Interview with Gerald Patrick Walsh

From the ANU Oral History Archive
Interview conducted 26 April 1994
Interviewed by Stephen Foster
Edited and transferred to web media by Nik Fominas and Peter Stewart

Biographical introduction: Gerry Walsh enrolled in the Geography Department of the Research School of Pacific Studies in 1961 to do a PhD.

Prior to coming to the ANU he studied at the University of Sydney where he completed a Bachelor of Arts in 1956, a Diploma of Education in 1957 and a Master of Arts in 1960.

Later he was appointed to the History Department of the Australian Defence Force Academy and has been a prolific contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Transcript: Recording duration: 1 hour (1 tape) Transcriber: Diana Nelson


Identification: this an interview with Gerry Walsh at the Australian Defence Force Academy. It's 26 April 1994. My name is Stephen Foster. This is tape 1, side A.

          Gerry, you came to the ANU in 1960, can you tell us the circumstances of your coming and your arrival?

Yes, actually, I came in February 1961. I was awarded a scholarship the year before and I came down to the Department of Geography, Research School of Pacific Studies, to do a PhD in historical geography. I think I arrived on 2 February. I remember the date fairly well because, I think, the next day they buried the Governor-General in St John's cemetery. We all went out to have a look at that.

          What attracted you there?

I was a school teacher in Sydney for four years; that was hard work. I'd done an MA at Sydney University and I was interested in doing more research and they were giving very generous scholarships - that was the attraction. I think that was the attraction to everyone.

          So it was basically an ad in the newspaper.

Yes, it was an ad in the newspaper and, of course, they had lots of money in those days, the ANU. It was one of the most generous scholarships as you'd get anywhere in the world. That's why it attracted so many people from Britain, particularly, we had a lot of geologists there from England and Scotland and we had a lot of New Zealanders, of course. I think the New Zealanders actually outnumbered the Australians at University House when I first went there.

          It was perceived not just as superior in terms of money but a superior place in terms of academic activities?

I think so. I didn't know all that much about it and, of course, I came from Sydney University and when I was there as an undergraduate, I don't think they had a PhD. I don't think you could do a PhD there. The big degree there was the MA. I think they might have just instituted a PhD towards the end of the 1950s at Sydney but Sydney was very much an elite sort of thing. They kept very aloof from students in those days.

They were the days when there were no tutorials at all at Sydney University. They've got no tutorials there now, I think, so it's a full circle. It went from no tutorials to a complete tutorial program and very well staffed right back to, as I say, no tutorials today.

          Did you have any notion of who you might work with, coming down here?

I knew who I was going to work with. That was all settled out. I'd been down for an interview and so forth for the scholarship. That was all set up and all nicely arranged beforehand.

          And you knew what topic you were going to do and so on.

Yes, it wasn't the topic I chose. Unfortunately when I got down here, speaking to Laurie Fitzhardinge and he said, 'What are you doing?' and I told him. I told him that wasn't my first choice. I told him I was looking to do something on the rise and decline on the changing functions of rural towns in Australia. He said, 'We've been trying to get someone to do that in the History Department for years'. I thought about trying to change it round, sort of thing, but then they appointed somebody to do just that and that was Mark Richmond.

          But you weren't starting off in history, were you? Weren't you enrolling in geography?

Yes, I was in geography but that could have been done in Geography in that thing but probably I was better off in Geography doing in there than, say, in the History Department which had the formidable Sir Keith Hancock at the time at the head of it.

          You came down and you looked around for digs or you aimed straight for University House?

This is the whole point. I think this is when you talk about this disciplinary affair later, this should be looked at in context because if you were a single person and you were given a scholarship you had to live in University House, it was compulsory. I think they changed that policy after 1963, after my entanglement with them.

If you were married - a lot of married people lived there, too - you had an option, I think. That was one of the things. It was a very peculiar institution, University House. It was beautiful, luxurious surroundings, very nice accommodation - top class stuff. Heated bathroom floors where you could dry out things during the night and so forth - dry your washing out and that sort of thing. Your beds were made. The meals were tremendous and there was plenty of them.

We'll never see the like of that again in Australia or any university hall of residence but it was a really tremendously luxurious place. But, of course, that created problems. It was a very inward looking place.

