Public lecture to interpret echoes of the Boer War

Published 31 August 2011

boerwarA public lecture at the University of New England on Thursday 8 September will examine Australia’s complex relationship with South Africa at the time of the Boer War, and subsequent links between the two countries.

The prize-winning author and historian Jim Davidson will present his insights into this relationship when he gives this year’s Russel Ward Annual Lecture at UNE.

“Australia entered the Boer War enthusiastically as an imperial cause,” Dr Davidson said. “Nonetheless the war had, until recent attempts to revive its memory, faded from public consciousness – save for the Ned Kelly-like figure of ‘Breaker’ Morant.”

His lecture, at 6 pm in the A2 Lecture Theatre in UNE’s Arts Building, will examine the reasons for this and the legacies of the war on Australia’s relationship with South Africa. “Although eclipsed in the apartheid era, Australia’s relations with South Africa have been persistent and complex,” he said.

He will highlight the existence of a large community of Australian miners in South Africa around the time the war began – and after. “Indeed, South Africa at that time could be said to have been Australia’s forgotten frontier,” he said. “Moreover, these miners played a crucial role in determining the racist cast of twentieth-century South African politics.”

Dr Davidson will also consider South African influences in Australia, such as that of the writer Olive Schreiner. “As a feminist and passionate anti-war campaigner she had considerable influence on Australian opponents of the Boer War,” he said. And he will discuss the influence of the war on the Australian writer Miles Franklin, “giving an edge to her early feminism”.

Jim Davidson is an Associate Professor and Principal Research Fellow at the Australian Centre in the University of Melbourne’s School of Historical and Philosophical Studies. He is the author of two highly-praised biographies: Lyrebird Rising, the story of the music patron Louise Hanson-Dyer, and A Three-Cornered Life: The Historian W.K. Hancock, which was described by the eminent historian Geoffrey Blainey as “one of the very best Australian biographies about a mind at work”. A Three-Cornered Life won the prize for non-fiction in The Age Book of the Year Awards for 2011, and is shortlisted for this year’s NSW Premier’s History Prize.

Dr Davidson was the editor of Meanjin from 1974 to 1982, and has published an acclaimed edition of Anthony Trollope’s South Africa.

The Russel Ward Annual Lecture, sponsored by UNE’s School of Humanities, honours the memory and legacy of Emeritus Professor Russel Braddock Ward, one of UNE’s most renowned scholars. Russel Ward taught at UNE from 1957, and was Deputy Chancellor of the University from 1981 to 1989. He was the author of a number of important books, including The Australian Legend (1958), A Nation for a Continent (1977) and Finding Australia (1987).

For more information on the lecture, phone Dr David Roberts at UNE on (02) 6773 3794 (e-mail: