want to give particular honour to a man who couldn’t be here, but our former dean Bill Blayney has been a steadfast supporter since the day I arrived and I know he has gone in to bat for me on many occasions so I truly do thank him for seeing potential in me and value in my work.

So why publish a book like this? A re-examination of Australia’s history and especially of its foreign relations written by 15 leading academics. Well, definitely not because it is easy. A colleague once told me that organising a group of academics is like trying to herd cats, and there is definitely some truth to that. I found 15 hard enough so how Rickie does it so well with a whole school, let alone poor Nick with hundreds of us, I don’t know. It was probably a three year project to put this together and somewhere along the way, I swore to myself that my next book would be solo-authored but I’m very glad I persisted along with my wonderful co-editors Bridget Brooklyn from Western Sydney and Bec Strating from La Trobe because I genuinely believe that interdisciplinary works have an amazing power to open up research questions and start new rich conversations that might never have happened if we kept ourselves hidden in our respective silos.

Interdisciplinary collaboration strongly informs my research and my pedagogy, I completed by PhD at the ANU but deliberately chose not to do it in their School of History but rather in their vibrant Humanities Research Centre because the program exposed me to sociologists, anthropologists, artists, post-colonial scholars and I’m sure my own work was stronger for that. So with this book, we had an initial zoom symposium to discuss our chapter ideas and we had a leading China scholar like John Fitzgerald sharing ideas with distinguished historians like Carol Liston (both are Order of Australia recipients). We also had emerging superstars like Andre Brett who won the 2021 Crawford Medal, the most prestigious early career award in the Humanities, and James Blackwell, a proud Wiradyuri man who is a trail blazer of First Nations international relations.

So despite the occasional irritation of chasing up late chapters and the other slings and arrows that come with editing a book, it was such an honour to lead this project and I’m so grateful to our wonderful authors and most importantly, the diverse backgrounds of interests of the group means that the reader does get a truly unique history of Australia, I’m sure that no other Australian history has chapters dedicated just to Australia’s role as a colonising power in Antarctica like the one written by Elizabeth Buchannan, and Australia’s performance and influence at the United Nations, like the one offered by Jon Piccini and Roland Burke. These important chapters are the result of purposeful interdisciplinary collaboration and asking different questions to the ones a group of historian might have come up with on their own.

This book has been arranged in two parts. The first is a broadly chronological look at Australian history and the second is thematic looking at Australia’s relationships with the US, China, Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. It is a book that doesn’t necessarily have to be read in order and the chapters are coherent on their own. But taken as a whole, I hope the book challenges some of the lazy stereotypes about Australia’s place in the world. There are three chapters that examine Australia’s relationships with Britain and that reflects the historic impact of Britain on this country, but the list of chapters in part 2 demonstrate where Australia is in the world and the relationships which will be the most significant in the future.

In particular, I think Michael O’Keefe’s chapter on Indonesia is highly relevant not only for discussions of the past but especially for discussions of our future. And I’m delighted that our university has worked hard to forge a connection with Indonesia – and just by the by, my latest article for the Conversation was translated into Indonesian – they are interested in us but are we interested in them? Despite being two decades into the Asian century and more than 3 decades since the Garnaut report urged Australia to become Asia literate the old impulse to look to Britain for security is revealed in the recent AUKUS agreement.

As Paul Pickering cheekily notes in his foreword, the temptation to fall back on old habits and hide behind the ample trousers of a bumbling Etonian prime minister remain strong. Now Paul only wrote those words in June and yet it was out of date by the time the book was published not by one prime minister but two as both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have fallen victim to the inner working of the British Conservative party – if only Rishi Sunak had gone to Eton, the line might have been accurate again. But I do think the whole episode suggests that if Australia is looking for security and stability, we might do better somewhere closer to home than 10 Downing Street.