You've got to remember, too, that Canberra in those days was a very grim place. People used to say, 'How could you go to Canberra?'. I used to say, 'Well, look, Canberra has always got to get better; it can't get any worse'. When I first came down I used to go back to Sydney at least every two weeks and then it got to be about a month, a bit later and later, and that sort of thing because there was nothing in Canberra.

At night there was the Blue Moon Cafe, that was about all. If you were down in Civic, if you'd gone out to the pictures - I don't think there was any theatre - and you were walking home, they turned the lights out at eleven o'clock to save power and you couldn't see at all. Many people carried torches to get back from Civic to University House. I had a car and if you drove down there you just parked under trees just on the other side of the original home of the University College, the Melbourne Building in West Row.

          What did you do at the Blue Moon Cafe?

Not much. That was the only place where you could buy groceries and that sort of thing. They sold a whole lot of stuff and it was the only outside of hours trading thing, if you like, and probably that closed at about ten o'clock or eleven o'clock.

          And people sat around having a cup of coffee there?

Yes, you could have a cup of coffee there. There were a few other coffee lounges but it was a pretty tame place, Canberra, in 1961.

          And did you skip over to Queanbeyan every so often?

You'd often go to Queanbeyan for a picture, see a movie or something like that, that was the only thing because they had a different .... I think there was only one, there was the Manuka picture theatre. I don't know whether there was one in Civic in those days. They built that later. There was Queanbeyan so you had to go to Queanbeyan quite often.

          What about University House itself? The food was good but what about the academic life in the place?

I suppose there were two sorts of people there. There were the very varsity oriented people. You've got to remember that there was high table every night where if you were invited to high table and you were all invited once and if you wanted to go more times, I suppose, you could cultivate people who would invite you but you wore gowns and the Master came out and said Latin grace every night. There were those sort of people who played that sort of scene. There were others who were more knockabout and went into the bar and sat there and made a point of never going in before grace and going in after.

          And that was a deliberate snubbing of the system, was it?

You were having a drink, of course, and you were in no hurry probably but for some people it was a deliberate snubbing of the system.

          How was Trendall regarded by the other troops?

Professor Trendall, of course, was a considerable scholar. I'd known him - well, not known him but knew of him - I think he was Deputy Chancellor of Sydney University when I was there and he became also Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I think, of the ANU for a time; certainly at the time of that disciplinary committee hearing he was that and Master of University House. He was always very pleasant, somewhat aloof. You didn't see much of him. He had his own little coterie. He had a bridge group and if you were in on that you were invited to play bridge certain nights of the week. I was never in on that. It was mainly mathematicians and other people who were interested in that sort of thing.

I never had much to do with him but he was always very pleasant. He was very competent. He ran a good place, a good show there. I think the Deputy - his Deputy was Francis West, who later went on to Deakin University.

          Did you wear gowns if you weren't going up to high table?

No, it was only at high table you wore a gown. You also wore gowns at the commencement of term dinners which were very good affairs. It was very sumptuous tucker laid on and a good night was had by all. On the social life, there was a play reading group which I was involved with. We put on a few turns. We put on dances - there was a special room for that - down in the eastern annex. I think they call it the far eastern annex because they added a bit on to it.

But another fellow and myself we thought that the welcome to new students wasn't handled very well and so we formed a committee to welcome new students. This was Rodney Baxter and myself. We were two people who finally finished up before that disciplinary hearing. We were an organising committee and invited them each to drinks in our rooms or whatever it was and so forth. This was quite effective. That was one thing we did but it was a very inward looking place.

It was pretty grim in a way. I mean, a person doing a PhD is very much inward looking; they work on their thesis, that's everything, depending on what they were doing, of course. Some people just went real funny and real strange. They'd lock themselves in their room for days and wouldn't come out. One bloke, I don't know what he was doing, I think he might have been in Anthropology, he'd just come straight in, pick up his meal, go straight to his room and you'd never see him again.

          Actually taking the meal to the room?

He'd take the meal back to his room which was not really done. The maids complained about it because they used to find something like twenty-six unwashed plates with knives and forks in them under his bed. But some people really went quite strange because of the pressure of their work or whatever or because they were isolated. There was a lot of overseas students and so forth. There was quite a bit of temporary mental instability amongst a lot of people there.

