In the Summer-Autumn issue of History in the Making, Patrick White, a PhD candidate at James Cook University, published an article considering Australian discourses of post-war, home-front defence and the question of northern development in relation to Townsville’s Lavarack Barracks.
Here, he details the archival basis of his research project, explains how a year in the United States spurred his interest in history, and lists essential reading for those interested in northern Australia.
How did you find and access your primary sources?
For the HITM article I based my primary research on newspaper articles and editorials from the relevant period. It was a pragmatic decision, James Cook University’s Mabo Library has a very good collection of newspapers stored on microfilm and good facilities to utilise them. I also chose some letters between key politicians – for example between the Queensland Premier and the Prime Minister – because they directly discussed some of the issues I explored in the article.
What did you learn from the peer review process?
The importance of clear topic sentences! And you must establish a good literature review to help guide the reader. These are the basics but sometimes you might ‘know’ you need to do something but not really understand why or how important it is until you are peer reviewed. The process at HITM was great and I was lucky to get some very helpful feedback.
What’s your favourite history book?
Two Australian books at the moment: Geoffrey Bolton’s A Thousand Miles Away: a history of north Queensland to 1920 and Alan Powell’s Far Country: a short history of the Northern Territory. These are not glamorous offerings but as a northern Australian, they appeal to me. There are very few really good histories of the Northern Territory or north Queensland but these two certainly stand out. Bolton’s is quite old now (1960s) and is an excellent summary of north Queensland’s post-colonial settlement. The pattern of development described by Bolton remains evident today. Powell’s NT history covers a lot of ground but must be an essential early stop for anybody studying the Territory.
Why do you think the study of history is important?
I started studying political science when I was an undergrad international student in the United States. I was there during the Bush-Gore election and in the following years for 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan and the build-up to war in Iraq. Politically, this was immensely volatile and interesting period. A vast array of ideas and topics were bouncing around and I began to understand how history could be radically manipulated to substantiate politics or controversial policies. This concerned me and the importance of history – professional, objective, detailed and holistic – was clear. I quickly added history to my studies and never looked back. I’d like to see good history become more accessible and more widely appreciated as a crucial central pillar of academia by universities and the community.
How do you juggle your studies and the rest of your life?
As we all know, maintaining full-time work while studying is very difficult. Attempting to participate in the community and have a social life on top of these is occasionally impossible. Sacrifices need to be made and I am not a naturally gifted student or researcher so I need to work hard to get anywhere. Quarantining time each day is critical to achieving your goals. Two hours per day to read, take notes, edit or write is important. Just get in there and do something each day. I am lucky to have a good desk at home and a space at the university. Primary research is a whole other ball game though. That requires vast quantities of time and effort and I expect that the skills and tactics of a good research ferret are developed throughout a lifetime.
Where would you like to take your research next?
I am working on a political history of northern development. The idea of developing northern Australia has been around for a long time and it sporadically attracts interest from governments. However, little is known about its politics. I hope to make a contribution to filling this gap. I am also interested in football fan sub-cultures known as ‘Ultras’. These sub-cultures have roots in southern and eastern Europe but have spread to all corners of the globe, including Australia. I envisage doing some work in this space.