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A Cultural History of Fatherhood in Australia, 1920-1980

posted on 18.07.2017, 06:22 by Johnny Bell
This thesis is an exploration of different narratives of Australian fatherhood throughout the twentieth century. It is a study of the cultural representations of fathers, and of the expectations of what fathers should be, but it is also a study which examines the experiences of fathering and of being fathered. From a diversity of sources – childrearing manuals, the case files of a children’s protection society, women’s magazines, Australian life writing, royal commissions, and medical literature – comes a diversity of perspectives on Australian fatherhood, and from this the thesis makes two primary arguments. The first, put simply, is that ideas and images of Australian fatherhood have undergone considerable change over the decades from the 1920s to 1980. While the breadwinning model was the dominant ideal of Australian fatherhood for most of this period, even in the 1920s there were calls for men to attend to the emotional life of their children, and to their moral wellbeing. By the 1950s there were hopes that fathers might share in the more mundane, day-to-day demands of childrearing, even before the gender revolution of the 1960s and 1970s declared that the breadwinning model of fatherhood was not just inadequate, but also unjust. The often- overlooked story of Australian fatherhood, then, is revealed as dynamic, shifting, and always contested. The other argument of this thesis, though, is that Australian fatherhood in the twentieth century has been marked by continuities as much as change. In this, it will be seen that the different narratives of Australian fatherhood have often been curbed, resisted, or muted by ‘traditional’ ideas of how children should be raised. An important part of this resistance came from that vision of Australian masculinity which has always eschewed the humdrum and ‘feminising’ demands of the home, and the relationship between masculine identity and fatherhood is an important theme of this work. But this work also takes care to locate Australian fatherhood in the broader context of gender relations, and in doing so it will be seen that the sternest resistance to a ‘new fatherhood’ often came from the enduring mythologies of an omnipotent and naturally nurturing mother.


Principal supervisor

Christina Twomey

Additional supervisor 1

Mark Peel

Additional supervisor 2

Michael Hau

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Philosophical, Historical and International Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Arts

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