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Australia's Birthstain: The Startling Legacy of the Convict Era Paperback – April 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Babette Smith's arguments will be hotly debated, but there is no doubting the fascination or drama of this study of the stain we pretend is not there."  —Thomas Keneally, author, The Commonwealth of Thieves

About the Author

Babette Smith is an independent historian and the author of Cargo of Women.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (April 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1741756758
  • ISBN-13: 978-1741756753
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,884,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Serious photographer on November 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
As an expatriate Australian whose schooling took place in the 50s and 60s, when little Australian history worth the name was taught, I have tried to rectify that deficiency by reading Australian history in more depth from time to time. "The Fatal Shore" (Robert Hughes), "The Commonwealth of Thieves" (Thomas Keneally), and "The Explorers" (Tim Flannery) have all furnished a most enjoyable contribution to redressing an educational deficiency. "Australia's Birthstain" by Babette Smith is the most recent book that I have turned to in this regard.

A number of nations have defining events or situations in their history: for some, those events or situations have had a continuing impact on the psyche of their citizens. For Australia, its convict origin is unquestionably a continuing defining influence. Babette Smith advances the thesis that the efforts of the anti-transportationists to end transportation, by painting a highly distorted and derogatory picture of convict society, resulted in the convicts and their descendants denying their origins. Their descendants were thus made ashamed of "the stain" of convict ancestry, and lost sight of the positive aspects of it. For example, Smith cites grandchildren who were unaware that they had a convict ancestor.

The crimes for which the convicts were sentenced to transportation, under the inhuman and draconian English penal code of the time, ranged from petty theft to robbery and murder. It appears that the majority of convicts were thieves. Smith has undertaken a quantitative study of a large number of individual convict histories, and points out that the vast majority, once they had served their sentence, went on to make an honest living, and even establish successful business ventures in the colony.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Warren Lachlan Ross on November 5, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Babette Smith's "Australia's Birthstain" is a must for anyone who has read Robert Hughes "Fatal Shore". As a direct descendant of Joseph Wright who arrived on the Scarborough with the First Fleet, Robert didn't leave me much to celebrate. At the same time, the egalitarian underpinnings of our culture, its strong history of fighting for social services, its union movement that gave us Mundey and the Green Bans, the well-noted irreverence of our diggers and the larrikin sense of humour came from somewhere. Stoicism and resourcefulness may be a dwindling resource in the modern city dweller but the author argues the convicts had these in abundance. Babette explains these traits didn't come from the church. It didn't come from the anti-transportantion movement with the Reverend John West at its head.

She goes on to explain with great conviction and strong supporting evidence that there is much to celebrate in that period 1788 to 1838. Were you aware that the early convicts didn't live in barracks but in homes built with their own hands. That information that would have given us a more generous and complete understanding of this period was actually destroyed. She explains the history of the anti-transportation movement, its English champion Lord Molesworth and local advocate Reverend West and their attempts to reshape English understanding of Australian settlement. This was to the detriment of a positive or at least more generous appreciation of what was achieved by our convict forebears.

I note in another review a criticism that not everyone has a convict ancestor and therefore this may be of little relevance. It is also noted that many Australians have arrived here from all over the world and what is this story to them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By BOWYANG on January 27, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very interesting and well researched history of my countries convict past.I am a descendent of the second fleet and am proud of the way Australia has advanced in spite of the hardships of our past.Governor Phillips vision and leadership was crucial to the outcomes. The way Rev. West behaved in those days certainly disadvantaged these unfortunate people who were trying to change their ways. Its easy to understand why we are an egalitarian society.
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Australia's Birthstain: The Startling Legacy of the Convict Era
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