Some “moments” seem more important in hindsight than they were at the time. David Day, for example, looks at John Curtin’s famous “Australia looks to America” statement of December 1941, a moment remembered as embodying a fundamental shift in Australia’s strategic alliance away from Britain towards the US. As Day points out, the shift to the US as our primary ally was a long, drawn-out process which occurred over half a century. Curtin’s statement is iconic – it represents and symbolizes the shift – but in and of itself it made almost no difference. Russell McGregor makes similar arguments with regard to the 1967 referendum, falsely hailed in our memories as a huge advance in Aboriginal rights.
There are many other important events which our contributors examine – the campaign to save the Franklin River; the landings at Gallipoli, the discovery of gold in 1851, the disastrous Premiers’ Plan designed to cope with the Great Depression, to name just a few.
Taken together, our contributors show that narrative approaches to Australian history are not as simple as might be imagined. There is of course the issue of what should be included and what should not be – what, after all, makes a moment or an event sufficiently important to be included in an official narrative? Just as importantly, the moments and events that are included in narrative histories are open to multiple interpretations.
We hope this collection will provide an important reminder to those wanting to impose a universal history curriculum for our schoolchildren, and indeed a lesson toall Australians wishing to understand their nation’s past. History is never simple or straightforward, and it always resists attempts to make it so.