Peopling Australia

Module code: HS2317

Module co-ordinator: Dr Katherine Foxhall 

Module Outline

In 2001, the Aboriginal Australian sprinter, Cathy Freeman, was awarded the title of World Sportswoman of the Year after becoming Olympic 400m champion at the Sydney Games. In 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples for past laws and policies that inflicted ‘profound grief, suffering and loss’. What history lies behind such prominent celebrations and condemnations of modern Australian society? How has our sense of Australia’s history so profoundly changed, that the idea of Europeans settling a ‘quiet continent’ has given way to fiery debates about violent dispossession, and its meaning for the modern nation?

Topics covered

From the earliest European ideas about the very existence of a southern continent, and the first contacts of Aboriginal inhabitants with Europeans, this course takes students through the major themes and debates of the colonial period up to the creation of the Australian Commonwealth in 1901. Weekly topics include exploration, frontier violence, convict society, immigration, race, explosive urban development, the Gold Rush, political reform and youth culture. Each week focuses on a different social group and analyses their place in the the emergence of modern Australian society from the eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. Explorers, Aboriginal Australians, convicts, immigrants, gold hunters, bush rangers, Victorian scientists and stolen children bring to life the different approaches and debates that have shaped academic understanding of Australian history. Considering why terms including ‘black armband’, genocide, frontier wars and the ‘convict stain’ have produced such emotive discussions in Australian public and academic historical discussions takes us to the heart of some of the most important questions in modern global history.  


This course is taught through one lecture and one seminar each week. Seminars will include discussions of key themes from set reading, and student-led source analysis workshops.


Assessment is a 100% coursework consisting of two 2,500 word essays.


  • James Boyce, Van Diemen’s Land (2010)
  • Manning Clark, A History of Australia (1993)
  • Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy (2008)
  • Patricia Grimshaw et al, Creating a Nation (1994)
  • Grace Karskens, The Colony (2011)
  • Stuart Macintyre, A Concise History of Australia (1999)
  • Robert Manne (ed.), Whitewash (2003)
  • Kirsten McKenzie, Scandal in the Colonies (2005)
  • D.M. Schreuder & Stuart Ward (eds.) Australia’s Empire (2008)