Marian Quartly

MarianMarian Quartly was educated at the University of Adelaide (BA (Hons)) and Monash University (PhD). Her first teaching position was at the University of Western Australia, where Australians 1838 was begun as part of the Bicentennial History project. The book was completed at Monash University when Quartly took up a lectureship there in 1980. She remained at Monash until her retirement, as Professor Emerita, in 2006. Her promotion to professor in 1994 fractured a 30+-year masculine hegemony of high level appointments in the History School.

Research interests: Quartly has been primarily interested in understanding the interaction between gender and class, describing herself as a product of the ‘socialist feminist tradition’ (2013: 262). Her writings have been concerned to create narrative accounts of Australian history in which gender is a central category of historical analysis, with particular interests in the history of the family, religion and gendered citizenship. At a time when women’s history was beginning to be taught across Melbourne universities, she grew women’s studies at Monash through Australian history. Through her teaching and mentoring, she has done much to develop and encourage the generation of bright women who now occupy the middle ranks of many history departments. In the early to mid-1980s she was a member of a Vice-Chancellor’s committee that addressed discrimination against women within the academy, working to change the language of the University and with it the culture. She has been founder or cofounder of two historical journals, the Push from the Bush and History Australia, both of which helped break down the barriers between academic and public history in Australia, and pioneered new approaches and methodologies. Details of her publications can be found at

General sources:

Marian Quartly, ‘My Life in History’, History Australia 10/3 (December 2013): 252−63; Marian Quartly interviewed by Susan Marsden, Melbourne, 26 October 2005 (plus a transcript (typescript, 143 leaves).; Judith Smart, ‘Quartly, Marian’. The Encyclopedia of Women & Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. Published by the Australian Women’s Archives Project, 2014.


As author and co-author:

The Market in Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption (2013) (with Shurlee Swain and Denise Cuthbert); Creating a Nation (1994/rev. 2006) (with Patricia Grimshaw, Marilyn Lake and Ann McGrath); (as Marian Aveling) Australians 1838 (1987) (as author and editor, with Alan Atkinson). She is currently co-authoring, with historian Judith Smart, a history of the National Council of Women of Australia, which will be published by Monash University Publishing in late 2015.

As editor and co-editor:

Drawing the Line: Using Cartoons as Historical Evidence (2009) (with R Scully); Challenging Histories : Reflections on Australian history (2002)

Documentary collections:

Freedom Bound I: Documents on women in colonial Australia (1995) (with Susan Janson and Patricia Grimshaw); Freedom Bound II: Documents on women in modern Australia (1995) (with Katie Holmes and Marilyn Lake); (as Marian Aveling) Stepping out of history: Documents of women at work in Australia (1991) (with Joy Damousi).

Quartly’s monographs have two distinctive features. First, she prefers to work co-operatively with other colleagues, as many women do, according to her (2013: 255), and has yet to write a single-authored monograph. Secondly, she characteristically organises her books around a central image or metaphor.

Australians 1838: A Bicentennial History, ed. Marian Aveling and Alan Atkinson. Broadway, N.S.W. Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates, 1987.xviii, 474 p.

It was Ken Inglis’s idea to mark the Bicentenary with a series of five ‘slice volumes’, each of which would survey Australian society and culture in a single year. Together with five accompanying reference volumes, the whole was published as a package, Australians: A Historical Library (Fairfax, Syme & Weldon, 1987−88).

‘Slicing’ Inglis hoped, would require contributors to ‘break new ground in method and substance’ (Quartly 2014: 3 and n. 3) and devise new ways of investigating and conceptualising the past. ‘By obliging us to throw away the crutch of narrative, [Inglis] had liberated us to investigate the deep structures, the subterranean rhythms and hidden fault-lines that too often escaped the attention of the conventional historian galloping across familiar terrain from one well-marked national milestone to the next’ (Davison 2006: 13).

