Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Dr Alison Holland

Senior Lecturer

BA (Hons), University of Sydney
Diploma of Museum Studies, University of Sydneymhpir-ALISON HOLLAND_New
PhD, University of New South Wales

Location:AHH Building, Level 2 South Wing
Phone: +61 2 9850 8829
Fax: +61 2 9850 6594

Alison graduated with a BA (Hons) and Diploma of Museum Studies from the University of Sydney in 1988. After working in a curatorial capacity at the Justice and Police Musuem in Sydney, she won a scholarship to undertake a PhD at the University of New South Wales, graduating in 1999. She has worked in the Department of Modern History at Macquarie since 2005, specializing in Australian History and Indigenous History. She also teaches environmental history and Indigenous education. Her research interests are in the broad fields of Indigenous history, settler colonialism, humanitarianism and human rights. Her book, Just Relations. The Story of Mary Bennett's Crusade For Aboriginal Rights was published by UWA Publishing (2015) and was short-listed for the Premier's History prize for Australian History in 2016. She has also co-edited Rethinking the Racial Moment. Essays on the Colonial Encounter (Cambridge Scholars) in 2011.

She is a member of the Centre for Applied History and the Environmental Humanities Network.

Current Research Projects

Breaking the Silence. Aboriginal Defenders and the Settler State, 1911-1939.

I am currently writing a book about the politics of Aboriginal affairs in the first half of the twentieth century. In a series of thematic chapters I revisit the conflicted landscape of Aboriginal affairs to recover the debates and arguments about Aboriginal futures and questions around governance which were at the heart of settler angst leading up to the second world war. It is contracted to Melbourne University Publishing.

Historicising Human Rights

I am working on a project to have the papers of Mary Bennett (1881-1961) digitized. Originally confiscated by the state, in the course of research for my book I located many of her letters and other notes in numerous archives and libraries around Australia and in London. The aim of this project is to bring them together and make them available and accessible to a wider audience.

The Birth and Death of ATSIC

This is a collaborative project with Professor Larissa Behrendt (UTS) which will examine the birth and death of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (1989-2004) as part of a larger interest in self-determination.

Research Funding and Fellowships

2013/2014       Frederick Watson Fellow, National Archives of Australia
2006                Macquarie New Staff Grant
2007                Macquarie Research Innovation Fund (with colleagues from the Faculty)

Higher Degree Research Supervision


  • Jack Clear, 'Warfare of the Most Dreadful Description': A Case Study of Settler Colonial Violence in Connecticut and Tasmania (MRes), 2017
  • Euguene Schofield-Georgeson By What Authority? Criminal Law Reform in Colonial NSW, 1788-1861  (Co-Supervisor with Associate Professor Iain Stewart, Law)
  • Amy Way Between Discovery and Deep Time: A Study of the Cultural Representations of Mungo Man, MRes 2015.
  • Michael Ward The Cummeragunja Walk-Off: A Study of Black/White Politics and Public Discourse About Race, Ideology and Place on the Eve of the Second World War, 2015.
  • Dorothy Kass The Nature Study Idea: Education Reform and Environmental Concern in New South Wales, 1900-1920 (Co-Supervisor with Dr Mark Hearn)
  • Jarrod Hore   An Orientation to Nature: The Construction of Wilderness in the Work of John Watt Beattie (1859 - 1930) , MRes 2014
  • Carmel Kelleher, Quarantine Station North Head: A Cultural History of a Working Station in the Twentieth Century.(2013)
  • Bruce Dennett, (Un) Reel Blackfellas: The Changing Image of Indigenous Australia in Feature Films. (2012)
  • Megan Edwards, Sylvan Chaos: Cultural Identity and the Foundations of an Australian Environmental Sensibility. (2012)
  • Mandy Kretzschmar, Narrating the Other: Representations of the European in the Australian Printed Press. A Qualitative Analysis of the 1920s and 1960s. (2012)
  • Julia Miller, Soakers and Scorchers: A Cultural History of ENSO in NSW, 1890 to 1990. (2011)
  • Vicki Grieves, Approaching Aboriginal Histories: Family, Wellbeing and Identity in Aboriginal Australia. (2010)
  • Chris Naylor, Survival of a Nation: From Assimilation to Reactionary Nationalism (M.Phil). (2010)