A lot of marriage break-ups between the married couples. I don't know of any marriages that survived the three years that I was living in University House. That was quite a notable feature because the wife sometimes was working somewhere else in Canberra - might be a schoolteacher - and the husband doing a PhD or it could be the other way round. But even when they were both together, some of them working on PhDs together; but those marriages tended not to survive for very long. I think just the pressure of the place because it was very inward looking.

When I got there - everyone was given a room - you were given a room in the eastern annex or the far eastern annex, as it was called, they were single rooms where you shared shower facilities and things like that. Then as you got a bit more senior and it was only a matter of a month or so in my case or when there was a room available you applied to go to a room which has got ....

There were three forms of accommodation. There was the far eastern annex. There were the other rooms, like the bedsitters, quite big, spacious with a little balcony and separate bathroom. Then there were the ones in the northern wing. They had a separate bedroom, you might say, and much bigger accommodation, much bigger balcony looking out towards the Menzies Library. So I had one of those very early in the piece. I wanted one not looking into the quadrangle but looking out, so I looked out over the car park; you could look up to Mount Ainslie. And, of course, that was one of the reasons why I fell foul of the administration. The mere fact that I had a room that looked out rather than in, this was the cause of my downfall.

          How so?

This brings us to this disciplinary hearing affair. What it was all about was simply a party that we had one night. I don't know the cause of the party but we often had parties and so forth in various people's rooms because it could be someone's birthday party. And so we were having one in, I think, it was A staircase, somewhere up on the top there which, of course, is diagonally opposite the Master's rooms in the far corner on the other side of the quadrangle. It was a good party and then at some stage, very late in the night it must have been, Professor Trendall appeared in the midst of the party and very good naturedly said, 'I think your next song should be 'A Brief Time is Now Our Portion''. So everyone took the message - here's the Master standing there and addressing .... Obviously people had complained about the noise.

Everything quietened down and everyone said, well, we'll all go and I said to a couple of people, 'Let's take these bottles and go back to my room' and I think that's what everyone else was doing and, of course, I had a room that looked out.

          So the original party was in ...

It was a room that looked inwards.

          Whose room was that?

I can't remember whose room it was. But just a few friends, I suppose, two or three people, no more than that, had the intention to come back to my room, have another drink before retiring. But what happened was in effect is that most of the rest of the party reappeared at my room.

          Meaning how many people in all?

There must have been at least a dozen, fifteen but, of course, you couldn't get many more than about twenty/twenty-five in one of those rooms for a party. Anyway, they all appeared at my place and, of course, as everyone was fairly far gone and there was much more noise, singing, I think, and drinking. I do remember during the party somebody banging on the door but there were so many people lying around on the floor it was impossible .... Mind you, there was nothing untoward about that; they were probably just drunk.

          Where did the grog come from, incidentally?

You could buy it there at the bar.

          In what form?

In bottle form, that's all it was there. I think for parties held in the party room or meetings room, whatever it was called, I think you could get bulk stuff, I can't remember but it was usually bottle stuff. Anyway, I didn't take any notice. I just vaguely remember this pounding on the door but it was obviously one of the neighbours there.

Of course, the staircase I lived in was C staircase which was called the 'VIP staircase'. Now, the bottom flat was always left for some distinguished visitor and, of course, you had there - the Astronomer Royal, Sir Richard Woolley, stayed there and Sir Karl Popper, Sir Neil Fairley and so on.

          Florey, too, presumably?

I never met him. Not in my day. That's where he would stay, unless he stayed with the Vice-Chancellor. Opposite me on that C staircase was Professor Adrien Albert, who was a pleasant enough guy but eccentric. One of the Albert music people from Sydney, the owners of Boomerang House and so forth - pleasant bloke. But he complained - must have been him banging on the door - to the Master or I think he complained to Francis West, the Deputy Master.

And so two of us were invited to go and see the Master immediately which we did that - must have been a Friday night, that party - Saturday morning and he asked us what it was all about and all that sort of thing. Then he said we would be up before the Board and he would inform us what would happen. That's before he officially wrote to us and said you've got to appear before the Disciplinary Board. He was reasonably pleasant about it at the time we thought.

The two of us were - the other bloke was Rodney Baxter, I don't know whether you'd know him. He's now Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Institute. He's a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and Fellow of the Australian Academy and still a good mate of mine; I still see him from time to time. So anyway, we were arraigned before this board which consisted, I think, of the fellows of the University House. They just asked what happened. The charge was that we were told to stop a noisy party, that we disobeyed this command and we deliberately went and transferred it to another room.

