Blackheath History Forum 2015 Program
Topics & Speaker Biographies

You can download and print our 2015 program flyer here.


August 1: PAUL KELLY (‘The Australian’)

CHANGE AND CHALLENGE: Australian Politics, 1975 – 2015

Over the past four decades Paul Kelly has become the chronicler of modern Australian politics. In a series of major works – The Unmaking of Gough, The Hawke Ascendancy, The End of Certainty, The March of Patriots and Triumph and Demise – Kelly has charted political history from Whitlam to Rudd-Gillard-Rudd. Today he reflects on the characteristics of that period and questions whether the business of politics has now become too de-coupled from the interests of Australia and its citizens.

Paul Kelly is a graduate of the University of Sydney. He has had a distinguished career in political journalism, writing for several major Australian newspapers. He has been Editor-at-Large of  ‘The Australian’ since 2004.


August 15: JAMES BROWN (University of Sydney)


In 2014 James Brown published Anzac’s Long Shadow, his thoughts on the legacy of Australia’s past century of involvement in wars. He argues that we spend too much time commemorating the wrong aspects of our past military experience, and not enough on aspects which relate to our present and future needs, both in terms of military capabilities and the provision of care for those who suffer as a result of their past military service. Our much-respected military commitments of the past century are retarding our capacities to meet new challenges, both in terms of Australia’s international security and the impact of war service on those who render it in the national interest.

James Brown has had his own experience of combat operations. He served in the Australian Army in Iraq as a cavalry troop commander and then, in the Afghanistan conflict, he served with Special Forces. He was appointed to the research post of Military Fellow in the Lowy Institute 2010-2014 before becoming head of the ALLIANCE 21 Project at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney in January 2015.


August 29: DON WATSON (Freelance writer/historian)

THE BUSH: a history

Most Australians live in cities and cling to the coastal fringe, yet our sense of what Australia is – or should be – is drawn from the vast and varied inland called ‘the bush’. But what do we mean by ‘the bush’, and how has it shaped us? For, as Don Watson says, ‘The Australian bush is both real and imaginary. Real, in that it grows in various unmistakeable and bush-like ways… Imaginary, in that among the life it harbours is the life of the Australian mind. It is, by many accounts, the nation’s idea of itself… The bush is a social construct as well as an ecological one: as much as the things that grow and live there, we define it by the people who inhabit it.’ In his talk, Watson will explore some of the fascinating themes of his much acclaimed book The Bush.

Don Watson (B.A. La Trobe, PhD. Monash), was an academic historian for ten years before resigning to pursue a distinguished career as author and speech writer. His best selling books include his account of his time as Paul Keating’s speech writer: Recollections of a Bleeding Heart (2002), which won several awards, as did his American Journeys (2008). As well as books, he has written for radio, TV, the stage and films. His columns, articles and essays have appeared in all major Australian journals and newspapers. His latest book, The Bush: travels in the heart of Australia, was published in 2014.


September 12: MARK MCKENNA (University of Sydney)

WRESTLING WITH THE LEVIATHAN: biography, history, Australia and C.M.H. Clark

The challenges for Mark McKenna of writing Manning Clark’s biography could at times seem overwhelming. Clark’s archive is one of the largest in Australia, and he kindly left many signposts behind to assist the biographer in writing the story of his life. In addition to several volumes of autobiography, Clark produced many autobiographical essays and short stories and spoke frequently in public about his personal life. To wrest control of Clark’s biography from Clark himself was always going to be a struggle. So much of his life and work was dedicated to understanding Australian identity. But how should we understand Clark’s role as a prophet in late twentieth-century Australia? Does his voice still speak to us today? And in 2015, the centenary of Clark’s birth, what legacy remains from his countless public interventions and the millions of words that flowed from his pen? Clark’s award-winning biographer will address these questions in our seventh Vere Gordon Childe Lecture.

Mark McKenna, one of Australia’s leading historians, is Professor of History at the University of Sydney. He has written widely on the history and politics of republicanism in Australia, Indigenous History and biography. His books include Looking for Blackfellas’ Point, which won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction in 2003, and An Eye for Eternity: the Life of Manning Clark, which won five national awards. He is currently writing a history of Australia through twelve places.


