Ward studied English at the University of Adelaide and taught at Geelong and Sydney Grammar Schools. He was at the University of New England as a lecturer (1957) and deputy chancellor for eight years. During World War II he served in an army psychological unit.
Ward's membership of the Communist Party of Australia (1941 to 1949) brought him to the attention of ASIO; and, in 1984, he appeared before the Hope Royal Commission on Australia's security and intelligence agencies stating that ASIO had harassed him for 40 years.
In his book, 'The Australian Legend' (colloquially known as Legend), Ward argued that the Australian bush was egalitarian and that this influenced Australian culture. Ward's book was both influential and controversial and is grouped among the classic historical references on Australia history. In the 40 years since its first publication there were three editions and it has been reprinted 15 times. While the images of the Australian character in Legend may not seem to reflect modern views, it is a book that "inform[s] Australians about the forces that have shaped them", and it raises questions that continue to be debated.
- Felons and folksongs (1955) Canberra University College, Canberra
- The Australian Legend (1958) Oxford University Press, Melbourne
- A Nation for a Continent: the history of Australia, 1901-1975 (1977) Heinemann Educational Australia, Richmond
- Australia Since the Coming of Man (1982) Lansdowne Press, Sydney
- Finding Australia: the history of Australia to 1821 (1987) Heinemann Educational Australia, Richmond
- A Radical Life: The Autobiography of Russel Ward, (1988) MacMillan, South Melbourne, Australia
- Stephens, Tony (17 May 2003). "Mate, you're a legend". Sydney Morning Herald
- Jordan, Matthew (2004-12-01). A Spirit of True Learning: The Jubilee History of the University of New England. UNSW Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-86840-663-3.
- McQueen, H. A New Britannia: an argument concerning the social origins of Australian radicalism and nationalism, (1970) Penguin, Ringwood, Victoria
- Arnold, J (2000), "Australian History in Print: a bibliographical survey of influential twentieth-century texts" for the National Inquiry into School History - Appendix D: Australian History in Print: a bibliographical survey of influential twentieth-century texts, DEST
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