It is with deep sadness that we learn of the death of Geoff Bolton. If there are three names I would single out as the finest historian of Australian history over the last sixty years there would be Manning Clark, Geoffrey Blainey and Geoffrey Bolton. Geoffrey Curgenven Bolton AO, FRHS, FASSA, FAHA was up there with the best. Born in Perth in 1931, he was Bicentennial Professor of Australian History and Head of the History Department at The University of Queensland from 1989 to 1993.

Author of twenty books of distinction, his volume 5 of The Oxford History of Australia was subtitled ‘The Middle Way’ which in some ways is typical of Bolton’s eclectic set of books, which included everything from the history of the British empire (1973) to the history of the street in which he was brought up in Perth (1996). His first book was a published version of his Honours thesis on Andrew Forrest, explorer and Premier of Western Australia (1958), inspired because Forrest’s statue was opposite Geoffrey’s tram stop. His history of North Queensland (1963) has never been equalled and is still used today. His history of the Australian environment since 1788 (1981) was one of the first of its type. He served as Head of the History Department during his years at UQ, during which time he completed his Oxford history (1990) and delivered his ABC Boyer Lectures (1993). He also wrote the seminal histories of Andrew Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister and Paul Hasluck an important Cabinet Minister I the Menzies era and later Governor General.

Geoff Bolton was a scholarship boy at Wesley College and educated at the University of Western Australia and Balliol College, Oxford University, then became a Research Fellow at the ANU in 1957 and a Senior Lecturer at Monash University in 1962. From there he became Professor of Modern History at the University of Western Australia in 1966 and Foundation professor of History at Murdoch University in 1973, and Pro Vice-Chancellor 1973-1975, then Dean of the School of Social Inquiry, 1976-1978. Next he spent two years as Visiting Commonwealth Fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge University ad three year as Professor and Head of the Australian Studies Centre at the University of London, before returning to Murdoch University. His next appointment was as Professor of Australian History at the University of Queensland onwards from 1989. He then returned to Western Australia to be Professor of History at the new Edith Cowan University. He retired in 1996 and from 2002 to 2006 was Chancellor of Murdoch University.

Geoffrey was a superb lecturer of the old school. I taught HIST135, ‘Problems in Australia’ with him in the early 1990s. I can well remember him lecturing off the back of an envelope, and in those chalk and talk days, when we were using overhead projectors as the latest technology, used to turn to students with a cheesy grin and say “I am told we should be using visual aids”, and would draw a perfect map of Australia on the blackboard, an art I never mastered.

Over the decades he constantly incorporated new aspects of Australian history: indigenous Australians, gender relations, the environment, and ethnicity and race. Never type-cast, he dealt with biography and macro and micro issues. He was never an extremist, always choosing the middle way. Recently, a street was named after him in Perth: it is not Bolton Street; it is Geoffrey Bolton Street, so there can be no mistake that this son of Perth will be remembered for posterity.

Main Publications:

Alexander Forrest: his life and times. 1958

The Western Australian Legislature, 1870-1930. 1961 (with Anne Mozley)

A Thousand Miles Away” A History of North Queensland to 1920. 1963

Dick Boyer, an Australian humanist. 1967

A Fine Country to Starve In. 1972 (reprinted 1994)

Britain's Legacy Overseas. 1973

Spoils and Spoilers: Australian Make their Environment, 1788 to 1981. 1981 (second edition 1992)

Australians Make their Environment 1788-1980. 1981 (second edition 1992)

History of Royal Perth Hospital. 1982

It had better be a good one: the first ten years of Murdoch University. 1985

John Ramsden Wollaston: the making of a pioneer priest. 1985

The Oxford history of Australia. Volume 5, 1942-1988: the middle way. 1990

Who Owns Australia's Past?: Boyer Lectures. 1993.

Daphne Street. 1996

Claremont: a history. 1999

Edmund Barton: The One Man for the Job. 2000

The Fuss That Never Ended: The Life and Work of Geoffrey Blainet.  2003 (joint author with Stuart Macintyre, Deborah Gare and Tom Stannage)

May it please Your Honour: a history of the Supreme Court of Western Australia 1861-2005. 2005 (with Geraldine Byrne)

Land of Vision and Mirage: Western Australia since 1826. 2008

Paul Hasluck: A Life. 2014


Professor Clive Moore
McCaughey Professor of Pacific and Australian History

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