Distinguished Murdoch historian writes Paul Hasluck biography

December 9, 2014

The life of one of Australia’s most prominent politicians has been recorded by celebrated Western Australian historian, Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Bolton from Murdoch University.

The biography of Sir Paul Hasluck, who was Australia’s 17th Governor General in 1969, was launched in Canberra on December 9 by the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove at the National Centre of Biography at the Australian National University.

Born in Fremantle in 1905 and educated at Perth Modern School and The University of Western Australia (UWA), Sir Paul worked for The West Australian newspaper and lectured at UWA before moving into politics in 1949. After two decades in politics, including a variety of ministerial responsibilities, Sir Paul was appointed as the Governor General of Australia in 1969.

Professor Bolton was approached by Sir Paul’s son and daughter-in-law, Nicholas and Sally-Anne Hasluck, to write the biography and spent over a decade on the project.

“It is true that some of the attitudes that Hasluck expressed are now found contentious; his stance on China during the Vietnam war, for instance, and his concept of assimilation as the key to improving the lot of Aboriginal Australians,” he said.

“But historians should resist the temptation to parade the purity of their own social consciences by highlighting the shortcomings of earlier generations.

“It is unlikely that a young Paul Hasluck in 2014 looking at issues of social policy or foreign policy with intelligence and empathy, would come up with the identical responses that were appropriate in 1934 or 1964.

“He fought the battle for Aboriginal citizenship; he ensured that Papua-New Guinea’s transition to nationhood was much less traumatic than that of many post-colonial societies; he was one of a line of foreign ministers who fostered Australia’s ties with its Asian neighbours; he was a model governor-general and he wrote good history.

“With such a record, an honest biographer – and Hasluck would have insisted that his biographer should be honest – can afford to admit his shortcomings without obscuring the greatness of his achievements.”

Professor Bolton thanked Nicholas and Sally-Anne for giving him unrestricted access to Sir Paul’s manuscripts, correspondence and books.

“Nicholas and Sally-Anne have imposed no restrictions on the material I have used and the interpretations I have ventured,” Professor Bolton said.

“Of course, offering a historian free access to such rich source materials as the Hasluck collection was like offering an alcoholic the key to the brewery, and even now I’m not quite sure that I have ransacked its entire resources.”

Sir Cosgrove noted that Professor Bolton was a fitting choice for author of the biography, noting similarities between the historian and Sir Paul.

“They are both from Western Australia. Both are historians. They both pursued their love of history at the University of Western Australia,” Sir Cosgrove said.

Sir Cosgrove noted Professor Bolton’s success in writing the biography and commended the book unconditionally.

“He has given us a contingent, comprehensively well-researched and sensitively complex account of a great loyal Australian citizen, Paul Hasluck.  It is very good history, nuanced, documented and understanding,” he said.

Fred Chaney, former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and former Murdoch University Chancellor, said the book was an overdue reminder that Hasluck was a leading agent of change in Aboriginal Affairs.

“This biography documents that as a journalist, historian, and politician, Paul Hasluck was early to the idea of the Aboriginal as an equal citizen. In the context of his times, Hasluck was outstanding in his early recognition of the full and equal humanity of Aboriginal Australians,” Mr Chaney said.

Paul Hasluck, A Life, will be available for sale from bookstores in February, 2015 or early copies are available now from the UWA Publishing website.

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