  • Jack Clear (PhD), A Transnational Study of Settler Colonial Warfare in the United States and Australia: Geronimo, Jandamarra and the Role of the Freedom Fighter.
  • Amy Way (PhD), Old Australia. The History of Australian Antiquity
  • Ryan Spinks (MRes) Self Defence is the First Law of Nature: A Study of Frontier Violence in the Settled Districts of Van Diemens Land 1826-1828.
Selected Publications


Just Relations. The Story of Mary Bennett's Crusade for Aboriginal Rights, UWA Publishing, 2015.Modern History_staff_Alison_book cover

This book charts the life and work of one of Australia's leading twentieth century human rights advocates. It recovers the efforts of Mary Bennett (1881-1961) to found a 'just relationship' between Aborigines and non-Aborigines in Australia from the late 1920s, when the possibility of Aboriginal human rights was first mooted on the international stage, to the 1960s, when an attempt was made to have the Aboriginal question raised before the United Nations.

By placing Bennett's biography in the context of her humanitarianism-her crusade- Alison Holland reveals the ethics of care, as well as the tensions, contradictions and investments at the heart of humanitarian intervention. Along the way, she shows the forces and ideas which shaped Bennett's advocacy and the wider context within which her story and her efforts took shape. In demonstrating the close connection between humanitarianism as a political project and the rise of human rights, Holland tells an important chapter in the little known history of human rights in Australia.

Reviews and Comments about the Book

Holland's biography is a major achievement. It is also essential reading for anyone interested in Australian history.


A comprehensive and sophisticated study of Bennett in her ideological and political milieu and a thorough representation of the evolution of Aboriginal policy debates. [Just Relations] is an important contribution to Australian history that was worth the wait.


Rethinking The Racial Moment. Essays on the Colonial Encounter, Cambridge Scholas Publishing, 2011 (edited with Professor Barbara Brookes)Photo of the book cover Rethinking the Racial Moment.

"In this highly readable collection Alison Holland and Barbara Brookes follow the recent historiographical trend of rethinking colonial pasts - from the perspective of Australia and New Zealand. Essays by Ballantyne, Boucher, Grieves, Kerin, Rowse, Teo and Woollacott, as well as Brookes and Holland, focus on local articulations of race and their intersections with colonialism and its aftermath. By using the moment as an interpretive (not merely temporal) frame they re-energise debates about race and colonialism, pointing in significant new directions."

Book Chapters

  • 'The Yurtokee Club 1940s Adelaide: A Moment in Historical and Global Context' in A Holland, B Brookes (eds) Rethinking the Racial Moment. Essays on the Colonial Encounter, Cambridge Scholars, 2011 pp. 179-203.
  • 'Introduction and Conclusion' in A Holland, B Brookes (eds), Rethinking the Racial Moment. Essays on the Colonial Encounter, Cambridge Scholars, 2011 pp. 1-20; 255-261.
  • 'Australian Citizenship in the Twenty First Century: Historical Perspectives', Christina Slade and Martina Moellering (eds), From Migrant to Citizen: Testing Language Testing Culture, Palgrave, 2010.
  •   'Indigenous Australians' , Encyclopedia of the Modern World , Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • 'Australian Aborigines', Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World , December 2008.
  • 'Colour not Civilisation. Contesting Boundaries of Citizenship and Rights in Inter-war Australia', Leigh Boucher et al (eds) Historicizing Whiteness: Transnational Perspectives on the Construction of Identity , Rmit Press, 2007.
  • 'The Common Bond? Australian Citizenship', Martyn Lyons and Penny Russell, (eds), Australia's History. Themes and Debates, UNSW Press, 2005, pp.152-171.
  • Alison Holland, Fiona Paisley, 'Fernando, Anthony Martin (1864 - 1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography , Supplementary Volume, Melbourne University Press, 2005, pp 127-128
  • 'Saving the Race: Critics of Absorption Look For an Alternative', Tim Rowse, (ed), Contesting Assimilation , API Network, 2005, pp.85-99.
  • 'Whatever her race, a woman is not a chattel': Mary Montgomery Bennett, Anna Cole et al (eds), Uncommon Ground. White Women in Aboriginal History, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2005, pp.129-152.
  • ' Post-war Women Reformers and Aboriginal Citizenship. Rehearsing an Old Campaign?', in J. Damousi (ed), Citizenship, Women and Social Justice: International Historical Perspectives, The University of Melbourne, 1999.
  • 'Joyce Vickery', Heather Radi (ed), 200 Australian Women. A Redress Anthology , Women's Redress Press, Inc, 1988.
  • 'Jeffrey, Margaret Lilian (1896 - 1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, Melbourne University Press, 1996, pp 561-562.

