He studied history at Melbourne University during Max Crawford’s time, and although he had done well in essays, did not perform as well in his honours exam as he had hoped. He jumped at the chance of writing a history of Brighton, commissioned by the Brighton mayor, largely because of the sense of place that he himself had developed growing up in suburban Melbourne.
He started off with the rate books, utilizing the “birds eye” view of the RAAF pilot he had been during WWII, mapping out the streets, the type of building constructed and the people who lived there. He tramped the streets of Brighton too, getting a feel for the place. He took a slice approach with the newspapers, reading at ten year intervals (and ruing, with hindsight, that he didn’t align his reading with the censuses). Brighton as a suburb was a rich field- it threw up Dendy’s special survey and the involvement of J. B. Were; the development of the resort town; market gardening; the influence of Tommy Bent; the nature and contribution of the ‘middle suburb’. It was a local history, but it illustrated big themes.
He speaks of the academy’s condescension towards local history, and the sidelining of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria by the University of Melbourne for some time, reciprocated by the local historians’ disdain of “academic” historians for their lack of interest in primary sources.
A good, well-constructed talk- and I do love being able to catch up on things I have missed through podcasts!