Christina Twomey

christina-twomeyEducated at the University of Melbourne (BA (Hons), PhD), Twomey came to the School of Historical Studies at Monash University in 2003 as Lecturer Level B, after a postdoctoral fellowship at Deakin University and a teaching post at the University of Adelaide; she was promoted to Professor, SOPHIS, in 2014. Active within the profession, she has been the DEEWR Distinguished Visiting Chair of Australian Studies at the University of Copenhagen (2012), President of the International Australian Studies Association (2011–12), an Executive Committee Member of the Australian Historical Association (2006–10) and a member of the University of Melbourne Archives Advisory Board (2006–09). She served on the editorial board of History Australia (2006–09) and was co-editor of Australian Historical Studies 2012-15.

Twomey has won various awards and prizes for her work. Winner of a NSW Premier’s History Award, Twomey is also the only historian to be awarded both the junior and senior research awards at the National Archives of Australia: the Margaret George Award (2004) and the Frederick Watson Fellowship (2010). Her doctoral thesis won the Dennis Wettenhall Prize (1997) and later a National Council for the Centenary of Federation/Australian Historical Association Publication Prize (2001).

Research interests: Twomey’s work is driven by a desire to understand the cultural impact of war, the social consequences of dislocation and changing initiatives to alleviate misery. It has therefore been at the forefront of three areas of vital public and scholarly debate: the legacy of war, the implications of humanitarian actions, and the factors that shape responses to suffering. Twomey has published in several fields: welfare history, the impact of imprisonment and military service on Australian culture and the history of atrocity and photography.

As an ARC Future Fellow (2012–15), Twomey is researching civilian internment and concentration policies at three different colonial sites in the late nineteenth century: South Africa, Cuba and the Philippines.


As author/co-author:

Deserted and Destitute: Motherhood, Wife Desertion and Colonial Welfare (2002); Australia’s Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese in World War Two (2007); A History of Australia (2011) (with Mark Peel).

As editor/co-editor:

Journal of Men’s Studies Special Issue: Masculinity, Emotion and Subjectivity, Vol 15, No. 3, Fall 2007 (with Barbara Caine and Mark Peel); History of Photography: Special Issue: Atrocity and Photography, 36:3, August 2012; Australians In Papua New Guinea, 1960–75, (2014) (with Ceridwen and Seumas Spark); The Pacific War: Aftermaths, Remembrance, Culture (2014) (with Ernest Koh).

Deserted and Destitute: Motherhood, Wife Desertion and Colonial Welfare (Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2002) xxiv, 201 p.

Deserted and Destitute documents one of the significant social consequences of gold discovery in Victoria in 1851: the fate of women, usually mothers, left behind in cities and towns when men left in search of gold. Contemporaries knew this group as ‘deserted wives’ or ‘grass widows’. Twomey’s revisionist approach to gold-rush history problematizes the contemporary meanings of gold discovery, emphasising the social and domestic costs of gold-seeking men’s departure from responsible masculine behaviour. Rather than presenting such women as victims, Twomey conceives of them as empowered in their own lives and in their dealings with welfare workers, but constrained in major ways by the gendered nature of the colonial labour market, and ultimately by their lack of power relative to those with authority to make decisions about them.

‘Deserted wives raised immediate concerns about poverty and welfare’, Twomey argues, ‘… and broader questions about the fate of family life in gold-rush society’ (xiii). The book therefore examines both the survival strategies of deserted wives, and the development of public concern about wife desertion in the decades after 1851. Poverty, Twomey writes, is a social relationship that causes material need and suffering, but it also exists in the realm of culture, as a set of public understandings about who and what constitute misfortune in any given society (p. 165). She draws on the insights of cultural history to show how ‘anxiety about wife desertion articulated the centrality of the married couple and their children to Victorian ideas about the creation of an efficient and secure colonial society’ (p. xiv).