I hope the book challenges readers to think deeply about Australia’s place in the world and also its history, ancient and modern. I have with me a few of the more significant Australian histories from the last century and if you’ll indulge me, I’d just like to read the opening lines. Keith Hancock’s Australia was first published in 1930 and was a popular school text and was continuously in print for about half a century. It begins, “Many nations adventured for the discovery of Australia but the British peoples alone have possessed her”. Manning Clark, perhaps the most influential historian ever in Australia, begins his 6 volume history from 1962 with these words: “civilization did not begin in Australia until the last quarter of the eighteenth century”. And another influential historian A.G.L. Shaw began his 1955 book the Story of Australia by stating, “During the greater part of the history of so-called civilized man, Australia remained a land unknown to the rest of the world, even to its nearest neighbours”. All three of these works are products of their time, of course, and even all these years later there is still a lot of value in reading them but the common narrative is that the Australian story doesn’t really begin until 1788. There were people here but Clark even draws the distinction between a culture and a civilization and even Shaw who throws in the qualifier “so-called” still presents First Nations as passive, static, inward-looking and with no place on the world stage. In the decades since, dozens of new histories have attempted to retell the story but as Stuart Macintyre noted in his still well-read Concise History of Australia from 1999, the British-centric story had been told to generations of Australians and it remains tenacious today.

We open the book noting that a recent prime minster tweeted that “Our modern Australian nation began on January 26, 1788”. This comment was made in the context of a culture war about the date of Australia Day but it still shows the persuasiveness of the British version of Australian history. Obviously the modern Australian nation did not begin in 1788 – that is before the states were formed, the constitution was written, the flag was designed or even the name Australia was coined. Legally at least, the Australia nation has a very clear and obvious beginning on 1 January 1901. The myth of Australia somehow beginning in 1788 has emotional power for some but is patently ahistorical. The Darumbal people here in Rockhampton were blissfully unaware on 27 January 1788 that any great change had taken place on Gadigal country the day before and carried on as normal for over half a century until the arrival of the Archers.

So one hope for this book is that it serves to decentre Britishness from the Australian story. It is an important part, but it is far from the whole story. What is now called Australia was home to engaged, open, and outward-looking people. The British arrived two centuries ago. It is now well-known that First Nations in Arnhem Land took part in what we would today call international trade with Macassans for at least than long prior to 1788. Archaeological research has found evidence of vast international trade networks that are thousands of years older. Pottery shards and other evidence on Lizard Island, 33 kilometres off the coast of northern Queensland, seem to confirm ‘an expansive seascape that linked communities from the Gulf of Papua and northern Queensland’ dating back to the late Holocene. As Billy
Griffiths writes, ‘the sheer antiquity of humanity in Australia – is difficult to fathom’.

The first substantive chapter is written by another proud Wiradyuri man, Lawrence Bamblett and it is simply called before Australia. It’s a chapter I learned a great deal from and serves as a reminder of how deep and rich the history of ancient Australia is – if indeed it is appropriate to still use the word Australia so many centuries before Flinders thought it up. The next chapter by Carol Liston starts with European contact in the early 17th century and finishes with the granting of responsible government in the 1850s. Again, it deliberately unanchors Australian history from Britain and 1788 and really highlights the role of fate and chance in history. Yes it was the British who colonised this land but it might also have been the Portuguese, Dutch, or French, or indeed the Chinese and it was never a certainty that there would be just one colonising power on the vast continent. And as Andre Brett highlights in the following chapter, the shape of the Commonwealth of Australia was never pre-determined either. The Mater Hospital here in Rocky has a particularly grand entrance because it was intended to be the Governor’s mansion after northern Queensland separated from Brisbane – a cause that probably would have been successful had the people of Rockhampton and Townsville agreed where the capital would be.

I’m interested to hear any questions people might have and the School has kindly provided a nice morning tea that I don’t want to keep you away from for much longer but if I can intrude on you patience for a few minutes longer I think there is a real contemporary as well as historical relevance to this book and I would highlight the important chapter by Bec Starting on our relationship with the United States and John Fitzgerald’s chapter on China, especially under Xi Jinping. In addition to the excellent scholarship, I think these chapters invite us to look beyond the false dichotomy of dependence and independence. They provide an alternative reading to the stubbornly persistent idea that Australia’s actions on the world stage have been limited to blindly following its imperial masters first the UK then the US. They suggest a more nuanced view, that Australia has been a deliberate actor on the world stage and that our foreign and defence policy has been shaped by a range of complex and intersecting influences.

