History Australia Reviews
The following reviews are of documentaries and books submitted to us by their publishers.

New Reviews

The Wild Colonial Boys by Paula Hunt is an interesting book that is ideal as a Project Resource for Primary School and early Secondary School children. It provides a fascinating insight into the world of Bushrangers. The first bushranger arrived with the First Fleet in 1788 and the last "Official" bushranger was hung in 1901.

This book is a glossy full colour depiction of Australia's most notorious bushrangers. It is ripe with illustrations, time lines, fact boxes and authentic photographs. Seventeen bushrangers are featured in the articles.

Reading Level - Age 7+
Category - Childrens Non-Fiction
Format - 297x210mm Paperback
R.R.P. - $16.99
Available from Black Dog Books http://www.bdb.com.au

The Long Patrol: Australia and East Timor's Wars by Richard Plunkett

208 pages, Paperback.
Reading Level - Age 11+

This is a fascinating exploration of the recent history of East Timor. Through Portuguese colonialism, Japanese occupation, Indonesian Invasion to eventual independence as the world's newest nation this book traces the fascinating history of the East Timorese and their country.

This is a must read for anyone seeking an understanding of the history of this nation and, although targeted at a teen audience, I would recommend this book to teens and adults alike who wish to gain an insight into the circumstances surrounding East Timor's tumultuous recent history and shameful actions of the world's developed nations in allowing the Indonesian invasion for purely political reasons.

R.R.P. $16.99
Available from Black Dog Books http://www.bdb.com.au

Captain Cook - Obsession and Discovery
Four part Documentary - Narrated by Vanessa Collingridge

Episode 1 - A Likely Lad. Screening on ABC TV at 7.30 pm Sunday 28 October 2007
Screening on ABC commencing Sunday 28 October 2007.

This episode explores James Cooks childhood influences and inspirations and moves through his early career up to the Admiralties decision to send him to Tahiti in 1796 to observe the Transit of Venus.

I found episode 1 to be well researched and written. It presented valuable insight into a young James Cook's progression from a barefoot farmboy to a Royal Navy Lieutenant in charge of a voyage of discovery. Areas of Cooks life that are looked at in this episode include his life as a child, the influence of his patrons on his lifes direction, his breakthroughs in charting and mapmaking and his married life. I felt that some aspects could have been explored in greater depth but, understanding the time limitations involved in television, the material that has been kept in order for it to be a 55 minute episode still manages to hold the story together well. Well worth watching.

Episode 2 - Taking Command. Screening on ABC tv at 7.30 pm Sunday 4 November 2007.

After observing the Transit of Venus, James Cook open sealed orders from the Admiralty and learns that he is to set sail in search of the great southern continent. Cook takes on board a Tahitian priest and fellow navigator, Tupaia, and sails south. Unable to find the Southern continent he turns west and after weeks of sailing sights land, the coast of New Zealand. His first encounter with the native Maori people is a disaster. Tupaia acts as a go between in subsequent encounters, a move that works in favour of all involved. Cook maps and circumnavigates the Islands of New Zealand and, proving that it is not the fabled Great South Land he sails west once more, discovering the east coast of what is now Australia.

In this episode you travel alongside Cook from his departure from Tahiti, through the discovery of New Zealand and the Maori people, through to the trip along the east of Australia. This episode ends when Cooks ship, the Endeavour, strikes a reef on the north-east coast of the Australian mainland. Again this is an episode that is well worth watching, particularly for sme of the lesser known aspects of Cooks life and his voyage of discovery.

Episode 3 - Beyond Speculation. Screening on ABC TV at 7.30 pm on Sunday 11 November 2007.


Episode 4 - North West Passage. Screening on ABC TV at 7.30 pm on Sunday 18 November 2007.


Air Australia
Screening on ABC Television commencing 31 May - Episodes weekly for three weeks

This documentary is a must see for any one with an interest in Australian air transport.

Part one, "Canvas and Sticks", begins in World War I and profiles the key figures in Australian airline development. Men like Norman Brearley who founded Australia's first airline, West Australian Airways. Paul McGinness and Wilmot Husdson Fysh, the founders of QANTAS. Also featured are Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm.

Part two, "Australia's Own", continues the story of these fledgling airlines, as well as the attempts to develop other airlines.

Part three, "War in Suits", focusses on the beginnings, growth and eventual demise of Ansett Airlines, as well as the growth of both Australian National Airlines (ANA) and government owned Trans Australia Airlines (TAA).

The documentaries are well researched and contain a combination of rare archival footage, re-enactments and CGI recreations of events. The commentary is interesting and absorbing. There are, however, some errors in the facts presented, the most obvious and glaring of these to any one with knowledge of Aviation is in Episode three. A number of references are made to the introduction of the jet age in the Australian airline industry and, in particular, to the backbone aircraft of the Australian fleets, the 727. This is referred to in the documentary as the Douglas 727 which is totally incorrect. The 727 was a Boeing aircraft and was not associated with the Douglas company, who manufactured the DC8 and the DC9 during that era.