The book is divided into two parts. The first section examines the culture of colonial marriage, the strategies employed by deserted wives in order to survive and the groups to whom they turned for help. The second part traces the public discussions of wife desertion and considers the solutions proposed to reduce its incidence or impact

Rae Frances described the book as ‘a major contribution to our understanding of welfare history and the impact of the gold rushes on Australian society, and, more broadly, to the history of gender relations in Australia’ (2004: 388).

Selected Reviews: Australian Feminist Studies 19/45 (November 2004), 387–88. (Rae Frances); JAS Review of Books, Issue 31, March 2005; Victorian Historical Journal, 76/1 (April 2005), 116–18 (Anne O’Brien).

Australia’s Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese in World War Two (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007), x, 262 p.

Australia’s Forgotten Prisoners tells the story of Australian civilians interned by the Japanese in the Second World War. Over 1,500 Australians, working variously as merchants, small businessmen, representatives of large corporations, missionaries, nurses, teachers, planters in the Asia-Pacific were captured as the Japanese invaded places as far afield as Shanghai, Manila and Rabaul. Interned in prison-like camps throughout the region, these civilian internees, although they were not members of the armed forces, endured hardship, privation, and even death at the hands of the enemy. Drawing on memoirs and letters penned by former internees to recreate the daily lives and dramas within internment camps, this book explores how captivity posed different dilemmas for men, women and children.

The book also examines the attitude of the Australian government to the internees in the immediate post-war period, considers the experiences of individuals who collaborated with the Japanese, and offers an explanation about why civilian internees have never featured in commemorations of Australian participation in the Pacific War. Twomey suggests that in a post-colonial world, when independent nation states replaced British, Dutch and American colonies, internees represented awkward reminders of the region’s colonial and imperial past.

Winner of the John and Patricia Ward History Prize, NSW Premier’s History Awards, 2008.

Selected Reviews:

Journal of Pacific History 43/2 (September 2008), 284–85 (Keiko Tamura); Overland 193 (Summer 2008), 83–5 (Tom O’Lincoln); History Australia 6/2 (2009), 57.1–57.2 (Klaus Neumann); American Historical Review 114/3 (June 2009), 747–48 (Angela Woollacott).

A History of Australia (with Mark Peel). London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011, xv, 305 p.

This book forms part of the Palgrave Essential Histories, a series of ‘compact, readable and informative national histories’ designed to appeal to a broad general readership. It is thus conceived as an introductory text for readers who may know little about Australian history and as such is also ideal for teaching, while also marking an imaginative new approach to national history by considering the way Australians in the past imagined their future.

Twomey and Peel were committed to writing ‘a vibrant, engaging account of the nation’s past’, in the words of Mark Peel. The Federation of the colonies in 1901 acts as a hinge between the first part of the book, completed by Peel, and the chapters on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, which were written by Twomey.

Introducing the book, the authors remark that ‘Australia is a large country that became a small nation’, identifying one of their challenges as the need to address an unfortunate conviction that ‘nothing much happened’. They note the absence of nation-building landmarks such as revolutions, wars of secession, separation or independence, or the blood-letting tumults of political change. ‘We committed ourselves to writing a history that would challenge the popular perception that Australia’s history is boring and uninteresting’, wrote Peel, ‘and I think we did a pretty good job of it.’ Reviewers described the book as ‘one of the most readable and compelling national histories in recent years’ (Mark McKenna), as an ‘exemplary work … by two of Australia’s finest social and cultural historians’ (Zora Simic) and as ‘an impressive achievement … and distinguished contribution to the genre’ (Frank Bongiorno).

Reviews: Australian Book Review 340 (April 2012), 15−16 (Frank Bongiorno); Labour History 103 (November 2012), 261−2 (Zora Simic); Australian Journal of Politics and History 58/3 (2012), 449 (Lyndon Megarrity); Agora 47/4 (2012), 64 (Phillip O’Brien); Australian Historical Studies 44/1 (2013), 142−3 (Mary McKenna); Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 15/1 (Spring 2014) (Catherine Kevin).


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