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ANZSHM Biennial Book Prize 2023


The 2023 inaugural ANZSHM Book Prize winner was announced at the Society’s biennial conference in Adelaide in July 2023. The judges for the 2023 Book Prize (covering the period 2021 and 2022) were Linda Bryder (chair), Cate Storey and Anne Westmore.


Charmaine Robson, Missionary Women, Leprosy and Indigenous Australians, 1936-1986, Palgrave Macmillan, 2022

Charmaine’s book brings together leprosy and Catholic missions, to explain the structures set up for Indigenous sufferers in four leprosaria in northern Australia between the 1930s and 1986 which were home to almost two thousand patients over that time. The study draws on archival sources including interviews to bring out perspectives of patients, nurses, doctors, bureaucrats, and missionaries, along with Indigenous families and communities. Charmaine rightly points out that this female-centered missionary initiative has been overlooked in history, as has the history of leprosy in the Aboriginal population more broadly. While she explores Europeans’ racial understandings of Indigenous people as a motivation for isolation and control, she also considers the Christian missions’ understandings of leprosy sufferers in biblical terms. Her focus above all is on the Catholic sister nurses, giving them voice, albeit not in a hagiographic way, along with the patients they served. One of the strong points is that she does not treat Indigenous people as victims, but shows their agency and resilience in their formation of communities and relationships. The book forms a significant contribution to the history of health and medicine and to Australia’s colonial history.



Shayne Brown, Hindsight: The History of Orthoptics in Australia 1931-1960, Orthoptics Australia Ltd, 2022

In her book, Shayne Brown sets out the development of orthoptic education, clinical practice and its professional association from 1931 to 1960, and provides biographies of 121 Australian orthoptists from that period. I learnt a lot from this book; like my fellow judges I admitted total ignorance of the profession of orthoptics before reading the book, and was particularly interested in learning about its development as a female profession and its links to ophthalmology rather than optometry. Also noteworthy was its work for the air force during the Second World War, which considerably heightened its status. The book’s blurb rightly points out that this is the first Australian orthoptic history and provides an authoritative account of the development of this all-female profession which, despite lack of support from some who did not value orthoptic therapy, succeeded in establishing Australian orthoptics practice and education as world-class. Hindsight is such a great title, by the way.


Brian Draper, Dementia and Old Age Mental Health: A History of Services in Australia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2022

Brian Draper’s book is a monumental study which contributes not only to the history of old age mental healthcare and to the more recent rise of geriatric medicine (a seriously under-researched topic), but also the history of psychiatry, mental health and its institutions more broadly, social welfare and the family and the history of aged care. It has a local focus, considering each individual Australian colony and state in turn which will make it of great interest to local historians, and yet it constantly casts the net more expansively as well, assessing international influences, particularly British, and the interconnectedness of medical developments. Brian uses primary sources, such as medical casebooks, to reveal the stories of past elderly inmates of institutions and the challenges they faced in the institutions and beyond. He addresses the separate and distinctive stories of Aboriginal peoples. In bringing these stories alive he sensitively and expertly interprets them through the lens of modern psychiatric knowledge.

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