About us

Forum History

The forum was co-founded in late 2008 by Babette Smith and Gary Werskey, who persuaded Neal Blewett to be our inaugural Chair.  Neal stepped down in 2012 and Gary has served as our Chair since then.

Aided by a committee of distinguished historians with extensive professional networks, the forum has succeeded in attracting many of Australia’s leading historians to take part in its annual series of talks.  For a complete listing of past speakers and topics just go to our Archives.

During the last eight years we have offered our very engaged audiences programs that allow them to understand Australian history in its broadest contexts, with an emphasis on discussing the past in ways that illuminate the present.

We intend to extend that commitment over the next five years by paying particular attention to issues of gender, the environment, and the First World War’s impact on Australia and its place in the world.

We have also since our inception been a member of the History Council of New South Wales and a supporter of the Council’s NSW History Week.

Vere Gordon Childe Memorial Lecture

Each year the forum has invited a distinguished historian to deliver our Vere Gordon Childe Memorial Lecture.  Childe (1892-1957) was one of Australia’s most acclaimed scholars, universally recognised as the founder between the two world wars of the discipline of Pre-history.  He passionately believed both in history’s power to throw light on the present and in the importance of historians engaging with the general public on the relevance and meaning of our work for the wider community.  His pioneering Penguin books Man Makes Himself and What Happened in History are enduring testimonies to his vision.  Childe also had a close association with the Blue Mountains and ended his life in Blackheath with a suicidal leap into the Grose Valley.

Childe Memorial Lecturers

2009   David Day on How Labor Governed: Andrew Fisher and the world’s first socialist government

2010   Henry Reynolds on Drawing the Global Colour Line

2011   David Lowe on Percy Spender: Foreign Minister and Diplomat

2012   Judith Brett on The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

2013   Roy MacLeod on Australia in the Nuclear Age: Has the Past a Future?

2014   Alan Atkinson on The Europeans in Australia

2015   Mark McKenna on Biography, History, Australia & C.M.H. Clark

2016   Stuart Macintyre on Post-war Reconstruction in Australia 

2017  Humphrey McQueen  on Dr Marx, Professor Childe and manure: some rather crude materialism


History Forum Committee


  • Margo Beasley (Chair)

Margo Beasley is a consultant historian and writer who held the position of Oral Historian in the City of Sydney’s History Unit for eight years until 2014. There her research interests included the history of religious and secular belief, the experience of work, housing history, and urban environmental history. Prior to that she was a consultant historian who conducted oral history projects and wrote commissioned histories, of which the best-known is Wharfies: the History of the Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia. She has a Masters degree in Applied History from the University of Technology Sydney, and was awarded a PhD from the University of Wollongong in 2005 for her thesis Sarah Dawes and the Coal Lumpers: Absence and Presence on the Sydney waterfront 1900-1917.  She lives currently in Blackheath.


  • Catherine Bishop (Deputy Chair)

Catherine Bishop is a historian based in the Blue Mountains. She writes about gender and business, missionaries and global youth citizenship. Her first book is Minding Her Own Business: Colonial Businesswomen in Sydney. 


  • Neal Blewett AC

Neal Blewett has had a varied career as academic, politician and diplomat.  A Tasmanian Rhodes scholar he taught successively at the Universities of Oxford and Adelaide and became Professor of Politics at Flinders University.  He has written books and articles on British and Australian history and politics.  As Health Minister in the Hawke Government he was responsible for Medicare and Australia’s AIDS policy. His diary of the first Keating Government was published in 1999.  From 1994 to 1998 he was Australian High Commissioner in London as well as a member of the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation.


  • Anne Coote (Secretary)

Anne Coote is a graduate of Sydney University and the University of New England where she completed a PhD in Australian History. She has taught history in country New South Wales, as well as in the Blue Mountains where she has lived for more than thirty years, and is now an Adjunct Associate Lecturer in the School of Humanities at the University of New England. An important focus of her research has been the history of common habits of thought in colonial Australia, and she has published on such subjects as the development of notions of colonial nationhood in New South Wales, popular engagement with natural history, and ideas about the ownership of scientific expertise. A current research project is the history of the Royal Society of New South Wales.