Now, that wasn't our intention whatsoever. I was quite innocent of this and so was Rodney Baxter. Incidentally, Rodney Baxter was the only other person identified because he had such an infectious laugh and as he was going down the stairs he laughed and, of course, he was identified. Everyone else - they would have fitted everyone else if they could but they couldn't find out who they were but Rodney copped it. I don't know, I think it was a few days later that we had this hearing and in the course of the hearing I said .... Well, I said, 'In a place like this - this is what really offended them - and I meant such a repressive sort of place, the House itself and Canberra where there was nothing much else to do, if these things didn't happen from time to time, you'd have more cause for complaint. I think this is just a normal outlet.'

This didn't go down terribly well, at all. And when there was an intermission in the hearings, when they had tea or something, I was approached by a member of that committee who was a fellow of University House and a senior academic there in geophysics and he said - I knew him fairly well - he was being like the good policeman - 'Listen, I think if you apologise for that remark things will go okay with you'. I said, 'There's no way that I will apologise for that remark. That is an honest statement and I stick by it.' So anyway, we go in there and he must have retailed this information back to the committee and then we got our sentences.

I was expelled from University House and its precincts for six months and ordered to pay twenty pounds fine which, I think, was the maximum under the disciplinary statute then. Rodney, I think, he got three months and ten pounds. I think it was half what I got and that was that. So it was only just for gross disobedience to the Master and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I think, of the Australian National University. I think that was the essence of the charge but that's all it was, it was just a noisy party. There was nothing - it was quite a tame affair, really.

          This view that you expressed that they might have bigger problems if they didn't allow these sorts of outlets, presumably you expressed it with a certain force or did you use words which could be construed as offensive?

No, I don't think so. No, I was quite reasonable but, of course, I think, by that time I was pretty fed up of the place and I knew that you might get kicked out and I thought that wasn't such a bad thing because what I did was just get the camping gear from the Department and camped out round the place there; managed to save a fair amount of money doing that. I had to go and take digs after a time because a total fire ban on lighting fires in the open, of course.

Well, what we used to do, there were several of us, and we used to meet at a certain rendezvous like a map reference each night after we'd worked and some of them were physicists and whatnot and we'd meet at these places and have a barbecue and have a few drinks and then put up the tent - you'd put up a tent if it looked like rain - and got up first thing in the morning; you had to, of course, and back into work.

          How long did you live in the tent?

I can't remember. It would be a couple of months.

          Can you remember whereabouts you actually set it up? - down near Sullivans Creek or on the high ground.

No, we had one site out near what is now Rehwinkels animal park. We went a fair distance. One on the top above Gundaroo on the edge of the escarpment on Lake George. It was good to see the sun come up there. Another one was out there which is now the Jerrabomberra Estate, there near Queanbeyan. They were all around the place.

Why did you go so far?

I don't really know. They were just pleasant spots; places that we knew. One of the things you often did at University House of a weekend - they would pack you a cut lunch if you wanted to go and take a picnic rather than hang around the place all the time. And that was one of the other little outlets, social things you did in those days. Just imagine now a hall of residence going for a picnic on a Saturday or Sunday.

          Did you see yourself as something of a misfit at the time or were you perceived that way?

I think I was perceived. I was, you might say, a leader of a drinking group within University House and we used to go on pub crawls which you did on foot which was a hard thing to do.

          There weren't too many pubs to crawl to, though, were there?

We used to start at Queanbeyan .... In Canberra we'd start - there was one out at Narrabundah there, there was the Wellington and the other one was right up the far end near the Barton Highway turnoff, it's no longer there. But there were more in those days than there are today, strangely enough. There was only about one club, I think, in Canberra in those days or in our vicinity anyway.

We used to have pub crawls and we used to go for excursions to Captains Flat for the weekend and drink in the pub and play darts or various things with the locals. Bungendore was another one. Gundaroo was another place you'd go. Yass even but not so much. We had a group of fairly dedicated drinkers. I suppose you'd say fairly wild blokes for that sort of thing and that wasn't looked upon very favourably by a lot of people. They'd turn up their noses at that sort of thing.

But that was a reaction, I think, of a pretty staid environment; it was pretty oppressive. I think everyone who lived in University House would say that. But strangely enough when, I think, they lifted this compulsory requirement to live in, I think it was after our disciplinary hearing, very few left the House. There were probably reasons for that. They might have been too close to the end of finishing their thesis or what but it was a thing that people complained about the House and all the dreadfulness and the oppressiveness and this sort of thing but no one was prepared to do anything about it.

