What made you decide to pursue a career in history?
I have always had a love of history, for as long as I can remember. When I was a child I was so enraptured by stories of early explorers that I used to walk around the farm pretending I was Ludwig Leichhardt or Burke and Wills (on the days I wasn’t King Arthur). I had some great lecturers at university who inspired me to continue studying history. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do a PhD at the University of Western Sydney, with two supervisors I can’t thank enough – Carol Liston and Drew Cottle. I still pester them with questions on a weekly basis, long after I graduated.
Who is the audience for your history?
I am currently tutoring at Western Sydney University, as well as doing historical research for OCP Architects. There are too many fine historians at UWS to mention; every time I have a chat with a colleague I learn something I didn’t know. I’d have to say, though, the best audience for my history are the people of Tottenham. The book, Murder in Tottenham, that emerged from my PhD thesis (which I was lucky enough to have published by Anchor Books Australia) focuses on the history of that town in western NSW, where I grew up. It has a wonderfully passionate local historical society.
What’s your favourite historical source, book, website or film?
Well, in a research sense, Trove! I have a serious book-buying problem that needs attention, so I could go on all day about which books I love. In a general sense I love works of history that have a good yarn. It is sad when young people are turned off history by books or media that take all the excitement out of history. Nicolas Rothwell is someone who has often fired my imagination on outback and northern Australia – with Wings of the Kite Hawk, for instance.
If you had a time machine, where would you go?
I think I would be perpetually travelling; I don’t know that I could settle on one place. I would certainly check if Lasseter was telling fibs about the gold. I’d have a beer with a few bushrangers and with Duncan (the young police constable whose assassination is the subject of my book) probably head off to Europe to do some pillaging with Vikings, then a cup of tea with Goethe, then back to Australia to spot some megafauna. I think I would spend most of my time west of the Great Dividing Range in what Henry Lawson called the roaring days. Having grown up with tales of drovers, I think I’d be happy to live in the long paddock.
Why is history important today?
When we see ourselves in the broad sweep of human history, we realise how insignificant most of our complaints are. We also realise how far we have come in so many areas (and how far backwards we have gone in others!) We see examples to emulate and we see what failures to avoid. I’m coming dangerously close to a cliché about being doomed to repeat history so I might leave it there.
Photo from left to right: Liz Rushen, Rowan Day and Perry Macintyre at the launch of Murder in Tottenham: Australia’s first political assassination, Trades Hall, October 2015