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 

 

History Forum Committee

  • 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.

  • Andy Macqueen

Andy is a well-known Blue Mountains local historian, bushwalker, and conservationist.  His primary interests lie in Aboriginal history, Colonial exploration and surveying, and conservation history.  He has written books on the explorer Francis Barrallier; on the Grose Valley; on exploration and first contact between the Hawkesbury and the Hunter; and on the Colonial surveyor Frederick D’Arcy.  His published papers deal variously with the explorer George Caley and the application of the name “Blue Mountains”.  Andy is keen to see that local history is viewed in the broader contexts of Australian and international history.

  • Robert O’Neill, AO, FSSA (Deputy Chair)

Robert has worked in the fields of international relations, history of war, and strategic studies since 1963.  He was Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU, Canberra, 1971-82; Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London, 1982-87; and Chichele Professor of the History of War, All Souls College, Oxford, 1987-2001.  He served in the Australian Army 1955-68 and was mentioned in dispatches for his work in Vietnam, 1966-67.  He was Chairman of the Council of the IISS 1996-2001 and of the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum, 1997-2001.  He wrote the official history of Australia’s role in the Korean War (2 vols.).

  • Sally O’Neill

Sally O’Neill is an honours history graduate of the University of Adelaide.  She was a sub-editor, later research editor, for the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University, Canberra (1967-1982) and worked as a London- and Oxford-based researcher for the ADB and other projects in 1983-2001.  She is the author of 50 signed  articles for the ADB.

  • 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 (Chair)

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.