A group of us did. We organised a few functions and, as I said, those welcoming committees, a play reading group, discussion group and that sort of thing. It sounds pretty tame but there was nothing much else. There were no other attractions around in Canberra. We also had a softball group going and we used to play that near University House until they put their foot down on that and we had to go further afield. But that got a bit out of hand because the Americans started to play it with the professionalism and a dedication that took all the fun out of it - they took it for real. We only started as a social thing. You know how you get these things; social games of cricket and they are the most bitter. We gave it away after a while.



Identification: the interview with Gerry Walsh, tape 1, side B.

          What was happening academically? Were you doing your work and presumably it was in the old hospital building?

Yes, the Department of Geography was located in the old hospital building and history was there, too. A lot of the library was housed there at that time, as well. Anthropology was in what they call the old nurses' quarters down below; they are still there. And I think economic history was located in a building that is still there, too; I don't know what they use that for. We were all in temporary .... This is before what they call the Coombs Building was built. That was built, I think - finished - by some time in '63; like the Menzies Library wasn't opened until '63 some time.

The facilities were okay. There was nothing wrong with those. You were close to the library, that was one thing. They were quite good. Morning tea was the big feature at the old hospital building. You had morning tea. There was a large tea room and you sat around. They had a courtyard there with quite nice benches where you sat around and sometimes you could sit in the chairs out on the lawn. Just about everyone turned up there. It was a ritual morning and afternoon tea and that was a relief - and also walking back to University House for lunch - they were bits of relief in the days.

          Was there any relief in the year? What was an academic year like? Was there any obedience to terms?

Yes, you had to keep terms. I had to go away and do several stints in the Mitchell Library - that's where most of my material was. It was limited the amount that I could do here in Canberra. That was only government publications in the National Library in those days which was down in old Nissen huts on the side of what is now Kings Avenue Bridge. But I had to be careful that the time that I spent in Sydney, I still had to keep the terms. There was a minimum number of terms that you had to keep in residence at the university.

          So you actually went down in the vacation period?

No, you could go down in term time as long as you made sure that - I forget what it was. If you were there for, say, three years, that's nine terms, you had to keep six of them or whatever it was in residence. They made allowances for field work, of course, because a lot of my contemporaries were doing things on Tonga and other Pacific islands, Fiji.

          What other demands were placed upon you? Did you report on a regular basis to your supervisor?

No, you generally did a work in progress seminar, as is the case they do today, I suppose, once a year, no longer than that. But, of course, you were in pretty close contact with your supervisor. He was only a few rooms along the corridor so you saw him every day and there was no worries about that.

          Who was supervising you?

Godfrey Linge was supervising me at that particular time.

          And what form did the supervision take?

The same as any sort of supervision: reading drafts and criticising them and so forth; talking about what you might do and advice and so forth. He himself had done the same sort of thing as a PhD in Auckland. The problems were a bit different from that situation but he was quite well qualified to supervise what I was doing.

          Did you see anything of the director who, I guess, then would have been Oskar Spate?

No, it was Sir John Crawford. Yes, I saw quite a bit of him. I remember one notable meeting - because there was so much money and people putting in and, I think, rorting the system. They were putting in claims for tremendous amounts that they spent in New Guinea or the Pacific Islands or whatever. This is anthropology as well as history and geography. I remember he called a meeting one morning over in the nurses' quarters. We were all told to come in there, Sir John was going to address us.

          This is a meeting of the School rather than...

No, a meeting of the research students. I don't think any staff were there. He got up and I think his opening words were, 'The Commonwealth Government is not a cow to be milked'. And said like, watch it, you've got generous grants but there's been overspending. There's been claims put in that shouldn't be put in and all that sort of thing, so he was just saying to watch it. As I said, the scholarships were very generous, the travelling money and all that sort of stuff was almost a bottomless pit in those days but Crawford realised that it was being stretched and so he put his foot down on it.

He, of course, was Fiscal Adviser to the university as a whole from 1961-62.

I daresay he was. In those days what he was mainly on about - and I remember going to a couple of talks he gave - explaining the British concern about the Common Market to the Australian government and to other interested people. He was the local expert on the Common Market or Common Market economics. That's when Britain was making a ploy. He was quite an impressive bloke.

