David Hill’s latest offering The Making of Australia, tells the story of Australia’s remarkable development from a struggling convict settlement to a flourishing nation after 1901, through the experiences of the key players in our nation’s history. Hill is currently an honorary associate at the University of Sydney’s departments of archaeology and classics and a visiting fellow at the University of New South Wales. Hill was also previously chairman, then managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and chief executive and director of the State Rail Authority, among other remarkable career highlights.
Here, David Hill speaks to Inside History magazine about the historical research behind The Making of Australia:
IHM. What inspired you to start researching the stories for The Making of Australia?
David: There are some terrific histories of Australia and many fascinating episodes in the Australian story – I have written about some of them in other books. However, what I think has been lacking is the telling of the story of how the tiny convict settlement of 1788 evolved into six very different colonies and then united to became the nation of Australia.
IHM: Which resources did you find most helpful? Do you have a favourite website or library?
David: The Internet has transformed historical research. The National Library of Australia TROVE website has become an increasingly valuable source of Australian historical material. I still love working in the lovely Mitchell Library in Sydney, despite cuts to services following reduced state government funding.
IHM: What resources did you come across when researching your book that have not been widely used by others?
David: Original historical documents now increasingly available online. For example, all the transcripts of the Federation covering months of debates and discussions are now available and were not [online] only a decade ago.
IHM: Was there any information/artwork/photographs you uncovered that stopped you in your tracks?
David: Many, including the remarkable achievement of the First Fleet in 1788 (and the fact that the settlement survived at all), the level of corruption in the early colonial days, the spectacular gold rushes from the 1850s that completely transformed Australia, the overland explorers, the building of the railways and the telegraph and the fascinating characters throughout the Australian story, including Cook, Phillip, Bligh, Macquarie, Wentworth, Parkes – and scores of others. The most amusing must be the devastatingly colourful descriptions by Alfred Deakin of all the senior participants in the Federation process.
IHM: If you could track down one thing you have not yet managed to find out, what would it be?
David: For many years before official British settlement of the southern coast of Australia (Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia), there were hundreds and possibly thousands of people (including whalers, ship deserters and escaped convicts) who established lawless settlements and communities for several thousand kilometres along the coast from the Bass Strait to Rottnest Island. There is very little record of them- maybe that is the source of another book.
IHM: What’s your best tip for people wanting to write/illustrate a history book of their own?
David: Focus on telling the stories of the people at the centre of the events rather than on the events themselves.
IHM: How did you go about bringing the characters and stories to life?
David: By relying on first hand, original descriptions, eyewitness accounts and the record of responses to events as they happened, rather than later historical, secondary records.
IHM: How do you know when you’ve written a good book?
David: I’ve been happy and satisfied with all my books, but ultimately the most important measure is that people enjoy reading them and are fascinated by the story.
David Hill will tour Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to launch The Making of Australia. For more information about David and his many brilliant books, click here or to see where David is talking in October and November go to the Random House Books events – click here.