The History Listen - ABC RN

89 EpisodesProduced by ABC Radio NationalWebsite

New and compelling stories from Australia and around the world, told by some of our most popular and trusted historians. Step inside a time machine for an immersive journey through history, where stories of people, places and events bring the past vividly into our present world.

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Who was Jimmy Possum?

September 24th, 2019


There’s a mystery surrounding the elegant and ingenious Jimmy Possum chairs that were made 130 years ago in Tasmania. Did their maker live in a tree trunk?  Did he even exist?  Claudia Taranto goes in search of the real …

The Compound — trapped in a UN safehaven

September 17th, 2019


Three Western journalists and a UN employee ignored advice to leave East Timor after the country's independence vote in 1999. They recount the most …

Through Samurai Eyes: solving the mystery surrounding one of Australia's great convict escape stories

September 10th, 2019


When amateur historian Nick Russell stumbled across a set of very old Japanese manuscripts, he unearthed a dramatic tale of convict mutineers, …

Through Samurai eyes: shedding new light on Australia's greatest convict escape story

September 3rd, 2019


A dramatic tale featuring pirates, Samurai warriors, a historical detective and a ship of escaped convicts from Australia who washed up in Japan in 1830

Secrets of the Mallacoota Bunker

August 27th, 2019


An idyllic town with a hidden surveillance bunker and a secret past. A ruined RAAF base comes to life to tell its story.

Tales from the Nuyts Archipelago

August 20th, 2019


In these remote islands we uncover a history of whalers, abducted Aboriginal women, and a mysterious human skeleton found on Franklin Island. There’s …

Narjong means fresh water

August 13th, 2019


Aboriginal people from the Murray-Darling Basin’s waterways come together to raise awareness and speak up for their country.

Amazon Acres — Sisterhood under siege

August 6th, 2019


When a group of newcomers set up a women-only community in the bush, the neighbours were scandalised. It wasn't long before hostility turned into …

Amazon Acres — Girls' own adventure

July 30th, 2019


A women-only utopia deep in the Australian bush — no men, no meat, no machines — was a wild ride, complete with rainbows and tiger snakes, sisterly joy and un-sisterly tensions. 

Something in the water — the bitter struggle over fluoride in Australia

July 23rd, 2019


Anonymous threats in the mail and a homemade bomb. International networks of misinformation. A young girl with the gift of song. Three stories that share a common thread: water fluoridation.

The Wardian Case - the box that changed the world

July 16th, 2019


Have you ever wondered where the plants in your garden originally came from? They were probably transported in a Wardian case. Discover the story of this remarkable object, whose lasting impact on the natural world …

Queensland’s Native Police – grappling with the gaps

July 9th, 2019


The Queensland Native Police had a devastating impact on Indigenous people across the state. We look at how Indigenous families deal with the …

Queensland’s Native Police – the frontier in my family

July 2nd, 2019


Queensland’s Native Police was notorious for its violence against Indigenous people on the colonial frontier. How do descendants of Aboriginal …

The blue man was black: Hans Jonathan's slave saga

June 25th, 2019


In the early 1800s, on the remote East coast of Iceland in a small fishing village, a young man stepped ashore. He was escapee from the Danish slave trade and is said to be Iceland’s first black settler.

The War We Forgot

June 18th, 2019


How does a nation forget a wartime catastrophe? When Japan invaded Australian territory in January 1942, hundreds of civilians were left behind to die. Nearly 80 years later, their families are still traumatised. 

The surprising story of Wong Shee Ping

June 11th, 2019


The discovery of the first Chinese story written in Australia gives a fascinating and new insight into the early Chinese immigrants of Victoria. The anonymous author is also uncovered, and revealed to his Australian …

Last Light: the Valentich Mystery

June 4th, 2019


A young pilot. A distress call. A missing plane. What happened to Frederick Valentich in October 1978?

Waterloo Bay: that word "massacre"

May 28th, 2019


What happens when a small town puts the word "massacre" on an historical monument?