Finally my own chapter is titled British Dominion to almost republic and traces the radical transformation of Australian national identity in the second half of the 20th century. It begins with the royal tour of 1954, the monarchic high water mark that saw rapturous crowds visit the new Queen wherever she went, including of course Rockhampton – only a two hour stop off, long enough to drive from the airport to town hall and back again but one that is still fondly remembered – the chair she sat on at town hall has even been preserved by the council and was recently on display. When the tour ended the Sydney Morning Herald uncontroversial concluded that Australia will always be a British nation.

Yet by the end of the following decade, Britain left Australia economically, militarily, and culturally – the attempt to join the European common market was seen as a rejection of preferential commonwealth trade, the east of Suez policy cemented the new reality that the US was Australia’s chief security partner – and even culturally the word British was reclaimed in 1961 to only mean the UK – though prime minister Harold Macmillan did give the prime ministers of Australia, Canada, and NZ a courtesy call to see if they objected – none did.

Generations of Australians have identified with the phrase used by Hancock in 1930 – Independent Australian Britons but following the changes of the 1960s – the Whitlam years and the dawning of a new nationalism, and especially with the passage of the 1986 Australia Acts which cut any ties to British parliament or courts – this was replaced by simply viewing ourselves as independent Australians. The republic referendum of 1999 failed of course and that story will be the topic of my next book – again definitely solo authored – and I can talk at length about the reasons why but suffice to say they are varied and multifaceted and particularly now that the long Elizabethan age has come to a close, it is likely that we will continue to debate what it means to be an Australian and what our place and role on the world stage is in the 21st century. I commend the book to you and thank you for your kind attention.

The book is available for purchase HERE

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Book Review: “Symbols of Australia: Imagining a Nation” By Melissa Harper and Richard White (eds.)

On 9 October 2000, Kerry Jones and Harold Scruby debated if the Australian flag should be changed on Howard Sattler’s 2SM radio program. The dramatis personae touched on the expected topics, weighing the merits of maintaining tradition against ensuring that national symbols are relevant. The debate ended on a humorous note when Scruby asked Jones, ‘how many stars are on the Australian flag?’ The question caught her off guard, and she tried to deflect it, perhaps buying time as she tried to create a mental image. Are there four or five stars in the Southern Cross? Is it the same as New Zealand’s flag? After much goading, she eventually guessed five. There are six.

It was droll to see a professional defender of the Australian flag unable to answer a fundamental question about its design but also instructive. As Elizabeth Kwan’s thoughtful chapter in Symbols of Australia shows, the flag is far more than coloured cloth. It has ‘always invited controversy’.

In 2015, I ran a large survey with the Institute for Culture and Society on alternatives to the current flag. The most popular designs included other symbols that are discussed in the book: kangaroo, wattle, and most frequently, the Southern Cross. I also received many passionate complaints about running the survey at all. These often included the claim that our troops fought for that flag at Gallipoli. The fact that the blue ensign only replaced the Union Jack as the national flag in 1954 did not seem to matter.

Symbols of Australia was published by NewSouth

The desire to defend the national flag does not require a deep knowledge of its history or design. The thugs who took part in the 2005 Cronulla Riots draped themselves in Australian flags. Weeks later, a gang harassed festival-goers at the Big Day Out if they refused to kiss the flag. How many in either group would know how many stars there are or when it became the national flag?

Like Jones, their passion is not for aesthetics but for a meaning they have attached to the flag. When victorious athletes drape the flag around their shoulders, it means something very different from the ardent anti-vaxxer who brandishes it at a ‘freedom’ march, or the school child who raises it before morning assembly. As the editors note, ‘an effective symbol papers over disagreements’.

The national flag is the most obvious symbol of Australia, but it is far from the only one. In Symbols of Australia, edited by Melissa Harper and Richard White, an impressive line-up of academics, journalists, and artists explore the history and changing meaning of twenty-eight Australian symbols. Originally published in 2010 by UNSW Press, the new version includes updated chapters and two new ones: Iain McCalman on the Great Barrier Reef; and Judith Brett on the humble ‘democracy sausage’.

