When the suggestion was first put to me that I should plan a new single- volume history of Australia my mind, as the poet says, was clouded with doubt. I remembered how often, and-with what insistence, my colleagues had said that as yet the material did not exist for a new interpretation which would stimulate inquiry and quicken interest in the growth of Australian society. Any doubt I may have left about the desirability of making the attempt has been dispelled. Whether this venture has succeeded is another matter and is for others to judge, but I have become convinced of the need for a broad yet comparatively detailed survey. On the one side are the admirable interpretative essays of Hancock, Grattan and Crawford, on the other the detailed monographs. The gap is striking; there is no bridge between. Neither Grattan's Australia nor, to a lesser extent, the Cambridge Australian volume was built to this end. In any case it is twenty years since the publication of the Cambridge volume. If each generation needs to re-assess the historical process of which it is a part, the time is opportune.
By definition general history is synoptic. Whatever seems significant, whether it be the system of education, the calibre of political leadership, the character of industrial relations, the conventions of manners, or the forms of entertainment, must emerge in the pattern. What is more, the organic relationships of these components should, if possible, be discovered and demonstrated. This is no easy task. The writing of general history is difficult, more so than any other, but it is also exciting and rewarding. Such at least has been the testimony of almost every contributor. Those who venture must do so in the belief that history should not be written exclusively for historians. We have not regarded the interests and techniques of the specialist as the dominant consideration, though exact scholarship as a foundation for interpretation has certainly not been disdained. If the student has not been ignored, neither has the layman interested in acquiring an intelligent understanding of the development of his own society.
The broad aim has been to write a political and social history of the Australian society which would show the many-sided nature of its development at any given time. With some intrepidity, each writer has attempted to reveal the essential spirit of the society at different stages of its growth, to show what were its dominant characteristics and what gathering forces transmuted the existing society into another, different in outlook and . . .