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Clare Wright is a historian who's on a mission to rewrite history, giving women their voice and place in our past. A piece of the jigsaw so far virtually missing. Live by CSI Australia
This Program is Captioned Live by CSI Australia Welcome to One Plus One. I'm Jane Hutcheon. Clare Wright won Women's
the 2014 Stella Prize for Women's Literature with her Eureka'.
book 'The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka'. She's presented and written TV documentaries, including 'The War That Changed Us' and 'Utopia Girls'. She is an academic who tries to dig into myths about Australia's past to reveal a different truth to what we've been used to reading and hearing. At a time when this country marks the centenary of the First World War, Clare Wright Clare
discusses how history happens. Plus
Clare Wright, welcome to One Plus One.Thank you, it's lovely to be here.You're a historian. You've presented TV shows about Australia's history. There's always a focus, or there has been a focus on the role of women. You were born in Michigan and you came out to Australia with your mum in the '70s. Why did you come here? My mum and dad split up when I was young and my mum met an Australian academic. He was doing his PhD which
at York University in Toronto, which is where my dad had his first teaching job. It was the 70s. My mum and my dad lived together with my - the fella who to become my stepfather and his first wife, Australian wife. The couple split up. My mum and the Australian fellow stayed together. Then she came out here to marry him so we immigrated here when I was 5.That's quite complex.Yeah, I guess so. I don't know. When it's your story, you just - it's just the story of you. It seems entirely natural to me that that's the way that I came to Australia. But in a way, I've always thought that because I came from somewhere else, in that sense, I'm a first generation immigrant, that I've been slightly outside of Australia's story. It's like standing outside a house and the lights are on and you're on the periphery looking back in. That can be alienating but also liberating in a way because you can take a different perspective of what's going on in that house.So you came to Australia but your mum - there was a father figure in your life.Two! My father and my stepfather.So where did this focus on strong women come from, do you think? Well, I had a very strong relationship with my mother in that we were very attached and yet she wasn't a particularly guiding force in my life in terms of setting a moral compass - she was very much somebody who believed in independence, in me taking - charting my own course in life. Writing my own story, if you will. I've only come to appreciate much later actually how strong an influence she was, how brave she must have been, how courageous she was to make the sort of moves she made in her life. But I think I kind of attached myself to other female figures who I saw as possibly providing that sort of inspiration or the kind of moral ballast through their stories that perhaps I didn't feel that I had.So what kind of characters appealed to you when you were young? I remember when I did Year 12 'No Place For A Nervous
history, we read a book called 'No Place For A Nervous Woman' that was written by - it was an edited collection by a woman called Lucy Frost. It was a collection of stories that were based on diaries and letters that women in the 19th century had written. I remember one line from that that came through really strongly. It was that you had to have a strong sense of self to be able to survive in this frontier environment. I later became really interested in the women who had been part of the early suffrage movement in America fighting for women's rights, women who were kind of of their time but ahead of their time as well. The ones who stood for something and were prepared to fight for it as well. I kind of took on their mantle a bit There were
when I was in high school. There were a few causes, a few times where I felt like I needed to stand up on behalf of the student body or because I felt something wasn't going right. Yeah, it was historic al figures that guided me in that.So how does a child develop a sense of self? Because you have three children now. Is this something that has been imparted to you that you also give to your children? How do you develop an idea that you can stand on your own feet? Well, in my own relationship with my kids, the family life that I've tried to develop, has been one that's very based around having a strong and abiding family home. We have a very strong family culture. We're very attached to each other. We have a strong set of values that bind us together. We spend a lot of time together. We spend a lot of leisure time together. So we work and we play together and I For
think that that's important. For me, maybe this is coming from a broken home myself. My husband and I have been together now for 26 years, since we were 19 - we met in first-year uni. Having that very grounded marriage I think has provided the bedrock for my kids and our family life in a way that perhaps I didn't have.Was there a particular part of history that you absolutely loved when you were a child? I don't remember having much of an historical imagination when I was a child but I certainly was attracted to Australian history by the time that my historical imagination was fired up. a
Whether that was because I had a fantastic history teacher in Year 12, Australian history teacher, who really inspired me. She was this very plain woman who seemingly had not much going for her but when she started talking about history, she just shone. She lit up. It inside
