Lecture to outline convict links with today’s society

Published 03 September 2009

convictsThe author of the highly-regarded Australian history A Cargo of Women will support the idea of a convict influence on many enduring qualities in Australian society when she presents the Russel Ward Annual Lecture at the University of New England next week.

Babette Smith says that research in the convict archives since 1958, when the UNE historian Russel Ward published his famous book The Australian Legend, supports Ward’s proposal of such a link between Australian society today and the nation’s convict past.

“Our inability to understand this earlier,” she says, “has been due to our shame about the convicts, which prevented us from examining the nation’s origins in detail, and has resulted in a distorted version of reality.”

A notable example of this convict heritage, she says, is Australians’ “distinctive egalitarianism”.

Ms Smith’s lecture will be at 7 pm on Tuesday 8 September in the A2 Lecture Theatre in UNE’s Arts Building. Titled “Convict Australia in legend and reality: the genius of Russel Ward”, this free public lecture will be a special History Week event for the History Council of NSW. Everyone is welcome.

A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson & the Convicts of the Princess Royal, a study of 100 female convicts transported to Australia, is frequently used for teaching Australian history and has been widely cited by academics.

Ms Smith’s most recent book, Australia’s Birthstain, rewrites the story of Australia’s convict foundations, revealing the involvement of British politicians and clergy in creating a “birthstain” that reached far beyond convict crimes. Drawing on the work of family historians and her own detailed research in archives in Britain and Australia, she overturns the myths on which so much Australian history has been based to lay out the reality of the convict era and the lives of the men and women transported to Australia.

The Russel Ward Annual Lecture, presented by UNE’s School of Humanities, honours the memory and legacy Emeritus Professor Russel Braddock Ward, who was one of the University’s most renowned scholars. Professor Ward taught at UNE from 1957, and was the University’s Deputy Chancellor from 1981 to 1989. He himself delivered the inaugural lecture in the series on the 25th of August 1986. Subsequent speakers included Henry  Reynolds, Ann Curthoys, Ken Inglis, Barry Smith, Stuart Macintyre, Geoffrey Blainey and Gillian Cowlishaw.