20 Jun 2012

Australian History Spines

In books lies the soul of the whole past time, the articulate audible voice of the past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream.

Thomas Carlyle
A few of you were not too impressed at my thoughts on The Australia Book. I'm sorry about that, because, as I stressed in that post, I actually think it's a pretty good book. I just don't think it is a Living Book as defined by Charlotte Mason for the reasons I mentioned, and as such it has no part in my daughter's fairly strictly CM education. There are many parts of our school day that would not make the CM puritans happy, mind you, but I do keep very stringently to the criteria pertaining to books. You may be different. You may not be schooling according to CM's principles, or may only adhere to them rather loosely. That's your privilege - I certainly am not going to tell you how to raise and educate your children. I can only tell you what I do what I do and why. The rest is up to you.

So on to Australian History Spines. Here are my thoughts on some books. In case you're still interested. Don't forget I'm looking at these from the point-of-view of a self confessed Charlotte Mason purist. Just because I mightn't like them as CM living book history spines doesn't mean that you can't or won't. Sometimes I used books that CM wouldn't like much too, despite my exacting standards.

The Australia Book by Eve Pownall

An okay book for the younger years as a sort of skim through the main events of history type book, this book is really an illustrated timeline - headlines with very little substance. Beautifully illustrated but not a Living Book.

See my review of this one here.

Australasia's Story by Henrietta Marshall

This book is OOP but is available as part of the larger Our Empire Story reprinted by Yesterday's Classics, which includes the stories of Canada, India and South Africa as well as those of Australia and New Zealand. I love Marshall's writing style, which will be familiar also to Ambleside Onliners who have used her British History, Our Island Story.

The major limitation to this book is that it covers such a small amount of Australia's history, discussing in 9 chapters the discovery of Australia through to Federation. Some of the stories, such as the one of James Murrell's 17 year exile amongst the Queensland Aborigines, were new to me, but very interesting. Marshall's Victorian attitudes towards native peoples will need judicious editing.

Our Sunburt Country - An Illustrated History of Australia by Arthur Baillie

Our Sunburnt Country was recently republished by Homeschooling Downunder, and updated by the author to correct some outdated ideas and to bring the book up to 2008. It is a very good choice for Australian history in the primary school years, with an attractive personal writing style, literary language and pleasant line illustrations. Baillie's intention was to bring the characters from history alive, and I think he has succeeded in this aim very well.

My copy is the OOP 1964 version, but both it and the updated book contain 15 chapters. If you purchase the older version please be remember that Baillie himself was aware that attitudes had changed since the 60s when this book was first published, and make alterations accordingly. I should imagine this will not be a problem with the 2008 edition.

History of Australia by Manning Clark and Meredith Hooper, ill. Susanne Ferrier

My pick of the bunch, this is my recommendation for a spine for AO4 and 5. I love the language of this book, which is rewritten by Meredith Hooper from Manning Clark's six volume History of Australia. Clark has his biases - as do all historians - but the partisan point of view to me is more than compensated for by the way the story of Australia comes alive in his hands. I always enjoy his books. The extensive use of primary sources allow us to really hear the voices of the characters of the pages of history. Quotes from diaries and letters feature prominently.

The history of Australia is longer than the other books here with 24 chapters covering prehistory to the history of today. The first chapter assumes an old world point of view. If you, as we do, ascribe to to a young earth position you could either skip this chapter or preferably use it as the jumping point for a discussion on how your beliefs differ from those of many in Australia today, including many Christians.

History of Australia is OOP, but available at reasonable prices from Abe.

The Story of Australia for Boys and Girls by Joseph Bryant

This was my favourite book until I found Clark and Hooper's book above.

Published in 1920, The Story of Australia for Boys and Girls is wonderful - as far as it goes. I love the very Edwardian style and blatant nationalistic pride that pervades every page of this lovely book.

Fifteen chapters cover the period from European exploration to the Great War, with an additional three chapters covering Australian flora, fauna and drought. Politically incorrect speech is rife, but I just love holding this beautiful old book in my hands and reading from its pages. I am a book tragic, I know. If you can relate then you'll probably love this book as well.