really was like some light inside her came on and she was fluent in it, she was passionate about it. It was that, I think, that really inspired me. That sense of passion and that you could have that about something as obtuse and as vague and as impractical as history. That I really loved. So when I went to arts law
university, I actually started arts law and I did a year of law and it left me totally cold. I did it because I got the marks and because it was a high-status course and because that's what smart girls were supposed to do but it was history which is what I felt turned the light bulb on in me.You said "Something as impractical as history". Do you really believe that? I see with my own kids now, my eldest is 18, he is doing his Year 12, and I see how much the kids are will
guided towards an idea of what will get them somewhere in a very practical vocation al sense. Not necessarily by the schools but by a general cultural anxiety about where this will lead to. They have a very narrow sense of where something is going to get them. That's what I mean by the impracticality of it. I have a lot of students who come to me at uni and say "I just love history but my parents don't want me to keep doing it because they don't know what it's going to get me". How will I convince them this is worth it, particularly when we are paying money for our university courses now and if our governments have their way, we'll be paying even more for them? There is that real sense that, if you're going to be paying money, you need to know what the outcome of this investment is going to be. An historian? What does an historian do? I think one of your first books, which probably was one of your first theses, was on female publicans. Were you always women
going to write and talk about women in history? I don't think I necessarily set about to say "I was going to be a feminist historian". I wasn't guided by a kind of ideological barrow that I wanted to push. What I was more interested in was exploring my world, things I saw going on around me but with a historical context. That early work on female publicans came out of my first honours thesis. My honours thesis was called 'Real Women Do Shout'. It was a history of female pub culture. That came because my boyfriend at the time, now my husband, was a football player and I used to go out to his suburban footy club on the I
weekends and watch him play and I was really interested in the fact that, after the games, there seemed to be this divide along gender lines in the clubrooms when drinking started to happen. The men would stand around the bar and drink beer and the girls would stand in a circle sipping kind of girly drinks. Although I felt more drawn to the conversations of the men, I didn't feel like I could stand with them there. I decided to look at the way that alcohol consumption had been gendered. So that led me to women, in particular to interviewing women who had been drinking in pubs or working in pubs or running pubs.You also, with your husband, went on a bit of a tour of the country to actually research that. Did what you read in the books meld with what you saw in real life? Everybody had a story, an anecdote, about a woman who had run a pub somewhere around Australia. There seemed to be this social memory of female publicans, of women as hotel keepers, and that didn't square with the literature really at all. The popular cultural understanding of the pub in was
Australian history was that it was no place for a woman. There were all those depictions of women sitting inside their cars out the front of the pub and men coming and serving them a drink -Waiting for the husbands.Or women stuck out the back in the lady's lounge as some kind of sexual apartheid in the pub. Then there this was nationalist masculine narrative of who Australians were and where Australian-ness was it
located and that was a pub and it was a man's place. That didn't square with what the it was
social memory seemed to be. So it was that that I wanted to investigate, what was going on there, and so I went back to the archives and I started looking into who actually was running pubs, who ran the hotel industry, who was in charge of alcohol distribution particularly in the 19th century? What I came up with, emperkcally, it was largely women. Because this theme about the role of women in our history, you took this further when you won the Stella Prize in 2014 with 'The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka' and you had been told by a lot of your colleagues and by a lot of Eureka
historians that Eureka, the Eureka Stockade, had basically been done to death in terms of a research topic and yet you found that a whole load of stories about women who were involved in that event had just basically been buried. I suppose we could say this is true of numerous historical events, not just in this country. Why has that been? It's funny, since people have Forgotten Rebels of
been reading my book, 'The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka', which writes women back into the story of the Eureka Stockade, they've been saying to me - it's really a tense kind of exercise reading my book because they get to the end of it and they think "If we thought we knew the story of the Eureka Stockade and we've read your book and we clearly didn't know what really happened, how many other stories have we been told that we don't really know about, in particular we don't know how women might have been involved? We have just assumed women weren't there". So it leaves them with a nervousness about the knowledge base they think they have. Again, for me, that was - the Eureka book was an exercise in going back to the archive and asking questions of the historical records that hadn't been asked before. So rather than swallow the myth whole, the myth that the Eureka Stockade was an exclusively masculine affair, male miners and male military fighting it considered to
