John Hirst

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search

John Bradley Hirst FASSA (9 July 19423 February 2016) was an Australian historian, academic and commentator.


  • It was always something of a puzzle to observers of Australia to explain the high standing of working men and the prevalence of their values in the culture. The easy answer was to say the middle-class was numerically weak. But in a capitalist society their values should be predominant whatever their numbers. So was it that they lacked the will to rule? I have suggested here that convict origins help to explain this puzzle. The bourgeoisie, sharing the shame of the nation, looked for respectability through White Australia and military prowess, and the forms these took had a strong proletarian cast; the working man was elevated by one and was the most notable embodiment of the other.

Sense and Nonsense in Australian History (2005)

  • Much of what now passes for social science is concerned not to explain human differences but to explain them away.
  • To say that the Australians were more British than the British carries more of the truth than is usually realised. Britishness was not a very strong identity in Great Britain itself. The heartland of the United Kingdom was England and the English thought of themselves as English and only on the rare occasions when they wanted to be polite to the Scots did they use the term 'British'. In Australia the pressure of the Scots and especially of the Irish forced the abandonment of 'English' as the identity of the colonies in favour of 'British'. The Irish of course could still bridle at a British identity even when it included them as equals. In time, with the passing of the first generation born in Ireland and the growth of a distinctively Australian interpretation of Britishness, they were prepared to accept it.
  • The expansion of Europe was the transforming force in human history of the last 500 years, and yet the modern academy looks for reasons not to study it. In the era of decolonisation the new nations want to stress their indigenous roots and sympathetic scholars explain that European influence was not overwhelming, but that it was used and subverted by locals for local purposes. To concentrate on Europe is criticised as 'Eurocentric'. But to ignore Europe makes the history of any part of the globe unintelligible.
  • The European discovery rather than Aboriginal occupation constitutes Australia's pre-history. Australia - its economy, society and polity - is a construction of European civilisation. Australia did not exist when traditional Aborigines occupied the continent. Aborigines have been participants in Australian history, but that story begins with all the others in 1788.
  • Before the Europeans arrived, there were 500 to 600 tribes in the continent speaking different languages. They did not have a common name or share an identity; they regarded each other as enemies. The Aborigines as we know them today, a national group with a common identity, did not exist before European contact; they are a product of the European invasion which destroyed traditional culture, brought people of different tribes together and gave them a common experience of oppression and marginalisation. They are not an ancient people, but a very modern one. Only in the lands which Europeans did not want or settled very sparsely did traditional groups and something like traditional culture survive.
  • The expansion of Europe was a phenomenon of such magnitude with such a profound and irreversible effect on humankind that it might be thought that our moralising tendency would be silenced in the face of it. But as we saw on the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage in 1992, there are those who think that its disastrous consequences for indigenous people make it quite definitely a bad thing which should not have happened. Unprovoked invasion of the territory of another society is immoral by our standards and breaches current international law, but if these be the standards we apply to history there will be no end to our condemning.
  • It is somewhat odd that those who are most opposed to tradition and fixed roles in European society hold up as a model Aboriginal society with its pre-programmed roles sanctioned by an unquestionable tradition.
  • Multiculturalists encourage vagueness about 'contributions' to give the impression of equal participation, as in the 'new age' school sports where every player in the team must handle the ball before a goal can be scored. If one were to compose a more precise ethnic history it would read something like this: The English, Irish and Scots were the founding population; they and their children established the Australian nation.
  • Since Australia is an outgrowth of England, European civilisation is also the field of study for an intelligible history of Australia. This does not mean that every history of Australia has to begin with Charlemagne. It does mean that Australian history not set within European civilisation will convey a very poor understanding of Australian society.
  • The committed federalist leaders—Parkes, Deakin, Griffith, Barton, Inglis Clark and others—were pursuing a sacred ideal of nationhood. They can be thought of as both selfish and pure. Selfish, in that the chief force driving them was the new identity and greater stature they would enjoy—either as colonists or natives—from Australia’s nationhood. Pure, in that the benefit they sought did not depend on the particular form federation took. In a sense any federation would do. They knew of course that interests had to be conciliated and other ideals not outraged; they shared some of these themselves. But they were not mere managers or lobbyists; underneath all the negotiation and campaigning there was an emotional drive.
  • [O]nly in Australia was the settler population then defined as non-indigenous – there are not non-indigenous Americans or non-indigenous New Zealanders. 'Non-indigenous' implies a people without roots in this place; it elides the fact that settlers have been here for eight generations, that they have formed a distinctive polity and are not indigenous to anywhere else; they regard Australia as their home. On the other side it elides the fact that most Aborigines are descendants of settlers and the original indigenous population. The formulation in fact casts modern Australia as if it were 1788: one group has just stepped off the boat and confronts the traditional owners of the country.