Journal Articles

  • 'Teaching and Learning Indigenous History in Comparative and Transnational Frame: Lessons From the Coalface', History Australia, printed online January, 2018
  • 'Aboriginal Affairs: Humanitarian Intervention Then and Now. Dis/Connections and Possibilities', Australian Journal of Politics and History, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol.63, (4), December 2017, pp. 524-539.
  • Wielding Her Pen Like A Sword: Mary Bennett's War Against the Australian State, Lilith: A Feminist History Journal, 22, 2106,;dn=194638461988754;res=IELHSS
  • A Scottish Inheritance? Mary Bennett, the Aboriginal Cause and the Legacies of the Past', Journal of the Sydney Society for Scottish History, vol.16, 2016,
  • '"To Eliminate Colour Prejudice'. The WCTU and Decolonisation in Australia ", Religion and Empire - Special Issue of The Journal of Religious History , June, 2008.
  • 'Compelling Evidence. Marriage, Colonialism and the Question of Indigenous Rights'; Women's History Review , November, 2008.
  • "Disentangling Native Title. History and Process", Teaching History , vol.41, no.1, March 2007, pp.42-47.
  • Response to Henry Reynolds, Macquarie Law Journal , vol 6, 2006, pp.17-18.
  • "Wives and Mothers Like Ourselves: Exploring White Women's Intervention in the Politics of Race, 1920s-1940s",Australian Historical Studies , vol.32, no.117, 2001, pp.292-310
  • 'The Campaign for Women Protectors: Gender, Race and Frontier between the Wars", Australian Feminist Studies , vol.16, no.34, 2001, pp.27-42.
  • "Mary Bennett and the Feminists: A Response", Australian Historical Studies , no.120, October, 2002, pp.398-400.
  • "Feminism, Colonialism and Aboriginal Workers: An Anti-Slavery Crusade", Labour History , No.69, November 1995, pp. 52-64

Book Reviews

  • 2017 - Hannah Robert, Paved With Good Intentions. Terra Nullius, Aboriginal Land Rights and Settler-Colonial Law, Halstead Press, 2016, Law and History Journal (forthcoming)
  • 2016 - Jennifer Jones, Country Women and the Colour Bar: Grassroots Activism and the Country Women's Association, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2015, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 62, 2016, pp.479-480.
  • 2016 - Barry Morris, Protests, Land Rights and Riots: Postcolonial Struggles in Australia in the 1980s, Berghahn, New York, 2015, American Historical Review, April, 2016.
  • 2016 - Barbara Dawson, In The Eye of the Beholder: What Six Nineteenth Century Women Tell Us About Indigenous Authority and Identity, Australian Historical Studies, vol.47 (2), 2016, pp.330-331.
  • 2015 - Jane Lydon (ed), Calling the Shots. Aboriginal Photographies, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2014, History Australia, vol.12 (2), 2015, pp. 257-259.
  • 2013 - Fiona Paisley, The Lone Protestor. A.M. Fernando in Australia and Europe, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2012, Aboriginal History, vol.37, 2013, pp.175-177.
  • 2011 - Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton (eds), Moving Subjects: Gender, Mobility and Intimacy in an Age of Global Empire, Australian Feminist Studies, vol.26, issue 69, September, 2011, pp.371-373.
  • 2010 - Georgine Clarson, Eat My Dust, John Hopkins University Press, 2008, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol.56, no.3, pp.479-480.
  • 2009 - Shirleene Robinson, Something Like Slavery? Aboriginal Child Workers 1842-1945, University of Queensland Press, Australian Historical Studies, vol.40, no.3, September, pp.387-388.
  • 2009 - Ann Standish, Australia Through Women's Eyes, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2008, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol.55, no.4,  pp.446-447.
  • 2008 - John Maynard, Fight For Liberty and Freedom. The Origins of Australian Aboriginal Activism, Australian Historical Studies, September, vol.39, issue 3, pp.399-401.
  • 2008 - Sue Taffe, Collaborating For Aboriginal Rights, National Museum of Australia, History Australia, vol.5, no.2, pp.50.1 - 50.2.
  • 2004 - Bain Attwood and SG Foster (eds), Frontier Conflict. The Australian Experience and Bain Attwood's Rights For Aborigines, Allen & Unwin, 2003, Australian Humanities Review, Issue 31-32, April (
  • 2002 -Fiona Paisley, Loving Protection? Australian Feminism and Aboriginal Women's Rights, 1919-1939, Feminist Review, 70, pp.166-167.
  • 2002 - Avtar Brah and Annie Coombes (eds), Hybridity and its Discontents. Politics, Science, Culture, Feminist Review, 71, pp.111-113.
  • 1997 - The Covenant Makers. Islander Missionaries in the Pacific, Labour History, 73, November, pp.252-253.

