Lilian Pearce (Australian National University) has won the 2016 Ken Inglis Postgraduate Prize for the best paper presented by a postgraduate student to the annual Australian Historical Association conference, courtesy of the Editorial Board of Australian Historical Studies. The prize comprises: a two-year subscription to Australian Historical Studies, and a $250 book voucher from Taylor & Francis, publishers of the journal. Her paper ‘Restoring Broken Histories’, was judged the best paper of the submitted entries by judges, Professor Clare Anderson (University of Leicester) and Dr Leigh Boucher (Macquarie University).
This essay offers a nuanced history of ‘The Regen,’ an ecological restoration project near Broken Hill. It is a fascinating and original piece that places a local story in both a national and global historical context. With a beautiful turn of phrase, it encourages readers to understand ecological restoration in the longer history of settler transformations of place and its politically fraught legacies. Sites like ‘The Regen’ take shape, the author persuasively argues, at ‘intersections of colonial imaginaries and ecological realities; and of ancient geologies and global economies.’ This essay is, we might say, history written in the age of the Anthropocene. It attends to the ethical claims that encumber historians witnessing environmental disaster, but avoids the trap of hand-wringing environmentalism; it firmly confronts the ways in which contemporary projects of environmental restoration can often serve to silence Indigenous histories and futures. It sensitively combines social research and historical analysis to historicise place and ponder the work that ideas and practices of heritage perform in the present. It is, in this sense, a powerful argument for the construction of useable and ethically engaged histories and a potent appeal for historians to, as the author suggests, ‘sit with’ troubled and troubling pasts in order to think different possible futures.
Feature image: Broken Hill by Simon Yeo