It begins with the centuries of Aboriginal habitation before the coming of the Europeans, and takes us through to the present. However, unusually, it is strongly weighted towards the twentieth century. The diverse origins of the emergent colonial society are vividly described, from the military and penal settlements to the lonely sheepfarms and the vibrant squalor of the gold workings; but today's Australia is largely a society of cities and suburbs, and it is this modern reality which is John Rickard's prime concern. In his hands it proves as rich, and deserving, a subject for historical and cultural investigation as the popular mythology of Bush and Outback.
He explores the way a distinctive national culture was built up in the period between federation in 1901 and the outbreak of the Second World War, and how that culture has been modified and challenged in the postwar era. He charts the evolution of Australia's social and political institutions against the changing imperial relationship; he examines the contribution of writers, artists and intellectuals to the country's growing sense of cultural identity; he analyzes the modern Australian home and family, and the values they embody; and he explores Australian attitudes to sexuality and emotional intimacy in their historical setting. For this welcome Second Edition, John Rickard has contributed a new chapter on the contemporary scene, which surveys the dramatic cultural shifts in Australian society as it approaches the centenary of federation in the year 2001. The entire book has been reset and redesigned in a larger, more handsome format, and has numerous new illustrations.