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Australian History Prize Past Winners

Year Winner Judges' comments
2013 Kitty’s War: The remarkable wartime experiences of Kit McNaughton by Janet Butler

Based on the unpublished war diaries of World War I army nurse Kit McNaughton (Kitty), this book tells an unforgettable story. In recounting Kitty’s experiences, Butler provides an informative account of McNaughton’s career in Egypt, Lemnos and on the Somme, but also within the wider context of the experiences of Australian army nurses — the conditions they endured, their mistreatment by their male army superiors and their friendships with the Diggers. 

Butler never takes Kitty’s words at face value; she compares Kitty’s accounts with those found in the diaries of people she worked with, and stories gleaned from official army records. She maps Kitty’s transformation from a young and inexperienced nurse into a hardened professional, who ended the war as Australia’s first plastic surgery nurse. With great sensitivity, she describes how Kitty was deeply scarred by the horrors she witnessed and by the deaths of her friends. This is a brilliant study of the heroism and tragedy that marked a war so terrifying that even a woman as brave as Kit McNaughton could not bring herself to fully record it.

2012 Indifferent Inclusion: Aboriginal People and the Australian Nation by Russell McGregor

Indifferent Inclusion maps the changing ways in which the Australian Governments defined the concept of assimilation and developed more inclusive policies to incorporate Indigenous people into the Australian community, in the period from Federation to the 1967 referendum and beyond. McGregor’s story places less emphasis on oppression than it does on the agency exercised by Indigenous Australians as they secured inclusion within the nation. Using an impressive array of primary sources, McGregor develops an original and compelling argument. He suggests that inclusion was less a function of a political action than of a social and cultural campaign as Aboriginal Australians challenged the apathy of European Australians and claimed a place within the nation.

This book is filled with sharp insights into particular events and movements, and establishes a rich general context for this complex and important story. This book is critical to an understanding of twentieth century Aboriginal history and to an explanation of changing notions of Australian citizenship.