The Seventies, Ernest Scott Lecture 2020, Michelle Arrow

The 1970s and the Making of Modern Australia

The 2020 Ernest Scott Lecture was delivered by Professor Michelle Arrow (Macquarie University). In a rich and thought-provoking lecture, Professor Arrow explored the 1970s as the era when the ‘personal became political’. You can watch a recording of the lecture below; listen to an audio-recording via ABC Radio National; or read a transcript, published on Inside Story.


In Australian history, the 1970s is popularly remembered as the decade of Whitlam, stagflation and the Dismissal, a tumultuous period of economic and political upheaval. But the 1970s was also the era when the ‘personal became political’: when the women’s movement, and the gay and lesbian movement, remade the boundary between public and private life. Their activism, and the new vocabularies and strategies it produced, had far-reaching implications for both the left and right in Australian politics.

The insight that ‘the personal is political’ fuelled demands on the state for new rights and protections. It even underpinned the establishment of a Royal Commission. The Royal Commission on Human Relationships (1974–1977) acted as a stage on which Australians could make a case for national inclusion on the basis of their distinctive needs and rights, in the middle of a decade of exciting change and unsettling possibilities. This lecture will examine the ways that new understandings of gender and sexuality transformed Australian politics and society in the 1970s, and consider the complex and uneven legacies of these changes.


Michelle Arrow is professor in Modern History at Macquarie University and the 2020 winner of the Ernest Scott Prize for History. This prize is awarded annually to the book judged to be the most distinguished contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or to the history of colonisation published in the previous year. She is the author of three books, including Friday on Our Minds: Popular Culture in Australia Since 1945 (2009) and The Seventies: The Personal, the Political and the Making of Modern Australia (2019), which was not only awarded the 2020 Ernest Scott Prize but was also shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Professor Arrow won the 2014 Multimedia History Prize in the NSW Premier’s History Awards for her radio documentary Public Intimacies: the 1974 Royal Commission on Human Relationships. Together with Kate Fullagar and Leigh Boucher, she is editor of the Australian Historical Association’s journal History Australia.

The Ernest Scott prize is proudly supported by the History program in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne.

You can browse through an album of the covers of books that have won the Ernest Scott Prize over the past few decades via the Friends of History at Melbourne Facebook page.