I wanted to be a writer from an early age, and as a boy wrote ‘newsletters’ and produced ‘magazines’ that lasted one issue, and were obtained (free) by my small circle of friends interested in such things. University essays rather took the fun out of writing, but my experience of National Service in the Army led to the beginning of a satiric analysis called A Soldier I Would Be, which mercifully remained unfinished, as did two trial novels, one set in the Army and the other, a murder mystery, set in a university.
Several years of research as a postgraduate student finally resulted in my first real, published book, The Colonel. A Political Biography of Sir Michael Bruxner (ANU Press, 1969). It was followed in 1972 by my second, The Country Party in New South Wales. A Study of Organisation and Support (ANU Press). These two, handsomely produced and well received, were the outcome of ten years of study of farmers and their politics, and for even longer I was the academic authority on the Country Party.
But when my PhD had been awarded I set off for Oxford, and quickly became absorbed in survey research, which took me in time to the University of Michigan in the USA. When I returned to Australia my second major interest took off —the study of Australian political attitudes and behaviour. That resulted in my third major book, Stability and Change in Australian Politics (ANU Press), the first edition coming in 1977 and the second edition, much larger, in 1982. If I have brought out a major work, that is it. Before it appeared in print, however, I discovered that I had become an author again, along with Michael Kahan, and Donald E. Stokes, my American mentor. Published by the Inter-University Consortium for Political Research in Ann Arbor, Australian National Political Political Attitudes. Wave 1. September-November, 1967, was a computer-printed summary of the first national political survey I had conducted, along with Mike Kahan, including the codebook, the questionnaire and the frequencies. It had no plot, no characters and no conclusion, but it was one of those indispensable handbooks people interested in this area needed to have, until the computer on everyone’s table made a hard-copy version unnecessary.
In London in 1975, with only the proofs of Stability and Change to deal with, and now weary of an unending diet of numbers, tables, diagrams and graphs, I returned to fiction, and in about four months of early-morning work, wrote a novel about university life, The Second Chair (Angus and Robertson). That novel appeared in 1977, did well, and re-appeared as an A&R paperback (Arkon) in 1981. It was intended as the first of a trilogy about the mid 1960s, and you can find out more about it here.
When the second edition of Stability and Change appeared I was almost adrift, doing things that I was asked to do but not having a research agenda of my own. Almost a decade of teaching first-year Politics students had pushed me into writing a textbook of my own, along with Brian Jinks, who co-taught the class with me for three years. Australian Political Institutions appeared in 1980, when I had moved to ANU from Macquarie University. It too was a success, and needed frequent new editions, done in the first instance by John Warhurst of the ANU, and then by Gwyn Singleton of the University of Canberra. In 2015 it is in its tenth edition, and in its 35th year may be the longest-running Politics textbook ever produced in Australia.
Brian Johns, then of Penguin, asked me what I thought of the diaries of a Liberal politician and Minister, Peter Howson. It didn’t take me long to see what a fascinating read it might be, so I became the editor, reducing 1.5 million words to a still hefty 500,000. The Howson Diaries. The Life of Politics was published by Viking Books, a Penguin imprint, in 1984. It was no Crossman Diaries, but it was taken seriously and sold well. It keeps being referred to today. At much the same time the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia commissioned me to produce a book on the development of Political Science in Australia, and also in 1984 it published my Surveys of Australian Political Science.
My next research interest became policy, administration and management, but increasingly I was being pulled into practising it, rather than writing about it. And though I did a lot of writing too, the outcome was speeches, chapters, and short pieces in journals, not a full-length monograph. I did write a quasi-autobiography, Critical Mass, about my years in the research business, but it was not intended for publication so much as to get the area out of my head after I became a vice-chancellor. But it will appear here in time, when I have done the work necessary to bring it up to date. I also put together an arrangement of speeches, articles and chapters, with a linking commentary that did cover those years, as Higher Education and Research — a Contribution. It was too large for publication, and I couldn’t see how I could effectively shorten it. It may appear here one day.
My next ‘proper’ book arose out of an invitation to attend in 2003 a fifty-year reunion of my high school graduating class. I was uncertain about going, since that high school experience had not been a uniformly enjoyable experience for me, to put it softly. But I went, and became fascinated with the range of experiences of my school-mates, and of some broad patterns in their lives. We had been the second-half-of-the century generation, entering the workforce in the early 1950s, and retiring as the century came to an end. I interviewed all the surviving members of the class, and in 2005 Allen & Unwin published my What Was It All For? The Reshaping of Australia. Hugh Mackay, Wendy McCarthy and Paul Kelly were enthusiastic about it, and lots of people have written to me to say how it touched them, even though they were not at that school. You can find out more about it here.
A year later I wrote a memoir (Edna and Alec, Danbee Books, 2006) of my parents, whose lives covered the 20th century in Australia, being born in 1905/6, living together for 61 years, and dying in 1993/4. In a way their lives provided the earlier background to the second half of the 20th century sketched in What Was It All For? Poverty, depression and war touched their lives as they did not touch mine, and their lives mirrored the material progress of our country over the century. You can find out more about it here.
In the middle of 2007 I had a call from Liz Harman, the Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University, and that led in time to a consultancy with a wise and experienced TAFE expert, Dr John Mitchell. Our brief turned out to be how to devise a common culture for a university with 11 campuses, three levels of education, six institutional histories, and a geographic situation in the western suburbs of Melbourne. It proved to be a fascinating experience that lasted for four years. We produced a lot of material for the University, and managed to produce a small book called Diamond Innovations, which appeared in 2008, and set out examples of the innovative teaching being carried out in the University. By the time our work finished I had a great fondness for the place, and respect for the aspirations of so many of its staff.
And having retired from my own university in 2002, I now had time to return to fiction. The successor to The Second Chair took me much longer than the first novel in the trilogy. But finished it finally was, and is here, as Turning Point. The third novel in this series, Nobody’s Hero, is written, and will be launched in March 2016. The trilogy covers university life, politics and love in the first half of the 1960s.
I also thought I would like to write something in what seems best known as the ‘chick-lit’ genre, or more respectfully, women’s fiction, and over the years have written both a novel, Moving On, and a collection of short stories, The Canonbury Tales. The latter is here too, while Moving On is a 2017 project. There are other unfinished novels, and if I could manage to get more time in each 24 hours, I would finish them too.
Writing became my craft, and I hope to continue it as long as the spirit moves and the flesh is willing.