Escape from Iran

May 21st, 2019


Shortly after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, a young Bahai mother was smuggled out of the country on camelback with her baby daughter.

40 years later …

The unauthorised history of the sausage sizzle

May 14th, 2019


The ritual of the sausage sizzle soaks deep into the Australian identity. This is the unlikely true story of an Aussie battler that became a hero in the mouths of millions.

The air of heaven - Australian women jockeys

May 7th, 2019


When Michelle Payne won the Melbourne Cup in 2015 there were three female jockeys who were with her in spirit. They all challenged the male-dominated racing industry, pushed on by the air of heaven.

A short history of political advertising

April 30th, 2019


As the federal election machine goes into full swing, putting the art of persuasion to the test, a timely look back at one of Australia’s most …

Forgotten men of a forgotten war

April 23rd, 2019


What would it take to bring home the 43 Australian servicemen still missing from the Korean War?

Mother danced with Göring

April 16th, 2019


A glimpse into the 1930's and 40's through the fragments that remain of one woman's story – socialite, swordswoman, actress and the first woman to read the ABC national news.

Blue Lake – Finding Dudley Flats

April 9th, 2019


On the western edge of central Melbourne lies a blind spot: the now industrialised zone was once home to the shanty town called Dudley Flats. Writer David Sornig has been walking the area re-imagining its residents.

The Bauhaus - a school, a movement, an idea

April 2nd, 2019


To mark the centenary of the Bauhaus, a trip back to Weimar Germany to explore the story and legacy of the movement

Cooking for assimilation

March 26th, 2019


The discovery of an old recipe book of her Hungarian grandmother's sets Ruth Balint on a family investigation. Between the pages, she uncovers more …

Punky Reggae Party

March 19th, 2019


In 1970s London two unlikely parties united in a unique cultural exchange. Rastafarians and punks joined forces, creating new sounds and new …

Driven: the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon

March 12th, 2019


In 1968 the longest, hardest and richest motor race set off from London bound for Sydney.

The strange fate of Charles Darwin's ship The Beagle

March 5th, 2019


Whatever happened to Charles Darwin's famous ship HMS Beagle? A tale of of sleuthing, smugglers, and barrels of rum, set on the Essex coast in England

Shooting the Past - The Glide

February 26th, 2019


An arresting photograph has Clare Wright duck-diving into the history of surfing in Australia.

Shooting the Past — Roughy Justice

February 19th, 2019


A fishy looking photograph throws Clare Wright into the deep end of the battle between industry and sustainability.

Shooting the Past - Alien Nation

February 12th, 2019


Clare Wright explores the history behind a studio portrait of an Edwardian family, which raises some tricky questions about citizenship, the Australian constitution and the subtle art of belonging.

All Tragic to the Moon

February 5th, 2019


Clare Wright unravels the dramatic story within a family photograph that takes us to the searing heart of an Australian summer tragedy: bushfire.


Shooting the Past — Camp Sovereignty

January 29th, 2019


A photograph of two men — one Indigenous and one non-Indigenous — holding hands, leads Clare Wright to investigate the history of Aboriginal …

Shooting the Past — The Ruins of Science

January 22nd, 2019


Clare Wright tries to uncover the story behind a baffling photograph, and finds herself transported back to Australia in the 1960s.

My grandmother the spy

January 15th, 2019


Chana Salman was born to a poor family in Poland, the only one of six children sent to Paris to study medicine in 1930's Europe. Why did she risk …

The lady of the swamp

January 8th, 2019


The mysterious disappearance of Margaret Clement, "the lady of the swamp."

Nobody swung harder: the jazz violin of Stuff Smith

January 1st, 2019


The story of extraordinary jazz violinist Stuff Smith, who recorded with many musical greats, including Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Oscar …

Lennie the legend

December 25th, 2018


A nine-year-old Victorian boy rides his pony alone, 600 miles to Sydney to be at opening of the new Harbour Bridge.

Eric Rolls and the Pilliga

December 18th, 2018


Eric Rolls was a rare combination; farmer, poet, self-taught naturalist and historian. He also wrote Australia’s first true environmental history.

The Cods

December 11th, 2018


How a bunch of manual workers from country South Australia battled their way to the Paris Olympics of 1924.

The Singular Mind-a history of autism in Australia

December 4th, 2018


In 1989 the film "Rain Man" hit Australian cinema screens and introduced autism to a mainstream audience. But over the coming decades a narrow notion …

The Singular Mind-a history of autism in Australia

November 27th, 2018


In the 1960s very few people had heard of the word autism, and even fewer knew what it was. In this first episode of a two part series on the history of autism in Australia, we explore how families fought for a place …

The Siege of Sinatra

November 20th, 2018


In 1974, when the star entertainer Frank Sinatra said the wrong things at the wrong time to the wrong people, a tall poppy was cut down to size in true Australian style.


Last letters

November 13th, 2018


In April 1942 a Japanese bomber dropped four large mail bags on Port Moresby. They contained nearly 400 letters written by Australian POWs imprisoned …

Let silent contemplation be your offering

November 6th, 2018


Nearly one hundred years after it was created, the minute's silence is still used to mark tragedies from war to celebrity death. But few know it was …

Harald Dannevig: the man who put fish on our plate

October 30th, 2018


The unlikely story of the Norwegian father of the Australian fishing industry and his untimely disappearance below the waves of the Southern Ocean.

Crossing enemy lines

October 23rd, 2018


How do you talk about your German grandfather's war story on Anzac Day?

Douglas Grant: the skin of others

October 16th, 2018


A remarkable Aboriginal man who survived two wars but who many Australians at the time saw as a human experiment.

After the wall

October 9th, 2018


East Germany is a country that no longer exists. What was it really like?

Ida's road to fairyland

October 2nd, 2018


In the early 1900s, Ida Rentoul Outhwaite's fairy illustrations made her famous in Australia and abroad. Now her timeless artwork is being …

Hops in the Ovens

September 25th, 2018


The Panlooks, an influential family of north-east Victoria, were nearly wiped out in Australia's first anti-Chinese race riot. But they would go on …

Muriel Matters

September 18th, 2018


The story of Muriel Matters, a daring suffragist from South Australia who helped win the vote for British women.

Plane Crash 1940: Living with the dead

September 11th, 2018


The personal side of an historic catastrophe.

Plane Crash 1940: Menzies' darkest hour

September 4th, 2018


A plane falls out of the sky and wipes out half Australia's war cabinet. Then what? Does a government fall also?

William Ah Ket: the first Chinese-Australian barrister

August 28th, 2018


In 1904, William Ah Ket became Australia’s first Chinese barrister. He went on to fight racist laws and social prejudice in and out of court.

Gone Mallee part three: the Mantung yearbook

August 21st, 2018


A year in the life of a tiny Mallee town in South Australia.

The Black-Allan Line

July 31st, 2018


It's the straight bit of the border between NSW and Victoria. It's high altitude mathematical precision and messy politics.

Sister Kate's: the whitewashing of black children

July 24th, 2018


What started out in the 1930s as a home for “half-caste” children under the loving guidance of Sister Kate became a hotbed of abuse and negligence after her death.

The Monstrous Worm - a myth migrates to Australia

July 17th, 2018


The fascinating history of a mythic creature from the North-East of England that seemed to travel to Australia in the nineteenth century. What our …

The Monstrous Worm - a medieval folk history

July 10th, 2018


Dragons are back. But what are they and how have they come about?

For centuries a mythical dragon worm has terrorised the northeast of England, and it continues on its merry path today.