Public Contributions

Wielding Her Pen Like a Sword. Mary Bennett, the Writer, Vida Blog, January, 2017

How Can Australia Build on a Century of Struggle Over Indigenous Citizenship, The Conversation, October3, 2016

Cheap in the Deep Sense. The sorry business of Indigenous Affairs, The Conversation, December 16, 2014

Historyonics: Tablecloth Depicts Frontier Violence, Radio National, April, 2014.

On Citizenship, Radio National, February, 2006.

Conference Proceedings

  • "'Wives and Mothers Like Ourselves': Exploring White Women's Intervention in the Politics of Race, 1920s-1940s", Martin Crotty, John Germov and Grant Rodwell (eds), A Race for a Place : Eugenics, Darwinism and Social Thought and Practice in Australia: Proceedings of the History & Sociology of Eugenics Conference, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, University of Newcastle, 2001.
  • "A Question of Land and Labour: White Women, Co-operatives and Healing the Aboriginal Economy", Conference Proceedings, 5th Women and Labour Conference , Macquarie University , September, 1995.

Conference Papers

  • 2018, 'Does the British Flag Mean Nothing To Us? British Democratic Traditions and Aboriginal Rights Claims in Inter war Australia', Histories of Human and Civil Rights in Australia, University College Dublin
  • 2017, 'Freedom in this Land. How Human Rights Shaped Postwar Aboriginal Policy', AHA, University of Newcastle
  • 2015, 'Controllers or Consultants? The Relationship Between the Army and Native Affairs Administration During the Second World War', Brothers and Sisters in Arms: Historicising Indigenous Military Service , ACU
  • 2014 Responding to a Humanitarian Crisis. The Battle Over Aboriginal Affairs in the Northern Territory in the Interwar Years, Australian Historical Association, University of Queensland.
  • 2012 - "Aboriginal Affairs: Humanitarian Intervention Then and Now. Dis/Connections, Possibilities and Problems", Australian Historical Association, University of Adelaide.
  • 2011 - "The Constraints of Culture and Humanity. Defending Aboriginal Women's Rights Then and Now", Australian Studies Forum, University of New South Wales.
  • 2011 - "The Constraints of Culture and Humanity, Defending Aboriginal Women's Rights Then and Now", The Berks, University of Massachusetts, USA.
  • 2008 - "Historicising Australian Citizenship", IUEU conference on Citizenship Testing at Macquarie University.
  • 2008 - "Something Lost or Never Ceded? The Idea of Sovereignty in Indigenous Political Thought", Australian Historical Association, Melbourne 2008.
  • 2006 - "Colour Not Civilisation, Contesting Boundaries of Citizenship and Rights in Twentieth Century Australia", Historicising Whiteness Conference, University of Melbourne.
  • MHIS202 Australian Environmental History -
  • MHIS301 Indigenous-Settler Histories: Comparative Context
  • MHIS204 - The Origins of Modern Australia
  • MHIS300 - Modern History Capstone Unit
  • INED801 - The History of Indigenous Education

Departmental HDR Director
Co-ordinator/Liaison - HTA Day
Chair, Australian History Museum