The central organising image of Australians 1838 is one of double invasion, of the continent and the people: of ‘sheep and cattle and overlanders into Aboriginal space, and of missions and schools and prisons in Aboriginal and convict and proletarian minds’. The narrative concerned not just or even only the dispossession of the aborigines; its critical stance on contact history was extended to the inner workings of white society. Many pages were devoted to that second invasion of mental space. This central image was powerfully captured by the frontispiece map, which shows European Australia as ‘an archipelago of the mind, separated by a sea of unknownness’ (McCalman 1987).

The presentation of the period was based on a close reading of specific documents, but moving beyond the records of the elite to catch, as far as possible, the language and behaviour of the inarticulate and the powerless. The editors emphasised an ethnographic approach that enabled them to bring into history those who left few written sources. As one reviewer commented, ‘the 1838 chapter on “Families” utilises source material cleverly to investigate aspects of social experience neglected almost entirely by existing general histories—from childbirth and parenting to domestic violence and family breakup’ (Goodall et al 1988: 118). By recounting the language and behaviour of day-to-day situations, the authors aimed to say something about colonial life as a whole. According to Quartly herself, ‘The theme of mental invasion, of the attempt to order minds and relationships, works powerfully to link individual experience into events and into social process’ (2014: 11).

Twenty-one contributors are listed in the book. Working in close collaboration, the authors wrote discrete chapters (Quartly co-wrote, in whole or in part, chapters 2, 3, 6, 7 and 10), but the whole was then reworked by the editors to create a single voice. The result was an elegantly written and lavishly illustrated volume.

Sources: Marian Aveling, ‘Writing History for the Bicentenaries’, Australian Historical Studies 23/91 (1988): 103−113; Quartly, Marian, ‘Australians 1838: its origins and reception’, unpublished paper, Melbourne 2014; Graeme Davison, ‘Bicentennial History Project’, Oxford Companion to Australian History, ed. Graeme Davison, John Hirst and Stuart Macintyre (Oxford University Press, 2001): 68−9.

Selected reviews: Times on Sunday 19 July 1987; Labour History 54 (May 1988), 114−19 (Heather Goodall, Paula Hamilton, Andrew Moore, Anne O’Brien and John Shields); Ken Inglis, How they sliced us up: Reviews of Australians A Historical Library. Canberra: ANU History Department, 1989; Janet McCalman, ‘Committee creates not a camel but a living vivid history’.

Creating a Nation, Patricia Grimshaw (chs. 5, 7, 8), Marilyn Lake (Intro, 9, 10, 11, 13); Ann McGrath (chs. 1, 6, 12 and Marian Quartly (chs. 2, 3, 4) (Ringwood: McPhee Gribble Penguin Books, 1994), 360 p.

This book is described as ‘a bold and sweeping collaborative book, a revisionist national history by four eminent Australian historians’ (Woollacott 1999: 119). Covering two hundred years from the founding of the colony in 1788, it is not so much a history of women in Australia as ‘an analysis of the whole community’, and marks a shift from ‘women’s history’ to a general Australian history that foregrounds the relations between men and women. The central organising image is that of childbirth: Chapter One opens with a description of an Aboriginal woman going into labour at Sydney Cove in 1791. As the childbirth image is expanded, literally and figuratively, the book argues a central role for women in the creation of the Australian nation: ‘childbirth and motherhood were as generative of the Australian nation as any of the men’s contributions, a national role for women that acquired definition as citizenship in the early twentieth century’ (Woollacott 1999: 120).

The book is very much the product of 1990s feminism with its emphasis on women’s agency—a disputed point, given women’s general exclusion from political, cultural and economic legitimacy and power (Frances 1995: 208).