For some authors, the chance to revisit their chapters was particularly helpful. Robert Crawford was able to bring the story of Holden to its sad conclusion, with the company dissolving after Joe Hockey infamously dared General Motors to leave Australia. Roslynn Haynes’ lucid chapter on Uluru now includes the successful campaign for a climbing ban and the inspiration this sacred site gave to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Other authors did not have the benefit of such significant events to report on. Have Australian attitudes towards gum trees or lifesavers changed all that much in the last decade?

Politicians have eagerly attempted to link themselves with many of the symbols that are examined in this book. Many have tried to utilise Anzac symbolism, none more so than the ‘little digger’, Billy Hughes, prime minister during much of World War I. Paul Keating and John Howard attempted to change and preserve the flag respectively. Leaders of all stripes have taken part in the ritual cosplay of wearing an Akubra when leaving their city electorates to visitregional Australia. A study of political appropriation of national symbols would be a fascinating project in itself, but, pleasingly, this work is broader. It is interested in the larger relationship between the symbols and the nation they are supposed to represent.    

National symbols can certainly be commercialised but can they be created for this purpose? The editors conclude in the negative and Foster’s beer, despite literally claiming in a 2000 campaign that ‘I am Australia’, is a noticeable omission. Fosters features prominently in the Barry McKenzie films of the 1970s and again when the Simpsons visited Australia in the 1990s, but this is too contrived and outward-facing for the editors. Like the briefly popular, flag-wearing cleaning products salesman Big Kev, perhaps Fosters tries too hard. Instead, they turn to the humble pavlova, despite the inevitable outcry from New Zealanders, as an authentic Australian symbol.   

There is some irony that Australia has no distinctive claim to its most enduring symbol, the Southern Cross. The ancient constellation predates European colonisation, is visible throughout the southern hemisphere, and features in the flags of New Zealand, Brazil, PNG, Samoa, as well as Australia. Despite this, it has been appropriated and indigenised with an enduring tenacity. On the Eureka flag, it was waved by radicals in the nineteenth century just as conservatives saluted it on the blue ensign in the twentieth. In this century, it is both the most common Australian tattoo and the most frequently removed.

Its appeal transcends political groups – the definition of an effective symbol. While militant unionists brandied it in the 1998 waterfront disputes, two decades later Pope Benedict XVI blessed it in the form of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, a painting that hangs in Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral. The religious element is significant. As Jane Taylor notes, it was only ever a cross to European eyes. For hundreds of generations, First Nations in Australia and South America looked to the stars and saw something very different.

Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Help of Christians, hangs in St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney.

Mark McKenna’s chapter, the standout in a fine collection, explores the complex symbolism of the Crown. Perhaps the most malleable symbol in the book, it is ‘abstract and concrete, at once foreign and indigenous’. It entered Australia through what he perspicaciously calls a ‘kind of sorcery’. James Cook stood on Possession Island in 1770, performed a special ritual, and the traditional county of First Nations somehow became Crown land.

Of all the symbols in this book, the Crown is the only one that faces formal opposition (the Australian Republic Movement) and that one day may be legally expunged. Its historic flexibility shows what a difficult task this is. Despite the seeming contradictions, it has morphed from a symbol of British imperialism to one of Australian democracy. As Anne Twomey succinctly writes, it is a ‘chameleon Crown’.

Like the editors and other authors, McKenna accepts the Andersonian dictum that all communities larger than primordial villages are imagined. There is, however, great power in these collective imaginations. Especially for those who would like to see the British crown removed (or the flag changed), the first task is ‘to understand, rather than mock’ the mystical power of the symbol.

The editors overreach in claiming that Australians are ‘particularly enthusiastic’ about symbols and have ‘more than their fair share’. From Ernest Gellner to Eric Hobsbawm, scholars generally agree that the nation, in the formal, diplomatic sense that the editors use the term, is both a novel and modern construction. Australians were not ‘relative latecomers to nation-making’, as the editors claim. They had over half a century head start on the dozens of nations created in the decades after World War II. From official government designs, to landscapes, flora, fauna, and the things we wear and eat; all nations are in the symbol business.