out for rights that are now considered to be the birth this is
place of Australian democracy - this is what - that's the way I was taught it in school and still very much the way it's taught at school, that's how my daughter is learning about it in primary school. Instead of swallowing that narrative, it was actually questioning that narrative.But does this questioning basically need to go on in every major story that we hear, not only about our own history in this country but other major events around the world? Absolutely. Absolutely.Is it being done? I think there's amazing research that's there in today's universities all around the world. It's being done by post graduate students, by a doctor or students all the time.So what was the reason that historians originally wrote women out of history? Well, I think it's a combination of things. If you were talking about the Eureka Stockade in particular, part of the reason was that nobody wanted to be talking about that event at the time. I would argue that one of the reasons that, after it happened nobody wanted to talk about it, was because people knew that the British Government had knowingly fired on a civilian population that included women and children. It wasn't until the 30th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade that people started to reflect back on it and what it had meant. By that stage, we were in a process of Australian nation-building that was about the virile pioneers of this country, looking towards a nation-building exercise that was considered largely being perpetuated by men. Nation building is seen largely as a masculine domain because it's a public endeavour, because it's a political endeavour. That's the way those histories were the
written and the historians at the time, the only ones who could go to universities, were men also. Then those stories get passed down. Those agendas, in a sense, also get passed down. So the sediments start to build over the top of what actually happened so it involves chipping away at those I
stories and then - this is what I was getting to before about the incredible work being done by post-graduate students, then it's about getting those stories out there. That's not an easy thing to do out either. To get them published, to get them told, to get an audience for a story that runs counter to our nationalist narratives.You talk about the nationalist narrative. We are entering a massive period of discussing, looking, seeing the narrative around us as we go towards Anzac Day. In your view, is this an exciting time for a historian or is it a depressing time in that you see a particular narrative that maybe doesn't quite square with the truth? I would say that it's both of those things - depressing and exciting. Depressing because the stories that get the lion's share of the massive amount of funding that is going into what some have called the Anzac industry portray a particularly narrow view of those events 100 years ago.So you do see it as an industry? There's no doubt there's an industry around the celebration of Anzac and what it means and what it means to us as Australians. That's an played
industry that's both being played out at government levels but right down to beer companies that will sell their product on the basis of proud Aussies and their proud traditions, that they'll somehow manage to link back to drinking beer. It's not that we should not remember the soldiers and what they did but that that particular narrative ends up drowning out the great diversity of strands of that story.If we can unpack that a little bit, the narrative - I suppose the myth if we are going to call it that, is that these very young Australian soldiers went to a for far-away land to fight on our behalf and got slaughtered but, in their deaths, rose this great character of the sort of larrikin, brave Aussie soldier. Strip it down.So, you could call that a myth. It's also reasonably close to the truth in terms of what actually happened. It's what you do with that story, where you go with it afterwards that can be the problem. It's about whether you build up an idea of yourself as a country that is based on militarism, that those virtues of Australian-ness, the - The Australian-ness, that sense of courage, of standing by your mates, of what you have to bring to the world, if those things only get located within a militarist narrative, well then you have to keep going and fighting wars in order to prove that. But there was a lot going on in Australia before the First World War. In fact, Australia was already known on the world stage before this idea that it was Gallipoli that launched us into the world, where we proved ourselves as a global player. Australia was well and truly already a global country
player. We were the first country in the world to give women full political equality. That's the right to vote and the right to stand for Parliament. New Zealand women won the right to vote in 1893 but not the eligibility to sit in Parliament until 1919. Australia was the absolute pace-setter of the world in terms of best democratic practice, and they knew it and they were proud of it.So who obfuscated that idea of our replaced
