‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ — L.P. Hartley
The opening line of L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between has become proverbial. Most of us hold a degree of fascination with some aspect of the past, not least because the people who lived there are at once familiar to us, and unfamiliar. While nothing is easier than slipping into the comfortable assumption that people from the past thought and felt just as we do today, as historian Robert Darnton pointed out, the job of a good historian is to show us ‘not merely what people thought but how they thought — how they construed the world, invested it with meaning, and infused it with emotion.’ This is the essence of cultural history which I endeavour to bring to every project.
I hold an official degree of fascination with the past, in the form of PhD in Cultural History from La Trobe University (2005). I bring a broad historical knowledge, strong research and writing skills, and a capacity for critical reflection, to any history project.
My research often trespasses fields I studied in my undergraduate degree (B.App.Sc 1stHons, Charles Sturt University) — namely Aboriginal Studies, Australian Archaeology, Anthropology, and Ecology. I like for my writing to be as interdisciplinary as possible.
These days I am also a full professional member of the Professional Historians Association (Victoria), and subscribe to their standards and code of ethics.
I have experience in writing gold rush history; local history; the history of organisations and businesses; migrant and Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal contact history; researching historic objects, places and landscapes; and art history.
I also have had the occasional stint teaching at La Trobe University, including running the workshops for Introduction to Aboriginal Australia in 2017, and tutoring in Colonial Australia, Australian Heritage Sites and Landscapes and even American History.
Why do I think history is important?
One of my favourite historians, Inga Clendinnen put it best (in her brilliant book Dancing with Strangers): ‘we humans proceed in a fog. By coming to see the fogs through which people in other times battled in the direction they hoped was forward, we may better be able to recognise and penetrate our own.’
And for the very curious…
I trained at La Trobe University under the supervision of Alan Frost, a myth-busting historian with phenomenal research skills and a poetic outlook, who is a specialist in the 18th century exploration of the Pacific and the early colonisation of Australia. I was co-supervised by Richard Broome, a specialist in Aboriginal history. La Trobe was also renowned as the epicentre of the ‘Melbourne group’ of ethnographic historians, revolving around the work of New York Times ‘book of the year’ winner Inga Clendinnen, Pulitzer prize winner Rhys Isaac and the phenomenal Greg Dening. All five historians have left an indelible mark on my approach to history.
They were not interested in creating simplistic, hindsighted views of the past. Instead, each attempted in their own way (as Dening once said), ‘to return to the past the past’s own present — a present with all the consequences of actions still unknown.’ In creating histories filled with a sense of uncertainty in events as they unfolded, they hoped to ‘reconstruct something of the participants’ worlds as they experienced them.’