26 September: DAVID HORNER (Australian National University)

TELLING THE SECRETS: writing the official history of ASIO

The whole idea of publishing a history of an intelligence organisation based on its classified files seems counter-intuitive. Intelligence services trade in secrecy. If they reveal their sources, the sources will dry up. If they reveal their techniques their opponents will counter them. If the identities of officers are revealed they will no longer be able to operate with the freedom that is necessary to achieve their tasks. Why then did the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) commission an official history and grant Professor Horner unrestricted access to its records? In this lecture he will explain how this happened and how he went about writing the history. He will also describe some of the key themes and contentious issues covered in his history. David Horner will conclude by recounting several of the interesting activities conducted by ASIO, some of which have never been revealed before.

David Horner is an Emeritus Professor in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, having worked there since 1990. A graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, he served for 25 years in the Australian Regular Army, including active service as an infantry platoon commander in Vietnam in 1971. As an Army Reserve colonel he was the first head of the Army’s Land Warfare Studies Centre from 1998 to 2002. He is the author or editor of 32 books on Australian military history, strategy and defence including High Command (1982), Blamey: The Commander-in-Chief (1998), and Strategic Command, General Sir John Wilton and Australia’s Asian Wars (2005). In 2004 he was appointed the Official Historian of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations. He is the General Editor of this six-volume series and has written two of the volumes, the second of which, The Good International Citizen, was published in April 2014. In 2009 he was appointed official historian for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. He is the author of the first volume of this three-volume series, The Spy Catchers; The Official History of ASIO, 1949-1963, published in October 2014.


October 10: DI LANGMORE (former General Editor, Australian Dictionary of Biography)


Di Langmore’s books — Prime Ministers’ Wives: the public and private lives of ten Australian women and Glittering Surfaces: a life of Maie Casey — while essentially biographical studies, also explore the influence of these ten prime ministers’ wives and one governor-general’s wife on the careers of their eminent husbands. In this talk, Langmore will apply the maxim `Behind every great man there is a great woman’ to four case studies—Dame Enid Lyons, Dame Pattie Menzies, Margaret Whitlam and the Lady Casey—and examine in each case the relationship between the wife and her husband, her perception of her public and private role in the partnership, and the extent and nature of her involvement in her husband’s career, before offering some general conclusions.

Di Langmore was born and educated in Melbourne, completing a BA (Hons) and Dip.Ed. at the University of Melbourne. After her first marriage, she spent ten years in Papua New Guinea, teaching at a secondary school and at the University of Papua New Guinea, where she was a junior member of the distinguished team of historians led by Professor Ken Inglis. She completed an MA at UPNG and her ongoing research on PNG led to her Ph.D. from ANU (1982). The two theses were published as Tamate: A King (a biography of the missionary James Chalmers), and Missionary Lives.

After completing her Ph.D, Di joined the staff of the Australian Dictionary of Biography at the Australian National University. She worked there very happily for 25 years, as a research editor, as Deputy General Editor from 1997, Acting General Editor from 2001 and General Editor in 2004-07. She was awarded an AM in 2008 and the ADB Medal in 2009. Her books Prime Ministers’ Wives: the public and private lives of ten Australian Women (McPhee Gribble/Penguin) and Glittering Surfaces: a biography of Maie Casey (Allen & Unwin) were published in 1992 and 1997, respectively. In retirement she continues to enjoy reading history and writing occasional articles for the ADB.


October 24: CLAIRE HIGGINS (University of New South Wales)


The controversial nature of Australia’s current refugee policy has drawn attention to Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal/National government’s response to the nation’s first large-scale, irregular arrival of asylum seekers by boat. In order to accept and resettle all these ‘boat-people’, while also successfully managing domestic disquiet over their arrival, the Fraser government told the public and the bureaucracy that it would only admit ‘genuine’ refugees. To achieve this objective, it used the newly established Determination of Refugee Status Committee. However, the unofficial policy to approve all boat arrivals caused considerable tensions amongst members of the Committee. Consequently the government and senior Department of Immigration officials were required to perform a ‘balancing act’, not just between the forces of public opinion but also within the bureaucracy. Yet in doing so, the government was able to give due effect to Australia’s international legal obligations, while simultaneously appearing to have control over the entry of asylum seekers.

Dr Claire Higgins is a Research Associate and historian at the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. In January 2014 Claire completed doctoral study in history at the University of Oxford, writing on the development of Australian refugee policy from 1976 to 1983.  She received the 2013-14 Margaret George Award from the National Archives of Australia, and her research into in-country processing received funding from the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

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