Regardless of the minor inaccuracies this is an enjoyable and interesting documentary that gives a good background understanding of the airline industry in Australia.

Constructing Australia - A Wire through the Heart
Screening on ABC TV on Sunday April 1 2007 at 7.30 p.m

This is the third episode of Film Australia's Constructing Australia documentary series and covers the story of the constuction of the Telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin, and from there to the rest of the world.

This is, again, a film with high production standards and is well researched and presented in a way to highlight the lives of the key players in this pivotal project to connect Australia with the rest of the world.

The key players in this historical event were John McDouall Stuart, renowned Australian explorer, and Charles Todd, the visionary and driving force behind the construction of the overland telegraph.

This is the final episode in this series and I highly recmmend it to anyone who has an interest in the historical development of Austraia.

Constructing Australia - Pipe Dreams
Screening on ABC TV on Sunday March 25 2007 at 7.30 p.m.

This fascinating documentary looks at the conception and construction of, in the late 1890's to early 1900's, of the water pipeline to the West Australian goldfields. Film Australia has again produced a well researched film of high production standards which investigates the personal and political background of this vital engineering project.

This is a story of personal tragedy, political rivalries, corruption and trial by media that nearly tore apart Australia at the moment of birth through federation. The central characters to this true story are CY O'Connor (the engineer behind the pipeline project) and John Forrest, then Governor of the colony of Western Australia, soon to become Premier of the federated state of Western Australia.

The project was to build a weir and pipeline (565 kilometres long) to supply water to the arid goldfields of W.A. In 1903, when te project was completed, it was one of the largest engineering projects in the world and required 77,508 casks of cement and 76,000 tons of steel, the largest steel purchase ever made up to that time.

This is a must see documentary for any one interested in the development of Australia as a nation and for those with a particular interest in Western Australian history. I highly recommend this production.

Constructing Australia - The Bridge
Screening on ABC TV on Sunday March 18 2007 at 7.30 p.m.

On 18 March 1932 one of the most ambitious engineering projects in Australia's history was officially opened, the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This documentary is the first of three in the Film Australia series "Constructing Australia".

This film has been extensively researched and the production values are high. The story covers more than just the bridge and is a wonderful look at the the social and political climate of the late 1920's and early 1930's, a time when Australia faced severe economic depression and the whole of society was challenged.

The archival footage used in the documentary is well selected and very informative and gives a rare insight into a time when political revolution was knocking on the door of NSW government. The director, Simon Nasht, has masterfully interwoven archival footage and photographs, parliamentary debates, interviews with historians, and vividly realised factual drama to create a must see documentary for any one interested in this volatile time in Australia's development.

I would highly recommend this film to historians and family historians for the wonderful insight it gives to this between-the-wars period of Australian life.

The Floating Brothel
Review by Scott Brown

Premieres on ABC TV on Thursday 23 November 2006, 8.30pm

In this documentary three Australian women are introduced to their ancestors who arrived as female convicts on board the Lady Juliana onvict transport in 1790. Written and directed by Mark Lewis "The Floating Brothel" is an interesting look at the lives of convicts Mary Wade, Rachel Hoddy and Elizabeth Barnsley and provides some insight into life in late 18th century Britain as well as the struggling new colony of New South Wales.

The research done into the lives and crimes of the featured convicts is good and presents well in the film. I was, however, disappointed in a number of aspects of this historical recreation.

The filmmakers included references to Australia's "founding orgy". This myth has been prevelant in Australian history writing since Manning Clarke introduced it in his History of Australia series of books. The only contemporary reference to it was found in the journal of a First Fleeter who, during the events described, remained on board the ship and did not actually witness the events he was writing about. No other confirming documentation has been found. So this claim is dubious as a result. Without further substantiating documentation no serious investigator of Australian history should take it as an accepted fact. Whether the writers (and the author of the book that inspired this documentary) persist in enabling this myth for sensationalism or just due to a lack of serious researching standards is unknown.

A further disappointment is the attempt to explain why Mary Wade's sentence was reduced from death to transportation. It is accurate that she did receive a pardon as a result of the King's recovery from porphyria but the way it is explained in the commentary makes it seem like these pardons were used to ensure that the Lady Juliana sailed with a full compliment of female prisoners. The reality is that, as a celebration of the King's return to health, 100 capitally convicted felons were to be offered a reprieve from their death sentences on the condition that they accept transportation for life. This was not just directed to the female convicts but also to the males waiting on death row.

Aside from the above mentioned inaccuracies I would recommend this documentary to any one with in interest in convict history or the history of transportation. It is an entertaining and, in most cases, accurate and well researched attempt to bring the past to life.