Australia is not uniquely a ‘land of symbols’ and in 2018 Canadian scholars had no difficulty in publishing a similar work on their national symbols. That does not lessen the worthiness of this collection. Symbols of Australia provides a fascinating insight into how twenty-eight Australian symbols came to assume a prominent place in the collective imagination.

You can find the book HERE.

Benjamin T. Jones is a Senior lecturer in history at Central Queensland University and a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Studies Institute. He has published extensively on Australian politics and history with a focus on national identity and republicanism. His most recent books are This Time: Australia’s Republican Past and Future (Redback, 2018) and History in a Post-Truth World: Theory and Praxis (Routledge, 2020).

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Book Launch Speech: “This Time: Australia’s Republican Past and Future” by Benjamin T. Jones

I was thrilled to have my new book on the history and future of Australian republicanism launched in Sydney by Chair of the Australian Republican Movement, Peter FitzSimons, and in Canberra by Shadow Minister for an Australian Head of State, Matt Thistlethwaite. Below is the speech I delivered at the Sydney launch. The book can be bought HERE.

Good evening fellow citizens. Thank you for coming out to support me and this new book and more importantly for supporting the noble cause of an Australian republic.

We have just survived January, the month where Australia has its annual identity crisis and the media is littered with articles proposing change. This year has been dominated by calls to change the date of Australia Day but there are also calls to change the flag, change the coins and, of course, to change the constitution so that Australia can have an Australian head of state.

Those who are passionate about these causes tend to see them as distinct from each other. And while they are different – a republic doesn’t need a new flag or vice-versa – there is clearly some overlap. The tension points when it comes to Australia’s constitution and national symbols are all places where anachronistic emblems of empire remain.

Is it a problem that these imperial relics remain in modern Australia? I would argue that it does because the purpose of national symbols and imperials symbols is quite different. National symbols exist to promote uniqueness whereas imperial symbols promote homogeneity.

At the Canberra book launch with Michael Cooney

In my new book, I differentiate between two Australias. There is no revolution, no precise date, and no definitive turning point, but the Australia that federated in 1901 is simply not the same as the Australia that cheered Cathy Freeman onto gold in the 2000 Olympics. I call this Old Australia and New Australia.

Old Australia saw itself as British first, Britons who lived abroad. Old Australia wanted a flag that did not stand apart but was similar to the one flown by British subjects in New Zealand or Canada. Old Australia celebrated, not Australia Day but Empire Day like their fellow Britons around the world. And, of course, Old Australia recognised and revered the British monarch just as much as their kith and kin at “home”.

New Australia is fundamentally different. It is different at a psychological and philosophical level. Psychologically, Australians no longer identify as Britons abroad but simply as Australian. Of equal importance, Australia has grown into its democracy. At a philosophic level, Australians do not accept that some are born to rule and others to serve. We are all equal under the Southern Cross and the principle of egalitarianism is a national totem.

Australians are good at celebrating our sporting achievements, we are good at respecting our Anzacs and remembering our military history, and historically we have been very good at showering honour on the British royals.

But Australia also has a remarkable democratic tradition and we should get better at cherishing our democracy. From the secret ballot to votes for women to compulsory voting, Australia has been a world leader in its commitment to democracy. But our democracy cannot be perfect unless every public position is filled democratically.

This new book has a lot of interesting history in it. It looks at colonial republicanism, the identity crisis after empire, the 1999 referendum and the current republic debate. It contains many suggestions for the way forward: a proposed preamble, a hybrid republic model that takes advantage of our current federal system, and a refutation of monarchist arguments. But most importantly, the book is conversation starter.

If we really care about our democracy and want the principles of meritocracy and egalitarianism enshrined in our law as well as our hearts, then republicans must fire up and push the issue back onto the national agenda.

