2015 Ernest Scott Prize winners announced

July 15 / 162

Professor Joy Damousi presents the Ernest Scott Prize to joint winners Alan Atkinson (right) and Tom Brooking (left).
Professor Joy Damousi presents the Ernest Scott Prize to joint winners Alan Atkinson (right) and Tom Brooking (left).

 

Historians Alan Atkinson and Tom Brooking are joint winners of this year’s Ernest Scott Prize.

 

Awarded to work based upon original research that is, in the opinion of the examiners, the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonization, the Ernest Scott Prize is proudly supported by the History Program in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts and the Australian Historical Association. The winners were awarded $7,500 each.

 

The winners were judged by Associate Professor Katie Pickles (University of Canterbury) and Professor David Lowe (Deakin University) and announced at the Australian Historical Association(AHA) 34th Annual Conference, held at The University of Sydney, on Thursday 9 July, by Professor Joy Damousi.

 

The Ernest Scott prize was founded by Emily Scott to perpetuate the memory of her husband Emeritus Professor Sir Ernest Scott Knight Bachelor. 

 

Ernest Scott was professor of History at the University was for 23 years, from 1913 to 1936.

 

Born outside wedlock, raised by his grandparents and enjoying no higher education, he worked as a journalist for twenty years. As a young Fabian and Theosophist, he married the daughter of Annie Besant and migrated to Melbourne in 1892. His books on Australian exploration history made Scott into a professional among amateurs and antiquarians. He inspired his students to do archival research and to ask critical questions of popular historical mythologies. A generation of young Australians learned about the country's past from his notable Short History of Australia (1916).

 

The prize commemorates his interest in the development of Australian historical studies.

 

The judges’ citations can be read below:

 

Alan Atkinson, The Europeans in Australia: Volume 3: Nation, UNSW Press, 2014.

 

In the third and final volume of his history of The Europeans in Australia, Alan Atkinson pursues his inquiry into relationships between community and communication in Australia during the period between 1870 and the end of the First World War. The idea of ‘Australia’ nourished the hopes of those who judged their progress in moral or spiritual terms as it took shape in ways political, especially in the process of federation.

 

Showing how maps made people think differently, reading lessons changed accents and telephones connected voices, Atkinson’s work is akin to a ‘bottom up’ Australian version of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. He enables us to sense change through evolving notions of manhood and womanhood, and moves nimbly between colonies and schools, families and parliaments, Aboriginal-White frontier violence and urban clubs. All the while, he says, Australians were feeling their way towards a marriage between continental nationhood and moral purpose.

 

Nation is organised mostly by considering Australians wondering and striving in relation to Enlightenment ideals in their distinctive circumstances. Atkinson turns to lead figures in this wrestle, such as Alfred Deakin and Rose Scott, and joins them with glimpses of Australia as seen from regional newspapers, medical pamphlets, and diverse other sources.  His great skill in exposing and reflecting on different forms of Australian conversation is to invite us into the realms by which Australians understood themselves and the times in which they lived. He achieves intimacy with his many characters by giving them their voices and by standing, as an author, in a close and sympathetic listening position. The result is a rich, and often audible, vista of humanity.

 

Tom Brooking, Richard Seddon, King of God’s Own: The Life and Times of New Zealand’s Longest-Serving Prime Minister, Penguin Books, Auckland, 2014.

 

Tom Brooking has produced a handsome, richly illustrated biography of Richard Seddon, New Zealand’s longest-serving Prime Minister (1893-1906) and arguably the country’s greatest leader. As Brooking shows in detail, Seddon was a defining leader through times of policy reform that did much to define the social contract in New Zealand. He was not always the primary agent of change, and followed slowly rather than led the move towards the vote for women, but his dedication to reducing inequality and building a robust role for the state in this ongoing task was unstinting. It extended to important infrastructure such as the railways, institutions such as the Bank of New Zealand, and polices ranging from pensions and housing to energy and environmental protection.

 

One of Seddon’s great strengths was his preparedness to strike out on foot through the electorates, and engage with those who would seek to speak with him. He was a big man, and through the pages of this big, meticulously-researched book (including a rich, 36-page Bibliography) we feel his strides. The strong connection with people underpinned his transformation into popular and even populist leader. As Brooking shows, he was always solidly grounded too, in his formative experiences of growing up in a rugged masculine environment and cutting his political teeth by championing miners’ rights (while developing an enduring hostility to Chinese immigrants) and better education, roads and services for the west coast.

 

Seddon was known for his dedication to family, and a talking point was his appointment of his daughter Mary Stuart as his private secretary. As Brooking makes clear, his wife Louisa, Mary Stuart and five other daughters, played quiet but important roles in relation to women’s suffrage and other issues.

 

Brooking’s book-ends, his reflections on how Seddon measures up against others for the claim to being New Zealand’s greatest Prime Minister, are perhaps unnecessary. This is a biography fit for the ‘King of God’s Own’.

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