The Australians: Insiders and Outsiders on the National Character since 1770 (2007)

  • Australians, like other peoples, tend to think they are highly distinctive, but the characteristics they value may be an extension or an exaggeration of what they brought from the mother country. In some respects they may be more like the peoples of other new lands settled by the British than they are willing to acknowledge. Australian soldiers and Australian nurses of World War I felt themselves to be very different from their English counterparts but the English were inclined to see all the colonials - New Zealanders, Canadians and Australians - as similar and different from themselves.
  • ... if rights are to be protected there must be a community to which people are warmly attached so that they will care about each other's rights.
  • Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Englishmen began building houses on the east coast of this warm land of curious life and unknown vastness. They had selected, more by luck than exploration, the banks of a magnificent harbour, a place which posterity generally recognized as one of the best sites in the world.

The Shortest History of Europe (2009)

  • The Romans were better than the Greeks at fighting. They were better than the Greeks at law, which they used to run their empire. They were better than the Greeks at engineering, which was useful both for fighting and running an empire. But in everything else they acknowledged that the Greeks were superior and slavishly copied them.
  • When the Germans invaded the Roman Empire they did not intend to destroy it. They were coming for plunder, to get the best lands and to settle down and enjoy the good things of life. They were happy to acknowledge the emperor’s rule. But the trouble was that in the 400s so many Germans came, and took so much land, there was nothing left for the emperor to control. In effect the Roman Empire came to an end because there was nothing left to rule.
  • European civilisation is unique because it is the only civilisation which has imposed itself on the rest of the world. It did this by conquest and settlement; by its economic power; by the power of its ideas; and because it had things that everyone else wanted. Today every country on earth uses the discoveries of science and the technologies that flow from it, and science was a European invention.
  • The Enlightenment was not a revolutionary movement; it was not even a political movement. It was a collection of scholars, writers, artists and historians who believed that as reason and education spread, superstition and ignorance would fall away and people would cease to believe in such nonsense as miracles or kings ruling by God’s permission.

Australian History in 7 Questions (2014)

  • New South Wales did not begin as a penal colony; it is better to think of it beginning as a colony of convicts... Why wasn't early New South Wales a penal colony? The short answer is that British officials in 1786 could not conceive of such a beast: a society of wardens and prisoners designed for punishment and control, as the French ran much later on Devil's Island.
  • Economic growth in Australia did not require the incorporation of a backward, unproductive rural sector. When farming later developed on the pastoral runs, it was commercial farming. Australia, as its greatest historian Keith Hancock said, was born modern. The United States, by contrast, imitated to an extent the history of Europe. In areas which had been self-sufficient there was more regional variety in speech and habit. There were pockets of settlement which for a long time remained outside the commercial world, even when access to it became possible. Backwoodsmen, hillbillies and country music were the results.
  • In Australia by 1890, the rate of union membership in the workforce had become the highest in the world. Was this because pay and conditions in Australia were the worst? No; it was because they were the best. Workers who lived in a society that had already yielded so much to them were confident that it could yield much more.
Wikipedia has an article about: