Humphrey McQueen

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Humphrey McQueen
Born (1942-06-26) 26 June 1942 (age 78)
Alma materUniversity of Queensland (B.A (Hons.))
OccupationPublic Intellectual, Labour Historian
AwardsLiterature Board, Australia Council (1975,1979-1980,1998)

Humphrey Dennis McQueen (born 26 June 1942) is an Australian political activist, socialist historian and cultural commentator. He is associated with the development of the Australian New Left.[2] His most iconic work, A New Britannia,[3] gained notoriety for challenging the dominant approach to Australian history developed by the Old Left.[4] He has written books on history, the media, politics and the visual arts.[5][6]

Early life and career[edit]

McQueen was born in Brisbane to a working-class family that were active in the Australian Labor Party.[5] He was educated at Marist College Ashgrove, and later edited the Queensland Young Labor newsletter.[5] McQueen joined the ALP at the age of fifteen, and was instrumental in establishing the Queensland Young Labor organisation. In 1961, McQueen served as the ALP campaign organiser for the seat of Ryan.[7] He completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours at the University of Queensland in 1965.[1] McQueen was an active participant in the anti-Vietnam War movement in Australia,[8] campaigning against conscription as chairman of the Melbourne-based Revolutionary Socialist Group in 1968. His organisational engagement shaped his interest in Maoist and Gramscian theory, influencing his subsequent historical work.[9] From 1966-1969 he was employed as a teacher at Glen Waverley High, Victoria. In 1970, he moved to Canberra, where he taught Australian history as a senior tutor at the Australian National University from 1970-1974.[1] It was there that he met and befriended the historian, Manning Clark.[4] McQueen had been head-hunted by Henry Mayer after reading McQueen's articles "Convicts and Rebels" and "A Race Apart".[10]

Major contributions[edit]

"Convicts and Rebels"[edit]

McQueen’s early academic writing was intent on dispelling the approaches to labour history generated by the Australian Old Left,[11][12] especially Russel Ward's The Australian Legend.[13] His critique was first developed in "Convicts and Rebels",[14] in which McQueen contested the Australian Whig history[15][16] associated with the Old Left.[17] As he argued:

"Ward uses class to mean nothing more than that group of people who came to the colony as convicts and ignores all social and national divisions within this category. It is misleading to clothe the convicts in the aura of class struggle since for its first fifty years Australia did not have a class structure, but only a deformed stratification which had itself been vomited up by the maelstrom which was delineating class in Britain. If a class formula must be given to the majority of the convicts it must be lumpen-proletariat or petit- bourgeoisie" McQueen, 1968[14]

In the article, McQueen doubted the authenticity of a democratic and egalitarian tradition emanating from Australia’s convict history. He challenged the egalitarian aspect of the tradition, highlighting the prominence of racism in convict society.[3]

A New Britannia[edit]

Australia’s prosperity, based on wool and gold, was the prosperity of expanding capitalism. Geographically, Australia was a frontier of European capitalism in Asia. The first of these circumstances gave rise to the optimism that illuminated our radicalism; the second produced the fear that tarnishes our nationalism" McQueen, 1970, A New Britannia.[18]

In 1970, McQueen wrote A New Britannia, an historical analysis of the emergence and development of the Australian labour movement. It influentially[4] argued that the history of the Australian labour movement, from colonisation to Australian federation (1788-1901), should be understood as an extension of Imperialism[19] within the British Empire. The argument challenged existing account of the labour movement emerging from the Australian Old Left, which had mythologised the nation-building and democratic nature of the movement. In seeking to challenge accounts of Australian history presented in the Old Left, McQueen established the grounds to contest the Whig tradition in Australian scholarship.[17] He identified that British imperialism cannot be separated from the experience of capitalism in Australia, and that Australian identity should be reconsidered in light of the role that racism and Patriarchy had played in development of the Australian labour movement.[17] Together with an application of British New Left theorists, Perry Anderson[20] and Tom Nairn,[21] the approach redefined the nature of Australian historical enquiry, which would prove to be influential in the discipline of history.[4]

Receptions of the book were mixed. Terry Irving in reviewing A New Britannia, highlighted the work’s theoretical legacy, but also the need to produce a more developed theoretical engagement. He stated that A New Britannia "Will provoke angry discussion, but I hope it will also provoke the new left to develop the methodology necessary to write a new history".[22] This observation would influence the development of another hallmark of the Australian New Left, Class Structure in Australian History.[23][24]

Other works[edit]

Year Title Publisher
A New Britannia: An Argument Concerning the Social Origins of Australian Radicalism, 1971 ISBN 0-14-021314-7; 2nd edition 1976, 1978, 1980 ISBN 0-14-021904-8; Revised edition 1986 ISBN 0-14-010126-8; 4th edition 2004 ISBN 0-7022-3439-7. Penguin
Aborigines, Race and Racism, Penguin, 1974, 1976 ISBN 0-14-080774-8 Penguin
Australia's Media Monopolies, Widescope, 1977, 1978,1981 ISBN 0-86932-017-3 Widescope
Social Sketches of Australia: 1888-1975 Penguin, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1986 ISBN 0-14-004435-3 Penguin
The Black Swan of Trespass: The Emergence of Modernist Painting in Australia to 1944, APCOL, 1979 ISBN 0-909188-12-2 APCOL
Gone Tomorrow: Australia into the 1980s, Angus and Roberson, 1983 ISBN 0-207-14610-1 Angus and Roberson
Windows onto Worlds, Report of the Committee to Review Australian Studies in Tertiary Education, Co-authored with Kay Daniels and Bruce Bennett. AGPS, 1987 ISBN 0-642-11866-3 AGPS
Suburbs of the Sacred, Transforming Australian Beliefs and Values, Penguin, 1988, 269pp. ISBN 0-14-010457-7 Penguin
Gallipoli to Petrov: Arguing with Australian History, Allen & Unwin,1989 ISBN 0-86861-199-9 (hardback) ISBN 0-86861-207-3 (paperback) Allen & Unwin
Social Sketches of Australia: 1888-1988, Penguin, 1991 ISBN 0-14-012232-X Penguin
Japan to the Rescue, Australian Security Around the Indonesian Archipelago during the American Century, Heinemann, 1992 ISBN 0-85561-402-1 Heinemann
Tokyo World, An Australian Diary, Heinemann, 1992 ISBN 0-85561-412-9 Heinemann
Tom Roberts, Macmillan, 1996 ISBN 0-7329-0835-3 Macmillan Publishers
Suspect History: Manning Clark and the Future of Australian History, Wakefield, 1997 ISBN 1-86254-410-7 Wakefield
Temper Democratic: How Exceptional is Australia?, Wakefield 1998 ISBN 1-86254-466-2 Wakefield
The Essence of Capitalism, The Origins of our Future, Sceptre, 2001 ISBN 0-7336-0940-6; United Kingdom edition, Profile, London, 2001 ISBN 1-86197-098-6; North American edition, Black Rose, Montreal, 2003 ISBN 1-55164-220-4 Black Rose Books
Social Sketches of Australia: 1888 to 2001, University of Queensland Press, 2004, ISBN 0-7022-3440-0 University of Queensland Press
Framework of Flesh: Builders' Labourers Battle for Health and Safety, Ginninderra Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-74027-545-3 Ginninderra Press
Men of Flowers, with Peter Lyssiotis and Wayne Stock, Masterthief, 2010, ISBN[25] Fryer Folios
We Built This Country: Builders' Labourers and Their Unions, 1787 to the Future, Ginninderra Press, 2011 ISBN 978-1-74027-697-9 Ginninderra Press

McQueen contributed a chapter entitled "Born free: wage-slaves and chattel-slaves" to Foundational Fictions in South Australian History (2018).[26]


  1. ^ a b c "abiography". Archived from the original on 17 February 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  2. ^ Williams-Brooks, Llewellyn (2016). "Radical Theories of Capitalism in Australia", Honours Thesis, University of Sydney, viewed 20 April 2017,[1]
  3. ^ a b McQueen, H 1970/2004, A New Britannia, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, p.31
  4. ^ a b c d Bongiorno, F 2008, "Two Radical Legends: Russel Ward, Humphrey McQueen and the New Left Challenge in Australian Historiography", Journal of Australian Colonial History, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 201–222.
  5. ^ a b c Gould, Bob (2004) 'The Life and Work of Humphrey McQueen: Never Trust Tories Bearing Gifts', Ozleft, viewed 20 April 2017
  6. ^ Men of Flowers, with Peter Lyssiotis and Wayne Stock, Masterthief, 2010,
  7. ^ Marks, Russell Leask (2011), Rejection, redemption, ambivalence : the New Left and Australian nationalism, La Trobe University, archived from the original on 28 February 2018, retrieved 28 February 2018
  8. ^ "Australia and the Vietnam War - Conscription - Moratoriums and Opposition". Archived from the original on 21 February 2017. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  9. ^ Pascoe, R 1979, The Manufacture of Australian History, Oxford University Press, Oxford
  10. ^ Marks, R.L., 2011, Rejection, Redemption, Ambivalence: the New Left and Australian Nationalism (Doctoral Dissertation), La Trobe University
  11. ^ Fitzpatrick, B 1944, A Short History of the Australian Labor Movement, Macmillan, Melbourne.
  12. ^ Turner, I 1965, Industrial Labour and Politics: The Labour Movement in Eastern Australia: 1900–1921, Australian National University, Canberra.
  13. ^ Ward, R 1958, The Australian Legend, Oxford University Press, Oxford
  14. ^ a b McQueen, H 1968, "Convicts and Rebels", Labour History, Vol. 15, pp. 3–30.
  15. ^ Martin, A W 1962/2007, The Whig View of Australian History: And Other Essays, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne.
  16. ^ Connell, R W 1974, "Images of Australia", in D E Edgar (ed.) Social Change in Australia: Readings in Sociology, Cheshire Books, Sydney.
  17. ^ a b c Williams-Brooks, Llewellyn (2016). "Radical Theories of Capitalism in Australia", Honours Thesis, University of Sydney, viewed 20 April 2017, [2]
  18. ^ McQueen, Humphrey, 1970/2004, p.3
  19. ^ Lenin, V I 1899/1964, The Development of Capitalism in Russia, Progress Publishers, Moscow.
  20. ^ Anderson, P 1964, "The Origins of the Present Crisis", New Left Review, Vol. 23, viewed 16 September 2016, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 April 2017. Retrieved 20 April 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link).
  21. ^ Nairn, T 1964, "The Nature of the Labour Party", New Left Review, Vol. 27, No. 38, viewed 29 September 2016, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 20 April 2017. Retrieved 20 April 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link).
  22. ^ Irving, T 1970, "Head-Standing", Bulletin, 12 Dec, pp. 55–57
  23. ^ Irving, T & Connell, R 1979, Class Structure in Australian History, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.
  24. ^ Williams-Brooks, Llewellyn (2016). "Radical Theories of Capitalism in Australia", Honours Thesis, University of Sydney, viewed 20 April 2017
  25. ^ Doyle, Cassie (July 2013). "Can we imagine? Men of flowers" (PDF). Fryer Folios. 8 (1): 10–11. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  26. ^ McQueen, Humphrey. "Born free: wage-slaves and chattel-slaves". Honest History. Retrieved 28 December 2020. This PDF is a slightly amended version of the author’s chapter in Carolyn Collins & Paul Sendziuk (ed), Foundational Fictions in South Australian History, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2018, pp. 43-63 PDF

External links[edit]