Fatherhood: an Australian History, 1919-2019

  • Thomson, Alistair (Primary Chief Investigator (PCI))
  • Murphy, Kate (Chief Investigator (CI))
  • Murphy, John (Chief Investigator (CI))
  • Roper, Michael (Partner Investigator (PI))

Project: Research

Project Details

Project Description

This first comprehensive history of Australian fatherhood aims to transform understandings across the past century, specifically men’s experience of fatherhood and how fathers from diverse backgrounds, including migrant and Indigenous dads, have negotiated their role in changing circumstances.

This project will extend global understanding of the (positive and negative) contributions fathers make to family well-being, and will impact understandings of and approaches to Australian family health, policy, education and resilience.

About the project

This photograph of the Murphy family from Horsham in Victoria was one of hundreds of photographs collected from interviewees for the Australia 1938 bicentennial project and subsequently archived with the interviews at the National Library of Australia (William Murphy interviewed by Barry Thomson, Australia 1938 collection, National Library of Australia, TRC 2404-3313).
Fathers and fatherhood are central to pressing concerns in contemporary Australia: domestic violence and its consequences; parental leave and family-friendly work; the unwillingness or inability of men to contribute a fair share of domestic labour; the bioengineered creation of families without fathers or with two fathers. Fatherhood has a deeply intimate significance while also impacting the wider society far beyond the family unit. Yet contemporary debate is infused with narrow, ahistorical understandings of fatherhood that undermine efforts to develop policy and advice that is alert to the complex factors affecting men’s negotiation of family roles. Historians have not been especially helpful, with Australian fathers too often slipping out of the frame of historical analysis of the family. Examining the long history of Australian fatherhood can provide a more informed understanding of the factors that continue to shape the role of fathers in family life.

This project will respond to and inform urgent contemporary concerns about Australian families by putting fathers and fatherhood back into the frame of Australian history: the first major history of modern Australian fatherhood. By revealing the complex forces and expectations which shaped Australian fatherhood throughout the 20th century and into the present, the project will enrich historical understanding of the stresses and successes of family life, the impacts of fathers in Australian families, and the place of fatherhood in Australian social, cultural and political history.

The project aims to transform our understanding of the changing role of fathers in families and of the significance of fatherhood in 20th and 21st century Australia. It intends to:

Detail the interconnected effects of a range of factors – economic, political, legal, biomedical and demographic – as well as the implications of changing cultural expectations on Australian fatherhood over this period
Illuminate how key historical debates about fatherhood have impacted Australian society and politics beyond the family
Examine how fathers, especially from Indigenous, migrant and socially-disadvantaged backgrounds or with non-conventional sexualities, have negotiated changing parental circumstances and normative expectations and why they have succeeded, or failed, in meeting the challenges of fatherhood
Explain men’s shifting place in the emotional economy of family life, and how men’s family roles are influenced by the intergenerational transmission of models of fatherhood
Make significant and distinctive Australian contributions to international scholarship on the history of the modern family
Provide historical insights to inform family policy and education and enable 21st-century Australian fathers to make the best of opportunities and challenges in family life.

Effective start/end date1/03/1931/12/23