Obviously OOP, copies are occasionally available from my mate Abe, but not at the moment. Keep an eye out.

Australia from the Beginning by Eve Pownall

This is Eve Pownall's opportunity to redeem herself, and she does so very well. In addition the book is illustrated by Walter Cunningham, one of my very favourite illustrators.

Australia from the Beginning is a lovely book, each page of print being dotted with Cunningham's delightful line drawings. The book is well researched, and is written in Eve's typically engaging and interesting style. Aborigines are mentioned often and with respect.

The book covers the period from prehistory and the dinosaurs, thylacines, diprotodons and other megafauna from an old Earth perspective, and dates the arrival of the Aborigines at 30,000 years ago or earlier. The final chapters include the Tent Embassy in 1972. There are 26 chapters.

Again, this title is OOP. Abe has one copy here.

Australian Story by Tania McCartney

This brand new book, published April 1st 2012 is an illustrated timeline of history. It is not a living book, but I have mentioned it because it is new and politically correct, and actually very interesting to have a browse through.

The book starts with the Big Bang 47 billion years ago, and includes all sorts of must know information like when the Beatles toured Australia and when Vegemite was introduced and when Aborigines were given the right to vote and when the Mabo judgement was passed and when Harold Holt went for his last swim. I haven't seen it, but I'd like to. You can purchase it from the National Library of Australia bookshop.

PS Does anyone else find left formatting of pictures almost impossible with Blogger?


  1. This is great, as we completed Australasia's story a few weeks back. I did feel somewhat disappointed that more wasn't covered but the children loved the book and gave back some brilliant narrations which is a great sign of a living book! Half of the book is New Zealand which we haven't read yet. I have made the mistake of not actually using an Australian book as a spine, but I am now looking for another for next terms Australian history. I'm wondering if I'll find 'History of Australia' at the 2nd hand book shop! Thanks for reviewing these books, it helps immensely. xxx

  2. Very good entry! I am interested in getting my hands on the books you have mentioned. You are right, The Australia Book is not a living book. I use a variety of books. I'm not a CM purist. I value living books very much but I also gather and glean. The only pure method I do my best to walk and live by is the Christian way outlined in the Holy Bible. Other than that, I gather from everywhere :)

    Thank you for all the suggestions :)

  3. What would be fabulous is if you could share your favourite 'Living Books' for subjects that you cover. I might ask all my home schooling friends to share. Sharing knowledge is so wonderful!

  4. I think I already do that, Bright Eyed Girl. They're in the sidebar.

  5. Thanks Jeanne for your great reviews!
    I have "our sunburnt country" and "Aust from the beginning". Now that I'm getting a grasp of AO better I see your wisdom in including Aust history in AO 4 / 5. Previously I was leaning towards using Ruth Marshall's outline. Though I may do a bit of both lol!

  6. Hi Jeanne,
    Just popping in to say howdy! xo
    And thanks for this post, I am always on the hunt looking for a variety of Aussie history books, your help is invaluable. :)

  7. Well your post cheered me up after reading the info on the Aussie HS Forum. I have both SunBurnt Country & HOA {scholastic} books. My plan was to use the later as a spine & weave SBC into it as I could. I had hoped to match living books up to it as well. You don't happen to have a list of books to match the chapters do you?! :D

  8. Hi Jeanne, I'd love a purist's opinion of this book: Across Great Divides http://www.birrongbooks.com/sample-chapter.html. Thanks for your blog. Lisa

  9. Hi Lisa, I am not familiar with this book. although from the excerpt on the website it looks interesting. I would want to look at it more to give a confident opinion, but my big concern would be how 'revisionist' the history is. Does it portray white men as having 'invaded'? Does it make white acts shameful? Is this the history you want you children to know? I, personally, am more interested in teaching this sort of stuff to my daughter as politics rather than history. It might be a terrific book; but you would want to exercise caution. Make sense?

  10. Belated thanks for your reply above, Jeanne. Perfect sense:) I'm having a hard time laying my hands on living Aussie history books. Very grateful for Michelle's work on 'Our Sunburnt Country'!


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