The narrative was marked in another way by the 1990s, as Quartly herself explained:

By the time of writing, old-style feminist history was mortally wounded by the barbs of Aboriginal historians who made it impossible for white women to claim to speak for all Australian women. (Quartly 2013: 260)

The integration of Aboriginal chapters (written by Ann McGrath) into the nation-building narrative was the focus of some critical comment by reviewers, but Ann Curthoys conceded that the book was ‘nevertheless the most thorough attempt to date to make feminist and Aboriginal perspectives interconnect and inform one another’ (Curthoys 1995: 198). The chapters that unflinchingly presented the ‘near genocidal colonization of Aboriginal people by (mostly British) white Australians’ constituted the book’s most significant departure from previous national histories’ (Woolacott 1999: 120).

At a time when male undergraduates still absented themselves from those classes/lectures dedicated to the history of women, the book was widely reviewed and generally acclaimed as a useful teaching text, a ‘convincing re-evaluation and rearticulation of a more inclusive and fairer, as well as more exciting Australian history’ (Levine 1996: 374).

Selected Reviews: Labour History 68 (May 1995), 196−208 (Ann Curthoys, Stephen Garton and Raelene Frances); Social History 21/3 (October 1996), 372−4 (Philippa Levine); Pacific Affairs 70/2 (Summer 1997), 312−13 (Michael Roe); Journal of British Studies 38/1 (January 1999) 119−25 (Angela Woollacott).

Sources: Sandra Stanley Holton, ‘Women’s History’, in Davison et al 2001: 689.

The Market in Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption, Marian Quartly, Shurlee Swain and Denise Cuthbert, with Kay Dreyfus and Margaret Taft. Monash University Publishing, 2013, xii, 156pp.

The idea for this project came out of Quartly’s ongoing interest in the history of the Australian family. Research involved the collection of life stories from people who had experienced adoption. Quartly wrote somewhat ruefully in retrospect, ‘Had I realised the levels of pain and antagonism already existing and the degree to which these would become politicised, I probably would not have undertaken this research. [But the outcomes have been rewarding.] (2013: 262)’ Here again, her practice of writing around a central metaphor has had a significant effect:

…selecting a market forces approach to explore adoption removes the tides of emotion that generally accompany discussions about adoption and the inevitable tensions that arise between affected groups, principally the triad of adopted persons and their two sets of parents, and those who become entangled in the process as intermediaries, the social workers, members of the medical or legal professions, religious ministers, politicians and administrators who manage or implement the adoption frameworks. The authors’ approach sits outside traditional perspectives of framing adoption through the benevolent lens of child rescue, welfare interventions or humanitarianism and succeeds in laying bare the forces of demand and supply that continue to stimulate the market each with their own cries; one shouting ‘we only seek families for babies’ and the other screaming ‘we want babies for our families’. Inescapably the babies involved become commodities for exchange (Graham 2014: 4−5).

The book is organised in two parts. The first part allows the reader to hear the voices of those who continue to live with the consequences of separation and loss through adoption, including mothers on both sides of the family tree. This part of the book is based on stories that people contributed to the Monash History of Adoption website; unedited stories, some written, some told to an oral historian, may be found at

The second part of the book investigates the process of adoption: its social and legal background, the emergence of a number of adoptee and mother self-help and advocacy groups campaigning for their civil rights and for social justice, the shifting emphasis on intercountry adoption and, more recently, off-shore commercial surrogacy as the supply of local babies within Australia diminished. The book’s publication coincided with a Commonwealth apology, in March 2013, to ‘all those who have experienced pain and suffering through adoption’ and, with the Abbott government promising yet another policy change in adoption practice, to accelerate, simplify and broaden intercountry adoption, the book stands as a timely reminder of the market forces involved.

Selected reviews: Australian Journal of Adoption 8/1 (2014) (Thomas Graham); History Australia 11/2 (August 2014), 270−72 (Dee Michell); Oral History Association of Australia Journal 36 (2014), 93−4 (Carina Donaldson); Australian Historical Studies 46/1 (2015), 150−1 (Sarah Richards).


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