  • Barrie Dyster (Treasurer)

Barrie Dyster studied English and History at the University of Sydney and History (with English) at the University of Toronto.  He has been a historian in the School of Economics at the University of New South Wales for several decades. A revised and extended second edition of Australia in the Global Economy: continuity and change, co-authored with David Meredith, came out in 2012. Much of his other published work deals with nineteenth century Australia.


  • Roy MacLeod

Roy MacLeod is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Sydney.  He is a graduate of Harvard College and Cambridge University (PhD, 1967; DLitt, 2001), as well as holding an honorary doctorate from the University of Bologna.  He has held a variety of senior academic positions in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and the USA.  His research interests encompass the history of science and technology, higher education, and European expansion into the Asia-Pacific region.  He has also made substantial contributions to military and nuclear history in the twentieth century, including his work on post-war Australian policy in these areas.  He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Royal Historical Society of England, and the Australian Academies of Humanities and the Social Sciences.


  • Jude Mellers

Jude Mellers is a sociologist whose past research included an analysis of the gendered implications of the restructuring of the Australian labour market and welfare state at the end of the 20th century. For many years, she lectured in sociology, social policy and social research at the University of New South Wales and the University of Western Sydney. As a research academic at the University of Sydney Law School, she was involved with two major projects. The first focussed on citizenship, contractualism and Australian welfare, and the second, on the legal and ethical aspects of the involuntary treatment of anorexia nervosa patients. She has also taught health and fitness programmes in NSW prisons, working predominantly in two specialized units at Long Bay; one for violent offenders and the other for HIV positive and Hepatitis C positive inmates.


  • Louise Prowse

Louise Prowse is an Australian historian, researcher and lecturer. She currently works in the Heritage Division for the Office of Environment and Heritage in a senior policy role. She completed her PhD at the University of Sydney in 2015 for which she was a finalist for the Rita and John Cornforth Medal in 2016.

She has taught in Australian cultural and political history, American political history as well as the history of tourism and media at New York University (Sydney campus), the University of Sydney and Charles Sturt University. Her academic research fields include heritage, tourism, rural and regional Australia, place identity and the ways in which community and academic history interact. Her PhD thesis examined the way that regional economies draw on their social history and her Honours thesis (First Class Honours, The University of Sydney) explored expressions of inter-war masculinity in Australia.


  • Kimberley Webber 

Kimberley Webber studied History at Sydney University, from which she holds a BA (with First Class Honours) in Modern History, a PhD in Australian History, and a Master’s in Management Studies. Following many years as a Senior Curator and Director of Social History at the Powerhouse Museum, where she planned and led prize-winning exhibitions, she has moved to the NSW public service, where she is currently Manager of the Responsible Gambling Fund. She travels widely, and reads and writes in social history, and is in her spare time, is studying Art History at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


  • Gary Werskey 

Gary studied history at Northwestern and Harvard Universities and has taught at Edinburgh University, Bath University, and Imperial College.  After serving as Executive Director, External Affairs, at the University of New South Wales, he became a management consultant and sometime property developer.  He is the author of The Visible College: a collective biography of British scientists and socialists of the 1930s and is currently researching the life and work of the British-Australian artist-illustrator A.H. Fullwood.  He is also an Hon. Associate of the University of Sydney’s History Department.


  • Richard White

Richard White retired from the University of Sydney in 2013, having taught Australian history and the history of travel and tourism there since 1989. His publications include Inventing AustraliaThe Oxford Book of Australian Travel WritingOn Holidays: A History of Getting Away in AustraliaSymbols of Australia and Playing in the Bush: recreation and national parks in New South Wales. He is currently researching history tourism in Australia, which has also led to an exhibition and a number of academic articles. Current research projects include the history of ‘history tourism’ in Australia, Australian tourism to Britain and a history of the cooee. He was co-editor of the journal History Australia from 2008 to 2013 and is a member of several editorial boards.

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