          Was there a sense of being a part of a school, a part of a research school or part of a department or part of a university? How did you view yourself?

The Geography Department was very friendly and well knit. It was a good department to be in; it was one of the better ones. Everyone was very friendly. You had Oskar Spate. My supervisor was Godfrey Linge. Joe Jennings, he's now deceased, he was there - a top man. You could see him almost about anything. He was the geomorphologist in the Department. It was a good department, very friendly and we all got on very well with another.

          There was no sense of being part of a research school?

Not really there because it was all scattered about a bit. You knew you were in the research school but there were only slight differences between Social Sciences which were next door. There didn't seem to be any sort of different procedures or anything between the two.

          And you used the same tea room?

Yeah. It was only humanities, I think, that ever used that tea room because on the other side of us would have been Earth Sciences and part of their building overshadowed one of our buildings; the library portion that juts out that's no longer there. No, they didn't, they had their own tea room. And the John Curtin Medical School, of course, had theirs. They were quite separate because they had a permanent building.

They did certain things for us, too. They did all our photographic work and so forth. You had to go to the John Curtin School for that.

          How was the Head of Department regarded? Was it a benign deity in Oskar Spate?

Yes. He was a considerable scholar even then. He's become an even more distinguished scholar since my time there. I suppose you didn't see as much of him as you'd see of other people but he was around all the time; you could always go and see him if you wanted to. He was always pleasant. He wasn't as unapproachable as, say, Sir Keith Hancock. Mind you, I always got on well with Sir Keith Hancock and I was his research assistant for some time in about 1966-67 when he was in South Africa. I researched that early part of his book on the Monaro for him. He could be quite devastating in seminars.

I remember one seminar where this girl from England - you couldn't really tell her very much. And, of course, at the seminar, I think, Sir John Crawford was there, Hancock was chairing it and a very formidable array of scholars. She was doing something on the Ottawa Trade Agreements or something and, of course, Crawford had been there. He was one of the advisers to the Australian government at the Mission at the time. And one of our other supervisors was a person - might have been off campus.

She was doing very badly in this thing. She read this paper and it was a pretty bad paper; you could see this. She was pretty nervous. At the end of it there was this dreadful pause as Hancock tapped out his pipe - he smoked during these things. There was this pause and those blue eyes looked down the table and said, 'I remember a little disaster of my own some time ago'. Those were his opening words. Everyone thought, oh God. Anyway, the poor girl .... He was very kind to her afterwards and he did take her, I think - invited her to stay down at the coast at Hancock's place. She had a bit of a breakdown after that but I think she was a bit unstable beforehand and she finally left and she didn't go on with her .... But that's more or less off the record.

          Was Hancock being deliberately devastating, do you think?

No, he was not nasty but it was just the way he put it. It was a pretty .... I don't know whether you've been to seminars with Hancock there. Later on, when the Coombs Building was built and they had seminars there - I've been there since then - I found that when you had people like Spate and Hancock and Butlin, they tended to stifle any sort of contributions to the seminar because no one was game to open their mouths because here are pretty formidable blokes, not that they'd chew you up but I don't think you got good seminars as a result of having all the heavies there. That was my feeling. It wasn't terribly free and easy.

          My recollection of Hancock was when he was much older and then it was a matter of adding the humorous anecdote.

No, he was always very pleasant. I always found him pleasant.

          Did you play any cricket with him?

No, I didn't, not in those days.

          Can you tell us about the saga of the PhD?

Yes, I put in the PhD at the end of '63, right on the time.

          Which would, incidentally, have been fairly unusual to be right on the three years?

Pretty unusual, yeah, it was. And then I was down in Sydney at the Mitchell Library and I got a ring there saying that my oral was going to be held the next day. I didn't even have a copy of the thesis. So I got back down there and went and had the oral.

The oral was only conducted by one person, that was Noel Butlin who was pretty searching and whatnot and found me out on lots of things. And, of course, this is the thing, you are doing something in historical geography which is an inter-disciplinary thing: it's history, it's geography, it's economic history. This is what happened to me, I fell between the three stools and never recovered, never got up again.

