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A popular past? Historical identity and the rural ideal in the Australian country town 1945-2000

By Louise Caroline Prowse


This thesis is a study of identity-making in country towns. It traces the ways in which communities, and specifically those involved in local history, heritage and tourism promotion, have recast the image of the country town as historic in post-war Australia. It considers the authority of those who are image-makers, and those who had the power to assert control over the representation and communication of the rural past. This thesis traces the construction and age of the historic identity of country towns – that is, the way in which, and period when, country towns came to be thought of as historical places. It considers how the image of the historic country town became central to notions of the rural ideal in the latter half of the twentieth century. In doing so, this thesis explores these shifts during the period 1945-2000, a context mired by the spectre of rural and country town decline in Australia. Five country towns in New South Wales, selected through cultural and demographic surveys, serve as case studies and have formed the body of evidence for this thesis. I explore local historical movements, local history museums, local Aboriginal history, the impact of heritage legislation and restoration programmes, and the growth of the tourism industry. I also consider the role that the construction of historical knowledge and the power of authority over the past has played in local communities at a time where country towns were being refashioned as historical playgrounds for the national imagination. This thesis makes three core arguments. Firstly, it suggests that the notion that country towns are historical places is a post-war construction of local identity. Secondly, this thesis contends that this construction – the historical identity of country towns - enabled the country town to emerge as the central image of the rural ideal in the latter half of the twentieth century. And lastly, I argue that by the end of the twentieth century, the age of historical identity had passed. Instead country towns have emerged as sites where the new aspirational rural ideal of an organic, simpler life can be performed.Access is restricted to staff and students of the University of Sydney . UniKey credentials are required. Non university access may be obtained by visiting the University of Sydney Library

Topics: local history, tourism, heritage, country towns, historical identity, rural ideal
Publisher: Department of History
Year: 2015
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Sydney eScholarship
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