Celebrating History Week in 2020

How are you celebrating this History Week? The History Council of NSW has curated a terrific line-up of in-person and online events exploring the question "History: what is it good for?" There are virtual walking tours, talks, tips for new researchers, and much more.

If you're looking for your next history read, here are some highlights from the SUP list (you can find many more to explore on our website).


The Poison of Polygamy by Wong Shee Ping, translated by Ely Finch, with historical introductions and appendices by Mei-fen Kuo and Michael Williams.

The oldest known Chinese-Australian novel, The Poison of Polygamy offers fascinating insights into Australian and Chinese society. Set during the Victorian goldrushes but written in the early years of the White Australia Policy, it offers a Chinese-Australian perspective on Australian culture and society and an insight into the experience of Chinese migrants to Australia. First serialised in a Melbourne newspaper in 1909 and 1910, its rediscovery by historian Mei-fen Kuo and the historical detective work that uncovered the identity of its author also make for fascinating reading. You can hear more on ABC Radio National’s The History Listen, or read an extract from Michael Williams’ introductory essay in the Sydney Review of Books.

“The discovery of The Poison of Polygamy and its publication in this highly informative bilingual edition is a double happiness. It gives readers a highly entertaining new novel, replete with drama, emotion and intrigue. At the same time it documents Chinese Australian life in a key period of history.” Nicholas Jose




Obaysch: A Hippopotamus in Victorian London by John Simons

The remarkable story of Obaysch, the first hippo to set foot in Britain since prehistoric times and the first "star" animal of the London Zoo. Delving into the circumstances of Obaysch’s capture and exhibition, John Simons investigates the phenomenon of "celebrity" animals in Victorian Britain against the backdrop of an expanding British Empire. He shows how the entangled aims of scientific exploration, commercial ambition, and imperial expansion shaped the treatment of exotic animals throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Along the way, he uncovers the strange and moving stories of Obaysch and the other hippos who joined him in Europe as the trade in zoo animals grew.

“an accessible, intelligent, charming, sometimes funny, sometimes sad account of Obaysch, who lived at the London Zoo from 1850 until his premature death there in 1878, aged about 28.” Stephen Romei, The Australian




The Broad Arrow by Oline Keese, in a critical edition by Jenna Mead

First published in 1859, The Broad Arrow tells the story of Maida Gwynnham, a young woman wrongly convicted of infanticide and transported to Van Diemen’s Land. It offers a rich account of the penal system from a uniquely female perspective. This new edition restores for the first time in over a century material that was cut when the novel was reissued in a radically abridged version in 1886. This restored material is subtly highlighted, allowing interested readers to observe the extent and effect of the 1886 edits, without distracting from the story. As editor Jenna Mead explains in her introduction, these edits tell us much about the shifting tastes of the reading public and of publishers in the second half of the 19th century, making this an intriguing work of book history as well as an important colonial novel.

“every page tells the reader something about the colony. This is an important book for the historian and for anyone interested in nineteenth-century Tasmania.” Alison Alexander, Papers and Proceedings: Tasmanian Historical Research Association


Tribute and Trade: China and Global Modernity, 1784–1935, edited by William Christie, Angela Dunstan and Q.S. Tong

In the 18th and 19th centuries, relations between China and the West were shaped by the Qing dynasty’s strict restrictions on foreign access and by the West’s imperial ambitions. Yet trade flourished and there were instances of cultural exchange and friendship, running counter to the official narrative. Using examples drawn from politics, literature, trade, painting, fashion and much more, the essays in this collection consider how China and the West saw each other during this period, how they influenced each other, and what the lasting legacies of this contact have been.


Mutiny, Mayhem, Mythology: Bounty's Enigmatic Voyage by Alan Frost

The story of Captain Bligh, Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers has been told and retold so many times, countless myths, misconceptions and speculations have become tangled up with the truth. Eminent historian Alan Frost returns to the primary sources to determine what we can and can’t be sure of, and considers why the story has exerted such a strong pull on the collective imagination.

“indispensable for anyone with a genuine interest in understanding the truth” Michael Pembroke, The Age


Letters to Australia by Julius Stone

History as it happened! In the years after World War II, Sydney University scholar Julius Stone was a weekly presence on Australian radio and helped listeners to make sense of the postwar world. Letters to Australia collects Stone's radio talks, originally broadcast by the ABC between 1942 and 1972. Stone's transcripts bring to life the people and events of World War II and its turbulent aftermath. Week by week, he documents a world in flux and describes the Cold War as it unfolded, capturing the tension and uncertainty of the mid-20th century.