The other examiners, there was one in London and I forget who the other one was. What happened was that one passed it, one failed it - that was Butlin - and one said rewrite, fifty/fifty. So I thought all right, I'll go along and see what I can do about that. And so I rewrote it, not unnaturally, to Butlin's criticisms which were considerable and justifiable and I got some help in that regard from John McCarty who was Professor of Economic History at Monash and he was then Senior Lecturer in Economic History at Sydney University and I knew him fairly well.

I rewrote it largely with Noel Butlin's criticisms in mind and then when I resubmitted it he wasn't appointed an examiner. They appointed three entirely different examiners. I don't know what the reason for that was. Even the one that passed me - wait a minute, he might have stayed in there. I think the decision was then three nil and so I gave it away. I thought, this is ridiculous. It's not a fair deal. I'm not saying the thesis should have passed. I had another oral and that was here at ANU and there were two or three of the examiners there. It was three nil and I thought this was a bit odd.

I had people get three nil before and finish up passing and to get almost there the first time - you only had to get two out of three, I don't know - or make some minor sort of things and then dip out, it struck me as being a bit odd. I was so sick of it by then and I really wanted to get out of geography. I was more interested in history because that's what I was largely doing so I went back school teaching for a little while here in Canberra, for the best part of two years, and during that time I applied for a job as a lecturer in RMC. Fortunately, Manning Clark whom I knew was on the selection committee and so I got one of the jobs.

          When you say you fell between three disciplines, it was history, geography and what else?

Economic history or economics, if you like, I suppose, that's what it is.

          I can imagine Noel Butlin having very clear disciplinary requirements which were quite different from those of the straight historian but what were the expectations of the others?

What do you mean?

          Who were the others? Were they geographers or historians?

The other two were geographers. I can only remember one, that was Peter Hall from London, but they'd be on the record there and they'd be in my letter. Some weeks later I wrote to Sir John Crawford and pointed out that I thought that, okay, this seems to be a bit rough and most people felt that that was a bit rough that they didn't reappoint the same examiners. As a result of that I understand that they did .... I knew what was going on roughly in the university because at the same time I - starting from late 1962 - started writing for Doug Pike for the Dictionary of Biography and I was often in there and around the place.

They did change the rules and I think you can't have an oral with just one person, you've got to have the three of them or two of them or a representative. Certainly other people have got to be present. I don't know about their rules of reappointing examiners or anything like that. Of course an examiner can say, well, I don't want to be reappointed on this one and he might have said that and Butlin probably did in my case but that seemed rather a rough deal. I don't regret it at all, probably the best thing that happened to me.

          To what do you attribute that desire on the part of the university to have different examiners? Did you get the feeling that there was an excessive concern about maintaining standards? How was it explained?

It wasn't explained at all and I never really asked my department. It would have been the recommendations of my department, I should imagine. You might say I fell a bit foul of my supervisor as a result of taking counsel from John McCarty and that wasn't looked upon as - going 'out house' sort of thing. They reckoned that I should have kept it more 'in house' but I thought, well, he's the economic historian, he's the economist and he understands the stuff that Butlin is on about and so I went there. We parted company on, not really bad terms but not the best of terms.

          This is you and Linge?

My supervisor and Oskar Spate. But I've spoken to them since, there's no worry about that. I don't hold it against them or anything like that.

          And Butlin never reflected on it afterwards?

Not to my knowledge. I think he just wrote his report and said, as far as I'm concerned it has all these inadequacies and it should be fixed up and he probably also said, I'm not really interested in re-examining it. Examiners can do that, of course.

          That process of going for an oral must have been rather terrifying, I guess.

It was and I had less than a day's notice; I got the message in the afternoon and it was supposed to be on the next morning. I think it was in the next afternoon. I had to drive back from Sydney. I had to get a copy of the thesis. I didn't even have a copy with me. I only had a look at it for about an hour because I'd lent it to somebody and then go for this oral. Of course, he was a very searching man. He was quite pleasant at the oral but I obviously wasn't up to those expectations, there's no doubt about that and that's the feeling I came away with from there.

          How did you get involved in the ADB?

I told that story down at the - about two years ago when John Ritchie had a Batemans Bay seminar.

          Is that on record, that story? Is there a paper copy of it? I don't want to burden you with telling the story twice.

I don't think it was taped. I don't think those talks were taped at all. I'd have a rough write out of it. I think I can remember what I said. I really got involved in the Dictionary .... I was doing historical research in the Mitchell Library and I was writing about manufacturers and so forth and picking them up. Doug Pike at this time was the Professor of History at Tasmania and he only came up from time to time. He came once a month for a week or something like that; that's before he took on the job here. He had to satisfy their time requirements down there.