proud democratic past and replaced it, if you like, with the legend of Gallipoli? Who's responsible for that? I don't think you can point the finger at one particular person -Is it politicians or historians? It's been both. It's been a combination of those things. Historians definitely have cemented those stories in terms of the national imagination.And politicians, obviously, use them for their own purposes? And then politicians use them and politicians are selective about which historians they choose to quote, which narratives they choose to use in their speeches, for example. So there are other things about Australia that could be touted as being world-leading, as being progressive. But they're much more seen as being part of a Leftist narrative in Australia that is also associated with other trends like and conscription - anti-conscription. So those very women who had fought for Australia to win those rights in the first place and who were going out into the world and who were feted all over the world as being symbols of this turn of the century progressivism, these women were very often the anti-war activists when it came to the First World War, they were You
anti-conscription campaigners. You don't often get a politician who is prepared now to stand behind what is considered to be a Left tradition. So conservative voices come in and fill that space, conservative historians, conservative social commentators, conservative journalists.These days we like celebrities to present our history or even celebrity historians to present our history to us. But historians actually have a massive think
obligation, don't think? I think they do. They have - many historians are very aware of their civic duty. A sense that they have a kind of public contribution to make but they're not always the best communicate ors. They're not always the most glamorous-looking in a celebrity kind of centred are
culture that we have now. We are not taught in universities generally to be able to communicate the results of our research in a way that is immediately engaging with a general public and so I think sometimes we do ourselves as historians a disservice by not being able to take the message more widely.Do you think we want to know about our own history? I think Australians are really interested in their own story. I mean, look at genealogy, it's up there with gardening and fishing as the most important and well-attended pastimes in Australian history. Australians are very interested in their own personal histories, in their family stories and I think that we can sometimes believe that Australia has a small - has a short history, not much happened and yet we also restrict ourselves into what we believe is our history. wars
So things like the frontier wars in Australia. We are still fighting in our national institutions about whether to represent something like the frontier wars at a place like the Australian War Memorial. It's very difficult for schools to start to teach that as part of their curriculum when not even the national institutions have got their acts together about how they are going to relate to our past and certainly to some of the more difficult aspects, more complex aspects of our past. You can't just learn history because it's going to be a celebration.To finish, perhaps a slightly glib question, but I used to have a friend and we often would look at people and try to fit them into a period of history, "That person's definitely Jane Austen. He would look good in Do you
breeches" et cetera, et cetera. Do you ever imagine a period of history you think you'd be very happy living in? I guess I think about that question a little bit differently. That question sometimes phrased as "Who would you like to have dinner with if you could go back in time and have anybody at your dinner table?". The person I'd like to pull up a seat next to and have a good old natter is Vida Goldstein who was the leader of the of
suffrage movement at the turn of the 20th century.In Australia.In Australia, although she travelled to England, America. She was the first Australian I can find who met an American President at the White House. She was invited by Teddy Roosevelt into the Oval Office because he wanted to see what a fully enfranchised woman looked like. she
She might have had two heads, she was scruffy and unkempt and sprouted hair like a man, because that's what everybody said would happen if women got the vote, they would become mannish. She went to England, spoke to suffragettes who were bombing Parliament, throwing in order
themselves in front of horses in order to get the attention of the British public and the Parliament to give women the right to vote. This was life or death stuff. Vida Goldstein was at the very pinnacle of that movement. She represented Australia that was at the time the most enlightened, the most dramatic country in the world. She fought her guts out for that and yet everybody at the time said she was dignified, she had a beautiful speaking voice, she was intelligent, she was graceful and Vida had to make decisions I would never have to make in my lifetime. She chose not to marry so that she could devote herself to public life, to political life, to work for the benefit of all women and children. These are the sorts of choices that I don't have to make because women like that came before me.Clare Wright, it has been a great pleasure. Thank you for speaking with One Plus One.Thanks for having me here. One Plus One is available on iView. You can browse the archive or contact us through the website. Stay in touch and leave comments via Facebook. You can also follow me on Twitter. I look forward to your company next time. From me, goodbye. This program is not captioned.

Today - a raging bushfire in south west WA moves closer to the dairy farming town of Harvey. Meanwhile, the number of homes lost in historic Yarloop rises to 131, but the West Australian Government promises to rebuild the town. I have no doubt there will be a Yarloop, probably not as big and yes the State will assist in rebuilding public facilities. Also today - in Mount Isa, a man is charged over a one-punch attack that's left a woman fighting for her life in hospital. Mexican authorities recapture the fugitive drug lord known as El Chapo, who tunnelled his way out of jail last year. And Bernard Tomic has been eliminated from the Brisbane International, going