A Place for All Australians


  • State Library of NSW 
  • Sydney Living Museums


  • To connect academic research with public history through books, museums, heritage sites, online sources, radio, film and television, public art and performance. 
  • To recover and raise awareness of the history of marginalised groups, especially Aboriginal peoples and their ongoing struggle for recognition and justice.  
  • To expand understandings of the past by exploring its material and environmental dimensions.


Professor Grace Karskens, School of Humanities & Languages, UNSW Arts and Social Sciences 

Outcomes and impacts:  

  • Karskens’ 2009 book The Colony: A History of Early Sydney is a key resource for Australia’s thriving community of heritage professionals and in local and family history. 
  • Her work and advice have informed museum exhibitions, the Dictionary of Sydney, Australian banknote design, the media, policies, public art and Aboriginal performing arts groups. 
  • Karskens is a frequent guest on radio and has contributed to several film and television documentaries. She was a 2010 TEDxSydney speaker 
  • Karskens won Australian Book Review’s prestigious 2019 Calibre Prize for her essay ‘Nah Doongh’s Song’.  
  • Significant public awareness of the long history, presence and continuing culture of Aboriginal people in the Sydney region. 

Forgotten Histories & Truth-Telling: Australian Histories for a Better Australian Future

Professor Grace Karskens has dedicated much of her three-decade career to raising awareness of history in the community, particularly in the Sydney region. She has increasingly focused on the history of Aboriginal peoples in the Sydney region, and how they resisted and survived the invasion of their lands from 1788 on. “Wide public recognition and ‘truth-telling’ about Aboriginal history is essential to wellbeing and building strong communities,” she says.

Professor Karskens has made internationally significant contributions to research and pioneered new cross-disciplinary approaches to history. Her collaborative work on a major Sydney archaeological excavation, for example, demonstrated how the study of material culture can profoundly alter our understandings of the 19th century urban past.

Her ground-breaking book, The Colony: A History of Early Sydney, has enriched public awareness and understanding of Australia’s lived past and contributed to museum policy and exhibitions; the Dictionary of Sydney; public art; and Aboriginal performing arts groups. The Colony won the 2010 Prime Minister’s Award for Non-Fiction.

Karskens’ work integrates Aboriginal, settler, convict and environmental histories, and has also been used in historical public domain projects, heritage listings and public education. She has advised Australian museums, heritage organisations and served on the Reserve Bank of Australia’s expert panel reviewing the design of Australia’s current banknotes.

In 2018, Professor Karskens won the prestigious $75,000 Coral Thomas Fellowship at the State Library of NSW for a collaborative project called The Real Secret River: Dyarubbin, inspired by her chance discovery of a long-lost list of over 170 Aboriginal names for places along Dyarubbin, Sydney’s Hawkesbury River. Professor Karskens is working with Traditional Owners to relocate, research and restore these names.

Rachel Franks is the Coordinator of Education & Scholarship at the Library and says Professor Karskens’ work reminds us of the power that the Library’s materials can have. “It is wonderful to support the research of such a well-regarded historian. Grace has a gift for making people curious and excited about our past,” says Franks.

Professor Karskens is also providing expert advice for the renewal and reinterpretation of the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, a major strategic project for Sydney Living Museums. Re-opening in February 2020, the museum will be a world-leading cultural destination.

“As one of Australia’s leading historians, Professor Grace Karskens’ expertise in early colonial Sydney, and her work recognising the Aboriginal presence in this history were perfectly aligned with the vision for the new museum. Her endorsement also brings added credibility to the project,” says Beth Hise, Head of Content for Sydney Living Museums.