What can 'things' tell us about our history?

In this fascinating book of photographs of The History of Australia in 100 objects, Toby Creswell takes us from the oldest piece of jewellery in the world, a necklace from Lake Nitchie, Western Australia to Julia Gillard’s glasses.

Each object leads to a general discussion about significant events or aspect of Australian culture e.g. a photo of a bottle of Coopers Beer leads to an explanation of the importance of beer in the Australian identity and of a brief history of beer making in Australia.

The photo of pin flags Monash used on the Western Front is followed by a brief account of Australia’s role there and of Monash’s humane leadership.

100 objectsThe book is organised chronologically but could also have been organised under other headings. In everyday life, we have the Coolgardie safe, the billy and a Vegemite jar. Aviation is represented by Kingsford Smith’s cigarette case, a model of Nancy Bird Walton’s plane and a Cherry Ripe, representing the now little heard of MacRobertson Trophy Air Race.

There are union banners, suffragette banners, federation flags, the Eureka flag and a Kevin ’07 t-shirt. Felix the cat is there as is the Playschool rocket, both icons of everyday entertainment. A Sherrin Aussie Rules football is there as is Dally Messenger’s cap and a Melbourne Cup. As you might expect in a book about Australia, sport is well represented.

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Our times at war are represented by, among other things, a slouch hat, a Gallipoli boat and a sign to Tobruk. A wool sample, a Sunshine Harvester and shears evoke the time when we were more dependent on agriculture. Some of Australia’s contributions to science are recognised in a photograph of penicillin mould and in Wi-Fi. A Jenny Kee jumper and a Paula Stafford bikini are two fashion contributions.

Our indigenous population is represented by a possum ball for the fast football like game, marngrook, the Aborigines of Western Victoria played; Faith Bandler’s  gloves and Edie Mabo’s map among other relevant photographs. The exploration of Australia by Europeans range from Cook’s globe, Flinders’ hat, Burke’s water bottle and Mawson’s sledge.

There are items that belonged to one person such as Patrick White’s typewriter, Azaria Chamberlain’s dress, Evonne Goolagong’s racquet and Weary Dunlop’s medical instruments. Other photographs are of objects used by everyday Australians such as a Holden car, a 1956 Olympic stamp, a Country Women’s Association cup and saucer. Whether particular or general, each item has something significant to add to the story of our past and who we are.

Creswell has represented the diversity of Australia. Our indigenous people, our migrants from convicts on, the contribution of both men and women and the famous and everyday Australia — all are represented.

This is an entertaining book with photographs of the highest quality. It’s interesting to dip into, to learn something new. It would make a great gift.

The History of Australia in 100 Objects, by Toby Creswell, is available from Dymocks.

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