From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories by Mark McKenna

From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories by Mark McKenna (Melbourne University Publishing) 

Judges' Comments

From the Edge contends that it is only when Australians look to the edge of their country that they can properly comprehend what makes their histories distinct. The book begins with an account of a walk along the southeast Australian coast in the late eighteenth century, before moving on to the failed British attempt to establish a presence at Cobourg Peninsula, the search for profits at the Burrup Peninsula and James Cook’s stay at what is now Cooktown. The focus is on the encounter between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous inhabitants.

This evocatively written and innovative study is based on wide-ranging research and fieldwork. It conveys a powerful sense of place. Attractive images are a vital component of the evidence it presents. A convincing case is made for the importance of historical connections between remote localities at opposite ends of the continent. By explaining why an understanding of these localities’ Indigenous stories is so essential, Mark McKenna makes a major contribution to the development of a more widely informed Australian historical consciousness. 

From the Edge stands out in a competitive shortlist through the manner in which it highlights and makes sense of a complex network of local histories that deserve far greater attention than they have previously received. The book combines well-told intriguing stories with sophisticated and clear analysis. McKenna demonstrates that Australians’ historical imagination can be enriched through a broader yet more geographically intimate view. He emphasises the significance of a local and regional perspective that emerges from the histories of locations that are ‘both on the edge of the continent and the edge of national consciousness’. Through detailed place studies that give special attention to Aboriginal–settler encounters, he offers a highly original contribution to understanding Australia’s past with considerable contemporary relevance.