Karen Downing, Rebecca Jones, Blake Singley, ‘Handout or hand-up: Ongoing tensions in the long history of government response to drought in Australia’, Australian Journal of Politics and History 62, 2 (2016): 186-202.

Abstract: In 2014 the Coalition government announced a 320 million dollar package for drought-hit farmers. In describing this initiative as a ‘hand-up’ not a ‘hand out’ Prime Minister Tony Abbott encapsulated more than 150 years of tension over whether government drought response should be unconditional limited relief or conditional longer-term assistance. This paper considers the long history of drought assistance in Australia as seen through government legislation, year books, newspapers and personal papers. It argues that despite changing political and social circumstances, contradictions in the approach to government drought response, as well as in public and personal reactions to those policies, have remained remarkably consistent. We further suggest that lack of consensus over the inherent nature of drought is not sufficient to explain the dilemma.


Karen Downing, ‘“Behold, there is a New Man born!”: Understanding the Short-lived Optimism about Australia’s First Generation of “Native-born” White Men’, Men and Masculinities 17, 2 (2014): 195-217.

Abstract: Contemporary accounts of the first generation of white men born in Australia seemed to describe them as physically superior to their British counterparts. Social and economic historians provide evidence that they were indeed taller and explain the phenomenon in terms of diet and living standards. This article suggests that contemporary observations also reflected the eighteenth-century British concerns that “civilized” life in Britain threatened the essential nature of men. Popular medical literature highlighted the problems, emigration was promoted as the solution, and men’s personal writings reveal that they understood and acted on these messages. The physical superiority of Australia’s firstborn white men was not unexpected. But the short-lived optimism around these “new” men highlights ongoing tensions between men and modernity.

Full text (pdf file)


Karen Downing, ‘William Henty stands on his legs in front of Governor Gipps: Independence, manners and manliness in colonial Australia’, History Australia 10, 2 (2013): 75-94

Abstract: William Henty’s detailed journal of a visit to Sydney in December 1842 to meet with the New South Wales Executive Council reveals an uneasy relationship between claims for independence and displays of manners. This disquiet is, firstly, a result of the illusory nature of independence and, secondly, a manifestation of the disquiet that manners may have been unmanly. And the uneasiness was played out at the level of bodily comportment and gesture in social interactions. When Henty met Governor Gipps, financial security, family reputation and personal autonomy were compressed into anxiety about when to speak and when not to speak, and whether to sit or stand.

Full text (pdf file).


Karen Downing, ‘The Gentleman Boxer: Manners and Masculinity in Eighteenth-century England’, Men and Masculinities 12, 3 (2010): 328-352.

Abstract: Prize fighting was enormously popular during the second half of the eighteenth century in Britain. It became a fashion perhaps experienced as keenly by contemporary men of all classes as the “culture of sensibility” that describes this period of increasing politeness in society. This juxtaposition illustrates a vexing eighteenth-century issue: could a man be both polite and manly? This article argues that men across the social spectrum found in the “gentleman boxer” a resolution to this issue. The gentleman boxer synthesized traditionally held views of manliness with the civilizing effects of modern consumerism, acknowledged the concerns and aspirations of men of all classes, and responded to the political imperative for fighting men capable of forging a new nation bent on empire building. The gentleman boxer was both polite and manly and a fine example of a masculine identity negotiated between individual conceptions of the self and the material circumstances in which that self is found.