Australia's Birthstain
, the startling legacy of the convict era
Why is it that Australians are still misled by myths about their convict heritage? Why are so many family historians surprised to find a convict ancestor in their family trees? Why did an entire society collude to cover up its past?


Babette Smith traces the stories of hundreds of convicts over the 80 years of convict transportation to Australia. Putting a human face on the convicts' experience, she paints a rich picture of their crimes in Britain and their lives in the colonies. We know about Port Arthur, Norfolk Island, chaingangs and floggings, but this was far from the experience of most. In fact, most convicts became good citizens and the backbone of the new nation. So why did Australia  need to hide them away?

 Thomas Keneally, Booker-Prize-winning novelist and author of The Commonwealth of Thieves launched Babette Smith's book Australia's Birthstain in Sydney in April 2008. The conversation that followed engaged an audience of over 60 people Australia's Birthstain rewrites the  story of Australia's convict      foundations, revealing the involvement  of British politicians and  clergy in creating a birthstain that  reached far beyond convict  crimes. Its startling conclusion offers a  fresh perspective on our  past.

 What they've said about Australia's Birthstain:

 Babette Smith provides a most fascinating discussion of the Australian convict system 1788-1868. Based on very comprehensive research into very different samples of the 160 000 transportees, it explodes many myths of the past and gives us a much better understanding of what actually happened and the effects of this on the Australian community. It should be read by all interested in Australian history.
A.G.L. Shaw, formerly Professor of History, Monash University, Victoria

They (family historians) have reconnected with our convict ancestors and they understand how the truths of the convict records belie the false caricatures of sensationalised fiction and the anomalies of Port Arthur. The extraordinary skill and depth of Smith's research and the compelling and authoritative examples of her many case studies, suggest that she may be of the most important books written about 19th Century Australia .
David Roberts, University of New England for The Australian

Babette Smith's new book is not merely an examination of convictism but of the history of the convict stain in modern times as well, the stain we like to believe no long exists but which - she makes us acknowledge - still teases, bemuses, torments and challenges us. Her arguments will be hotly debated, but there is no doubting the fascination or drama of this study of the stain we pretend is not there.
Thomas Keneally, Booker prize-winning novelist and author of The Commonwealth of Thieves

A thoughtful, challenging and well-researched study, this book shows how Australians have viewed their convict past. Through a sample of 1100 convicts it also brings to life some of the men and women who were transported here.
Emeritus Professor Brian Fletcher, University of Sydney

Smith shows how the shame about Australia's convict origins...continues  to influence the way we view our important book.
Professor David Day, The Age 

Wherever one stands, the character of convict society remains a crucially important aspect of Australian experience and this book is a vivid and scholarly reminder of the fact. It is also a brilliantly good read.
Professor Alan Atkinson Sydney Morning Herald

Babette Smith takes on the third libel (about Australia) with a passion that should re-invigorate those despairing of the last three decades of nihilist academic research and publication. A landmark book.    John Izzard, Quadrant

A book of depth and scholarship...richly deserves to be read by those who are interested in Australian History Paul Kraus, The Newcastle Herald