Review Blog

Dec 07 2018

Foundational fictions in South Australian history edited by Carolyn Collins and Paul Sendziuk

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Wakefield Press, 2018. ISBN 9781743056066
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Recommended. Foundational fictions investigates the myths that South Australians hold dear about their state. Is it really true that South Australia was a more enlightened settlement free of the 'convict stain'? Were the SA settlers kinder to the Aboriginal inhabitants? Did the settlement live up to the ideals of the Letters Patent and the Proclamation at the old gum tree? Was SA established according to principles that set it apart from the other states? Or is it all just beautiful lies?
As the famous quote goes, 'history is written by the victors'. This collection of essays examines many of the commonly held beliefs about the history of South Australia. All South Australians would like to believe the good stories about their ancestors, the myths that have been passed on. Some do draw on original facts, but many have been embellished or even completely reworked to cover over the things we would prefer not to examine too closely.
Most interesting reading is author Lucy Treloar's response to Inge Clendinnen's 2006 critique of Kate Grenville's novel 'The secret river'. Treloar posits that history is greater than just the facts. Historical fiction may offer an emotional truth that allows people to enter into the experience of others, ponder what they felt, and consider how they may have acted in their place. There is a place for both - the historian allows us to examine the records of past events, the facts, the snippets in newspapers and diaries; the historical fiction writer allows us to enter that world and reimagine it for ourselves.
Another writer, Jane Lydon, researching the record of bushman George Hamilton, examines how even writers of the past era may change their world view over time and reinvent or embellish their own records of the past.
These are all very interesting questions for the student of history to ponder. Foundational fictions brings together some key (mis)conceptions about South Australia and allows the reader to reinvestigate the past record and query just who makes history, and how history is passed down to successive generations. This book would be a really useful resource for developing students' understanding of the historical concepts proposed by the Australian history curriculum: 'evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, significance, perspectives, empathy and contestability'.
Helen Eddy

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