Savage or Civilised? Manners in Colonial Australia by Penny Russell

Savage or Civilised? Manners in Colonial Australia

**** (four stars as per Bookseller & Publisher ratings system)

Published by NewSouth, $34.95 pb, ISBN 9780868408606

Savage or Civilised? traces the evolution of manners in Australia from the early days when Europeans arrived with their rigid imagining of ‘the savage’ to ‘new publics’ and the modernisation of our cities. Exploding the myth of the uncouth, mannerless Australian, the author reveals a lively ‘history of snobs and slights, huffs and handshakes, curses and courtesies’. It becomes clear that in colonial times Australians did in fact care deeply about what we call ‘manners’. Reputation was critical and there were complex rules about everything from shaking hands to serving poultry, strolling down Collins Street or traveling on a tramcar. Issues of gender, class and race all had a huge impact on society and on-one was exempt from scrutiny, whether they were convicts and prostitutes or public servants, governors and their wives. The repercussions could be dire for those who transgressed society’s boundaries and the free press and writers on etiquette condemned all sorts of unseemly behavaiour. Meticulously researched, informative and entertaining, Russell’s book provides us with insight into many of the deeply ingrained behaviours we still practise today. It includes notes, references and gorgeous colour plates, and is highly recommended for readers interested in Australian history, cultural studies and gender studies.

© Paula Grunseit 2010

This review from Bookseller+Publisher magazine (November 2010 Vol 90, No 4) was first published by Thorpe-Bowker, a division of R R Bowker LLC. © 2010, Thorpe-Bowker.



  1. Sounds fascinating

    Thanks for sharing your AWW review

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out

    • Yes it’s a beauty. Fantastic that it won the Australian History Prize as part of the NSW Premier’s History Awards in 2011.

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