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26 Fed. L. Rev. 409 (1998)
Book Reviews

handle is hein.journals/fedlr26 and id is 421 raw text is: BOOK REVIEW
Helen Irving, To Constitute A Nation: A Cultural History of
Australia's Constitution, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Deborah Z Cass*
Constitutional law is not the raciest of topics. In Australia until recently, study of the
Constitution and its legal development was perceived as rather arcane, the preserve of
fusty academics (like myself) and lacking the relevance of disciplines such as contract
or property law. But since the decisions in Wik and Mabo, the implied rights cases, and
even the People's Convention, the Constitution, and constitutional law, have been
thrust into the public spotlight. Helen Irving's new book To Constitute a Nation makes a
colourful and scholarly contribution to both academic and popular knowledge on the
subject. It brings constitution-making out of the closet and into the living room of
public opinion.
The book makes three main claims. The first is that the movement to federate and
the making of the Constitution were not the product only of political and legal events
but arose from the complex cultural conditions of the period, hence the book's
secondary title, A Cultural History of Australia's Constitution. The second and
related claim is that a constitution does not spring from the political and legal spheres
alone; it must also be present in the (hearts and) minds of individuals involved in the
process of constitution-making and the collective consciousness of the community. In
the words of Benedict Andersen, whom Helen Irving follows, the Constitution, and
indeed the nation itself, must be imagined before politics and law can bring it into
existence. The final argument is that the Australian Constitution is a derivative
instrument; a hotch potch of constitutional techniques and experiences, and this
hybridisation is a product of the utopian environment in which the Constitution was
The defining feature of Helen Irving's book is that she has written a cultural history
as opposed to a political or legal history of the making of the Constitution.
Conventional legal and political histories of Federation have told a somewhat dry, but
functional tale, focussed largely upon a limited group of historical participants and
Senior Lecturer in Law, Australian National University.

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