Vale John Hirst

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Dr John Hirst - author of Australia’s Catholic University: The First Twenty-Five Years

Australian historian and public intellectual Dr John Hirst, who wrote the history of ACU’s first 25 years, has died.

The Australian Catholic University community is saddened by the news of Dr John Hirst’s death.

An eminent Australian historian, Dr Hirst documented the founding years of ACU in Australia’s Catholic University: The First Twenty-Five Years, a book published in 2015 for the University’s 25th anniversary.

Many staff worked closely with Dr Hirst in his research for the book.

ACU Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven said, "It was an immense privilege to have him write the history of ACU for our 25th anniversary. It is very sad that Australia’s Catholic University: The First Twenty-Five Years – will now be his last book. We hoped he would have written many more great books.”

Professor Craven also worked with described Dr Hirst on the Civics Education Group, and described him as one of the country’s greatest historians and finest intellectuals.

“He wrote with great beauty about the history of Australia. He was meant to be a conservative but he was purely intellectual,” Professor Craven said.

Dr Hirst was Emeritus Scholar at La Trobe University and Honorary Professor of History at the University of Sydney.

He wrote books on convicts, the origins of democracy in New South Wales, Federation, Albert Facey, the republic, Australian democracy, and a guide to government and law in Australia that was distributed to schools nationally.

He was co-editor of the Oxford Companion to Australian History. His most recent books are Sense and Nonsense in Australian History, The Australians: Insiders and Outsiders on the National Character since 1770, The Shortest History of Europe and Looking for Australia.

Australia’s Catholic University: The First Twenty-Five Years details the creation of a government-funded Catholic university, highlights the University’s commitment to students and staff working for the common good, and profiles individuals who have worked at the University, some for its full 25 years.

As an eminent historian who could write for both academic and popular audiences, Dr Hirst was the first choice to write the book. He was not a Catholic but understood the Catholic Church and the ACU projects more generally.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students Learning and Teaching) Professor Anne Cummins said that not only was Dr Hirst’s book a superb and readable history of the University, but that he was a pleasure to work with throughout the research, writing and editing process.

“John was a gracious and insightful person who matched curiosity with determined scholarship.  He was gentle with people but took a critical look at the facts and kept a strong thread of realism in his narrative," Professor Cummins said.

“The end result tells the story of the principal players who made the University at a corporate level, the mission in action and personal stories of individuals who have made long term contributions to the success of ACU.

“John gave us the opportunity to look in the rear view mirror, take stock and know ourselves a little better.  He pushed our confidence in our identity as ACU and left us a book which places our story in the wider Australian story he chronicled so well.”