I say this is an expectant Dad, until we can say to our children that they can grow up to be anything they want in this great country – and mean it – until we can honestly say to our kids you can rise as far as your talent and effort will take you, even to the very top – until we can say that truthfully, the system is broken. Let’s fix it.

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Book Review: “Murder In Tottenham: Australia’s first political assassination” by Rowan Day

The beauty of semester break is that I can finally turn my eyes from marking essays to some of the books and articles I’ve been meaning to read. One of the first I picked up was Rowan Day’s ominously titled, Murder in Tottenham. I was lucky enough to be at the book launch at Sydney’s historic Trades Hall. The sense of history was thick in the air and befitted a book dealing with the turbulent and often violent times when union clashes with the police and government were common.

Day presents a fascinating account of the revolutionary unionists, the International Workers of the World (IWW), popularly known as the Wobblies. The picture he paints is one of wild idealism and violent struggle for the mythical paradise for workers in the early days of Federation. He writes:

“The Tottenham Wobblies and their associates have been largely forgotten, despite doing everything imaginable to insert themselves into the history books. They rebelled against a economic and political structure they despised. They did this not only in Tottenham, but across Australia, New Zealand and America. The fact that some of them resorted to bullets and bombs shows just how fierce this struggle was” (p.159).

The focus of the book is refreshing. Rather than the heady political atmosphere in Sydney during World War I – ground well covered by historians of New South Wales – Day turns his attention to the small mining town of Tottenham. It was here that George Duncan, the only police officer in town was murdered by two Wobblies.

The book’s claim to cover Australia’s first political assassination is perhaps a stretch. Day reasons that Duncan was the highest symbol of state authority figure in the town and “For this reason, his killing can be seen as a political assassination” (p.159). Yet the evidence presented in the book does not really suggest the murderers were politically motivated. Indeed, the murder seems the only non-political event in the whole tale. Frank Franz and Roland Kennedy objected to Duncan’s heavy-handed policing. Kennedy knew he was wanted by Duncan and both he and Franz were intoxicated when they fired bullets into the officer’s back. There is little sense that the murder was on behalf of the Wobblies or to further their cause.

Whether the reader accepts this as a political assassination per se or simply a murder in a political climate – the throes of the Australian conscription debate and mass industrial action – the narrative is compelling.

Where Day really shines is bringing in the wider context of the global Wobblies movement. He shows the interconnectivity of the early twentieth century Anglosphere and the terror revolutionary unionism inspired not only for conservatives but the acceptable left and even political trade unionists. Indeed, it was Labor Prime Minister (later Labor rat) Billy Hughes who insisted the Wobblies “must be attacked with the ferocity of a Bengal Tiger” (p.82).

The Sydney Twelve trial, which found IWW members guilty of treason, was still in session when Franz and Kennedy were tried. The hysteria of the period is palpable in Day’s account. This fed into the most outrageous death sentence to be delivered in Australian legal history. Allegedly promised a reduced sentence and even a monetary reward for his family, Franz decided to turn Crown’s witness. His subsequent execution was unprecedented. As Day explains;

“Never in Australian history, before or since, has somebody been executed after becoming a witness for the Crown or ‘turning King’s evidence’” (p.115).

Such was the terror inspired by the Wobblies and the ruthless pursuit by the government and employer groups to destroy them.

Day’s book sheds a welcome light on rural politics in turn of the century New South Wales. He finishes with a poignant discussion if the Tottenham Wobblies belong in Russel Ward’s Australian Legend. The State’s fierce determination to suppress the IWW is also helpfully unpacked.

As Day notes:

“That a Cabinet in the process of preparing an anti-capital punishment bill would so firmly endorse two hangings … shows clearly that this was a time unique in modern Australian history” (p.126).

This book is well worth the read if for no other reason than it has some eerie similarities to many Western governments in the age of terrorism. Certainly in Australia, the state seems no more open to revolutionary groups or even counter opinions now than it was 100 years ago when Day’s story takes place.

In short, this is well written and superbly researched (as befits a book emerging from a PhD thesis). More importantly it is a good yarn and an exciting period in Australian history. Whether or not the murder was political – everything else in the book most certainly is.