A journey back in time reveals some …

Beautiful Game Lucky Country

July 3rd, 2018


As the Socceroos play on the grand stage of the 2018 World Cup, we take a look back at the role European migrants played in the evolution of the …

Mardi Gras Supernova 2002-03

June 26th, 2018


In 2002, after a decade of giddy expansion, the bubble burst for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. With debts mounting and creditors circling, …

The Making of Mardi Gras 1979-81

June 19th, 2018


'Do we dare do it again?' That was the question Sydney’s gay and lesbian activists faced as the first anniversary of the riot in Kings Cross in June 1978 approached. By answering YES they set the pattern for our …

Cabin crew-prepare for landing

June 12th, 2018


Step into the glamorous world of long haul flying in the 1970s; cocktails, attentive service from the "hosties" and lots of legroom. Flying today is …

Peat Island - a place of asylum

June 5th, 2018


Peat Island is located 50 kilometres north of Sydney. In 1911 it was designated a 'hospital for the insane'. At its peak in the 1960's, it housed over 600 men and boys. And was often referred to as the island of …

The Ring Cycle, part two

May 29th, 2018


Now that de facto couples are almost the same as couples who marry, in the eyes of the law, why put a ring on it at all?

The Ring Cycle, part one

May 22nd, 2018


Times have changed yet many couples are still choosing to tie the knot. With same-sex couples now having the right to marry in Australia, marriage as an institution is back under the spotlight. In an age of divorce, de …

A short history of the nuclear bunker

May 15th, 2018


As the doomsday clock is ticking, now is a good time to review your options should nuclear disaster come to pass.

My '68

May 8th, 2018


The student and worker protests that erupted in Paris, London, New York and San Francisco in May 1968 are narrated in music and memory. Archival recordings and reflections from protesters bring the mood and ideals of …

The Somerton Man: a mystery in four acts

May 1st, 2018


In 1948, a dead man was discovered lying propped up against the seawall of Somerton Beach in Adelaide His identity has remained unknown for 70 years. His death was determined, 'not natural'. Historian Ruth Balint …

My grandmother the spy

April 24th, 2018


Chana Salman was born to a poor family in Poland, the only one of six children sent to Paris to study medicine in 1930s Europe. Why did she risk …

Lennie the legend

April 17th, 2018


A nine-year-old boy rides his pony alone, 600 miles to Sydney to be at opening of the new Harbour Bridge. When he gets there he's a hero.

Seoul City Sue

April 10th, 2018


How did a Methodist missionary from Middle America end up broadcasting wartime propaganda for North Korea? In search of the woman known as Seoul City …

Louis Pasteur and Australia's war on rabbits

April 3rd, 2018


This is the strange story of Australia's rabbit plague, biological warfare, the great scientist Louis Pasteur, a world-famous actress and ten million …

Elizabeth the Great

March 27th, 2018


A portrait of Australian performer, choreographer and teacher Elizabeth Langley, who's internationally recognized as a pioneer of the contemporary dance movement

The Boat: The untold story of a murder

March 20th, 2018


Follow John Connell as he uncovers the story of a brutal murder that happened 97 years ago in his home village in Ireland. All is not as it seems as …

Mimesis: Greek cinema in Australia

March 13th, 2018


At its peak, in post-war Australia, the Greek cinema circuit boasted up to forty cinemas in Melbourne alone. For the newly arrived Greek community, these cinemas offered entertainment, a place to share language and …

Old Nick

March 6th, 2018


Old Nick is of one of the Northern Territory's great characters. His riches to rags tale is like no other.

Rottnest Island: White playground

February 20th, 2018


How did the largest deaths in custody site in Australia become a tourist mecca?

Rottnest Island: Black prison

February 13th, 2018


The dark history of Western Australia’s idyllic holiday playground.

Nobody Swung Harder: The Jazz Violin of Stuff Smith

February 6th, 2018


The story of extraordinary jazz violinist Stuff Smith, who recorded with many musical greats, including Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Oscar …

The Sailors' Walk

January 30th, 2018


A remarkable story of survival in 18th century Australia.

Fairy Investigation Society

January 23rd, 2018


Are fairies really at the bottom of the garden? A fairy society in Ireland long thought dead has come back to life.

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