Honouring a Nation

Honouring a Nation

A History of Australia's Honours System

Authored by: Karen Fox orcid

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The first detailed history of imperial and national honours in Australia, Honouring a Nation tells the story of the honours system’s transformation from instrument of imperial unity to national institution.

From the extension of British honours to colonial Australasia in the nineteenth century, through to Tony Abbott’s revival of knighthoods in the twenty-first, this book explains how the system has worked, traces the arguments of its supporters and critics, and looks both at those who received awards and those who declined them. Honouring a Nation brings to life a long history of debate over honours, including wrangles over State rights, gender imbalances in honours lists, and the emergence and hardening of the Labor/Liberal divide over British awards, illuminating issues that are still part of Australian life—and of the honours system—today. The history of the honours system is equally the history of the nation, revealing who Australians were, what they have become, what they value, and the things that have unified and divided them.

‘National honours are a fraught recognition of merit. They beg many questions: who decides, why some people are recognised, and others ignored. Honours provide a window to the soul of the nation and invite us to consider who we really are and what we value. These are big issues to ponder. Karen Fox provides many of the answers in this timely, lively and important book.’
— Julianne Schultz AM FAHA, Emeritus Professor Media and Culture, Griffith University

‘Give Karen Fox a gong: for distinguished service to Australian culture in recognition of her authoritative yet entertaining account of how a supposedly egalitarian country embraced knighthoods, OAs and other baubles.’
— Richard White, Associate Professor at the University of Sydney and author of Inventing Australia

‘Karen Fox has written an intelligent, incisive and intriguing account of how Australians have acknowledged and elevated their fellow citizens, from the founding of the first colony to the present day … a work packed with insights about the ever-shifting determinants of social hierarchy, individual merit and public esteem … a thoroughly stimulating read.’
— Stuart Ward, Head of the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen

‘At last, a definitive account of the Australian honours system, from the First Fleet to 2021. Honours serve as a prism through which to view imperial strategies, federal rivalries and partisan, class-based and gender politics, with many scandals and controversies along the way. Karen Fox has given us a book that is both topical and compelling on evolving national identity and honours as a symbol of exclusion or inclusion.’
— Marian Sawer AO, Emeritus Professor, The Australian National University


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Jan 2022
ANU Press
Arts & Humanities: Cultural Studies, History; Social Sciences: Politics & International Studies


‘Karen Fox has provided the first comprehensive history of the Australian honours system … Meticulously researched, Fox’s book details the history of the various British orders of merit and how they gradually evolved and expanded to suit the needs, and indeed demands, of colonists in Australia and around the world’.

‘Honouring a Nation includes fascinating chapters on the ever-evolving interplay of public honour, national identity, and community expectations in the Federation period.’
— Benjamin Jones, Australian Historical Studies

Honouring a Nation … provides a powerful case that, in spite of all the arguments about its purposes and uses, a national honours system has allowed Australians to consider those things they most greatly value. In doing so [Fox] also makes a significant contribution to Australian historiography.’
— David Carment, History Australia

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