Mark McKenna

STOP PRESS: 4 September 2017: The State Library of NSW (SLNSW) has announced the winners of the 2017 NSW Premier’s History Awards. The winning work is:

Australian History Prize ($15,000): From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories (Mark McKenna, MUP), General History Prize ($15,000)

Mark McKenna: From the Edge (cover image)
March 1797. Ninety Mile Beach, Victoria. Five British sailors and twelve Bengali seamen swim ashore after their longboat is ripped apart in a storm. The British penal colony at Port Jackson is 700 kilometres to the north, their fellow-survivors from the wreck of the Sydney Cove stranded far to the south on a tiny island in Bass Strait. To rescue them and save their own lives, they have no alternative. They set out to walk to Sydney. What follows is one of Australia’s greatest survival stories and cross-cultural encounters.

In From the Edge: Australia’s Lost Histories, award-winning historian Mark McKenna uncovers the places and histories that Australians so often fail to see. Like the largely forgotten story of the sailors’ walk in 1797, these remarkable histories — the founding of a ‘new Singapore’ in West Arnhem Land in the 1840s, the site of Australia’s largest industrial development project in the Pilbara and its extraordinary Indigenous rock art, and James Cook’s meeting with Aboriginal people at Cooktown in 1770 — lie on the edge of the continent and the edge of national consciousness. Retracing their steps, McKenna explores the central drama of Australian history: the encounter between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians — each altered irrevocably by the other — and offers a new understanding of the country and its people.

This is a book that will haunt your memory and ignite your dreams of what Australia once was and might yet become.

Iain McCalman

A rediscovery of history which offers possibilities of national understanding and rebirth.

Noel Pearson


‘This big, dramatic and intellectually enthralling book will surely become a landmark in Australian biography. Mark McKenna… cross-questions the reputation of the teacher, the family man, the drinker and the historian; as well as Clark’s extraordinary later incarnations as prophet, political Cassandra, bush mountebank and genuine visionary. He… finally establishes Manning Clark as one of the key figures in the new assertion of Australian cultural identity in the mid-twentieth century, alongside Patrick White and Sidney Nolan.’  — Richard Holmes.

Mark McKenna, Moment of Truth. Quarterly Essay.

Australia is on the brink of momentous change, but only if our citizens and politicians can come to new terms with the past.

Cover image. Quarterly Essay #69, Mark McKenna Essay: Moment of Truth

In this inspiring essay, Mark McKenna considers the role of history in making and unmaking the nation. From Captain Cook to the frontier wars, from Australia Day to the Uluru Statement, we are seeing passionate debates and fresh recognitions. McKenna argues that it is time to move beyond the history wars, and that truth-telling about the past will be liberating and healing. This is a superb account of a nation’s moment of truth.

"The time for pitting white against black, shame against pride, and one people’s history against another’s, has had its day. After nearly fifty years of deeply divisive debates over the country’s foundation and its legacy for Indigenous Australians, Australia stands at a crossroads — we either make the commonwealth stronger and more complete through an honest reckoning with the past, or we unmake the nation by clinging to triumphant narratives in which the violence inherent in the nation’s foundation is trivialised."

 — Mark McKenna, Moment of Truth.

Mark McKenna, photograph

Mark McKenna is one of Australia’s leading historians. He has written several highly acclaimed books, including From the Edge: Australia’s lost histories, An Eye for Eternity: The Life of Manning Clark, and Looking for Blackfellas’ Point: An Australian History of Place. He is professor of history at the University of Sydney.

QUARTERLY ESSAY presents significant contributions to the general debate. Each issue contains a single essay written at a length of about 25,000 words. It aims to present the widest range of political, intellectual and cultural opinion.

Front cover photo: National Museum of Australia