I think I was just talking to Nan Phillips there one day. She was the first secretary of the Dictionary and set up all the organisation. She asked me about somebody and I said, well, I've got a fair bit of information on that sort of thing and she said, well, you should write this one for the Dictionary and I said all right. I happened to see Doug Pike a few days later, I knew him, and I mentioned this to him and, of course, Doug got a bit hot under the collar. He said, she shouldn't be asking people to ... it might be seen as ... God, getting out of hand. He settled down after a while and so I wrote the thing. I've got his letter that he wrote back - it was a very nice letter - saying what I did and thanking me and all that sort of thing.

And then after that I got asked to do a whole lot of others. And it was a 'W' that one. It didn't come out till '69, I think. I wrote that about early '63. I think I wrote nineteen for the first two volumes. The first volume came out in '66. It might have been '67 was the next one. They were pretty close together. I've been stuck there ever since.

          Do you still hold the record for the largest number of articles?

Yes, it's about 170 or something like that going over all those years.

          Getting close to a volume for yourself.

Yeah, when you work it out, it's over two per cent. That's one in about forty-five articles in the Dictionary I've written. They are not big ones always or anything like that but it's the smaller ones that are the hardest ones to do. To get that 500 words is damn hard. If you're asked to write on some well known person, well, you've got a problem of trying to write the definitive one and crystallise it and the problem is leaving out stuff. The other way, you've got to go and find the stuff and damn hard that, getting harder and harder now when you're trying to deal with horse breakers and rabbiters and knockabout people - God, it's hard.

          As the Dictionary becomes more democratic.

That's right. There are fewer records. Some of these blokes didn't even write even though they died, say, ten, twenty years ago. Of course, the Dictionary and I think it's a good thing, they cast their net very wide. They get representatives of all walks of life: rabbiters and horse breakers and all sorts of stuff.

          They are all the questions I wanted to ask you but is there anything that you'd like to add just in terms of either specifics or your general perception of the university?

Not really. I'd have to really think about that. My attitude has always been towards ANU is, I'm not sorry I went there - it was a great experience - I was not sorry I left and I'm not really very sorry about the outcome of the PhD because it hasn't had any effect on me. I wanted to get out of geography and I succeeded in doing that; an unusual way of getting out of it but that's it.

I still think, though, one thing that strikes me - I go over to the ANU, the Dictionary office there every month or so to look up files and put in articles and things like that and see the staff and what have you - but every time I go into that Coombs Building I get this funny feeling that you think, God - it's much better than it was - all these people in these holes doing bugger all. I used to have to walk through the Economic History Department there - Economics Department, sorry, not Economic History - I don't know what they ever did there. I won't mention any names but I think as they died, I think they closed it down. Have they got a Department of Economics there any more?

          Yes, I think it's fairly strong at the moment because Bob Gregory is in charge of it.

Yes, of course, but it just died away. There were a whole lot of people that you'd classify as drones. There'd always be two or three in every department. Mind you, there's some good work turned out there and some good people there, particularly in the History Department. But in a lot of those other departments there's a lot of dead wood there.

You've still got that inward looking thing: we're it, sort of thing. You can understand why other State universities hated the ANU: they had all the money; they sat up there in their rooms and did nothing; produced less in very many cases than people who were doing a full lecturing load and things like that.

          Is there an ADFA perception of ANU? - something that you sense at the tea room and the mess, I guess.

No, ADFA is pretty inward looking itself, in a way. No, I think ADFA is only conscious of being part of the University of New South Wales which is a big outfit and they keep us up to the mark. I don't think they worry much about ANU at all although we get all the notices there for seminars and all that sort of stuff; there's that sort of interchange. There's a lot of interchange there. I examine theses for them - ANU - MAs, PhDs. I write articles for the Dictionary of Biography for them. I've sat on selection committees for lectureships, history and so on, so we've got a fairly good relationship.

I've lectured over there, not recently but used to get them to come over and lecture over here - people like Geoff Fairbairn and so forth in those days, Manning Clark. Manning Clark was here in '88, actually. He enjoyed coming over. John Molony has been over here to lecture. So we have a good relationship.

          Thanks very much indeed.