Ned Kelly to Cathy Freeman: what famous Australians say about us

Thursday 20 June 2013

In an age where fame is fleeting, ANU researcher Dr Karen Fox is delving deep into Australia’s history to investigate social and cultural changes through famous Australians.

Dr Fox’s research will help our understanding of how social, cultural and political processes shaped changes in who was celebrated and what they were celebrated for throughout history.

“I hope to show how Australia’s concept of heroes – influential, significant, famous or iconic figures – has changed over time as Australian society has changed,” she says.

“It’s not just about who those famous people have been, but also the processes and mechanisms that have created heroes in Australian society, for example through the media, through honours and awards.”

Famous Australians regularly include notorious as well as heroic figures, says Dr Fox. In this context, outlaw Ned Kelly sits alongside sporting hero Cathy Freeman as important figures in Australia’s collective memory.

Dr Fox has so far found a significant rise in sporting and popular culture and a decline in religious heroes, a trend she links to the increased influence of mass media.

“One thing I’ve really noticed is the rise in indigenous heroes and people from non-European backgrounds,” she says.

For the first part of this project research, Dr Fox has collated information from various texts dating back to before Australia’s Federation in 1901. This includes from the earliest biographical dictionary produced in Australia, J. H. Heaton’s Australian Dictionary of Dates and Men of the Time to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, now up to its nineteenth edition. Dr Fox is also managing editor for this publication and Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Centre of Biography.

Dr Fox will present her findings to date at a seminar on Friday 21 June.

Seminar: From Burke and Wills to Cathy Freeman: Fame in Australia
Friday 21 June 2.00 – 3.30pm
Seminar Room A, Coombs Building, Fellows Road ANU
For more information please see the ADSRI website

Image caption: Ned Kelly, the day before he was hanged 1880, from the State Library of Victoria.


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