'for their own purpose of identity': Tom Stannage and Australian Local History

David Carment


Tom Stannage made a significant contribution to Australian local history and regularly returned to it throughout his career, frequently speaking and writing about the local past and collaborating with the community organisations that promoted it. In the context of Stannage's perspectives, the work of some other historians and the author's experiences, this article briefly reflects on the state of local history in Australia and the role of local historical societies. The focus is on New South Wales and the Northern Territory, the parts of Australia that the author knows best, but some attention is also given to the rest of the country. The article considers why the work of local historians and historical societies matters in understanding the bigger picture of Australian history. The various attempts to tell the stories of individual communities quite frequently by and for local residents themselves encourage speculation on their contributions to the broader process of historical inquiry. Local history is, as Stannnage strongly believed it ought to be, usually a democratic phenomenon and one that allows a diverse range of approaches. The historical societies that survive and develop do so because they are solidly based in their communities. Perhaps even more crucial, the data of the past that local historical societies have often unearthed and recorded help allow Australians to shape what Stannage so aptly described as a 'history for their own purposes of identity'.


Australia; local history; Tom Stannage; historical societies

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