Duncan Waterson and Macquarie University

Article excerpt

It is a pleasure to be here in the old Blackfriars school site. These splendid buildings represent an important moment in New South Wales educational history, as the site of the early kindergarten training and practising school, and later the Correspondence School. Here before the Great War worked those redoubtable empire feminists and estimable friends of Rose Scott, subsequently of Miles Franklin, Miss Margaret Hodge and Miss Harriet Newcomb, and later, our erstwhile colleague in the old School of English and Linguistics at Macquarie University, the equally redoubtable Thea Astley; and no doubt many more we might well remember. Assembling here is in the best tradition of the Sydney History Group, of which many here were members; and I'm sure you will all agree that the historic locale adds something to this memorable event. We at Macquarie don't get across the Sydney Harbour Bridge very often either.

At this point in the proceedings, it seems most of what should be said in honour of our colleague and friend Duncan Waterson has already been said. By the end of today our understandings of the dimensions of his achievement to date as an historian will have been greatly enriched without my adding my mite. One thing that has already emerged vividly for us is the workings of the Queensland connection. Even so I sense that at the end of the day we are bound to have some mixed feelings about what it all represents. One thing we will surely fear is that there will be few if any like him in the new corporate universities, where the phrases such as `the intellectual life' and `general education' are seldom if ever heard, and issues of professional integrity and academic freedom again loom large, not to mention the future of Australian history.

But I'm not going to dwell on the dark side of things. At the local level, as I felt obliged to intercede at the dinner last night, all this talk about Duncan's retirement is a bit bemusing to me. As head of the department of Modern History at Macquarie, I fully expect that he will be in the corridor on Monday as usual, and that his life in research and scholarship will continue in the normal way. After all, the departmental officer Jackie Anker is typing up a new edition of the Queensland politicial register right now. And the projects have been lined up for you, Duncan. I will have one to propose myself in a minute. Moreover, there is in fact a job description for emeritus professors these days; and we would be mad not to bear in mind the benefits that flow from having Your Eminence in the corridor. You'll have to watch it as the invitations to do guest lectures flow in!

What you can look forward to of course is no more marking. You've done your share, and in recent times far more than your share, what is more without complaint. Still who knows if there may not be difficult cases with which an Eminence may be needed from time time -- and I think I know you well enough to say that I'm sure you would be willing. The fact is Duncan has always been a very good and reliable marker, and I personally have always liked to mark with him. Another thing I should say is that Duncan has always been there for people when they needed him -- well maybe a bit later in the afternoons sometimes, but there. I can't imagine that will change either. He's far too gregarious, for one thing. As for the Australian History Museum, well quite frankly we need you to go on mounting exhibitions in the university library. I would put in a plea for some variants on military history though.

Actually it's time for us all to look ahead as well as back. In doing so I dispense with the great flood of memories which seem quite unsortable at this time. I can for example recall as if it were yesterday wondering if I should get down to Central Station to welcome the Melbourne Express that day in 1977 when the Watersons arrived from Melbourne, and deciding against it, as being not my place; and your exuberance at the thought of living in a Labour state at last. …