Australia's Birthstain

Babette Smith

A controversial new history of convicts in Australia, which lays bare the distortions and myths that caused the nation to deny its own past.


Why is it that Australians are still misled by myths about their convict heritage? Why are so many family historians surprised to find a convict ancestor in their family trees? Why did an entire society collude to cover up its past?

Babette Smith traces the stories of hundreds of convicts over the 80 years of convict transportation to Australia. Putting a human face on the convicts' experience, she paints a rich picture of their crimes in Britain and their lives in the colonies. We know about Port Arthur, Norfolk Island, chaingangs and floggings, but this was far from the experience of most. In fact, most convicts became good citizens and the backbone of the new nation. So why did we need to hide them away?

Australia's Birthstain rewrites the story of Australia's convict foundations, revealing the involvement of British politicians and clergy in creating a birthstain that reached far beyond convict crimes. Its startling conclusion offers a fresh perspective on our past.

'Babette Smith's arguments will be hotly debated, but there is no doubting the fascination or drama of this study of the stain we pretend is not there.'

Thomas Keneally, Booker prize winning novelist and author of The Commonwealth of Thieves

'Australia's Birthstain explodes many myths of the past and gives us a much better understanding of what actually happened, and the effects of this on the Australian community...should be read by everyone interested in Australian history.'

A.G.L. Shaw, author of Convicts and the Colonies and formerly Professor of History, Monash University, Victoria

'A thoughtful, challenging and well-researched study, this book shows how Australians have viewed their convict past. Through a sample of 1100 convicts it also brings to life some of the men and women who were transported here.'

Emeritus Professor Brian Fletcher, University of Sydney


Short-listed, Waverley Library Award for Literature, 2008

Babette Smith is an independent historian and author of the bestselling account of the lives of a shipload of female convicts, Cargo of Women.

Price: AUD $49.95(NZ$59.99)
ISBN: 9781741146042
Format: Hard Cover
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Number of pages: 408
Publication Date: April 2008
Edition Number: