So finally we reached Townsville and found it a wonderful tropical paradise where the problems of Britain in the 1980s were behind us, and I looked forward to a university booming and increasing as it developed to serve the sons and daughters of North Queensland. My son Christopher was to graduate in economics and computer science in 1994.
Allen, Christopher, and Kathy Brent
The Department of History in those days was lead by a remarkable Professor, Brian Dalton, who had written a History of New Zealand, his native country. He also edited a series on North Queensland History. But Brian had served in the Royal Airforce as a pilot in World War II, and as a young demobed serviceman, had won a place in the University of Oxford, of which he remained proud. Brian believed in the Oxbridge university tradition of distintered research and publication, and a broad history curriculum, embracing along with Australian history the roots of that history in British and European thought and culture as well as its American development. Along with Politics, South East Asian, and European History Brian looked for a course in the Classical and Christian roots of our civilisation. He was anxious to recruit me to teach Philosophy and Religious Studies as a background to intellectual history.
By this time (1983) I had tired of both the philosophy of education and of a curriculum restrictive of any real development of PhD studies. Furthermore, on the plane in 1980 I had read Newman's Apologia and was deeply impressed by his spiritually tormented soul. Subsequently I got from James Cook's library Newman's Development of Christian Doctrine. The effects of these works on me I discuss elsewhere (Church: Anglican). But the scenes of early Christian history took me back to reading Theology at Cambridge, a thousand years ago when the world was young, and I became eager to seize the opportunity offered by Brian Dalton in the aftermath of the amalgamation. The university in turmoil over the amalgamation and considerable friction caused by the usual bureaucratic empire building that wished to hang on to staff numbers at all costs even though the point of the amalgamation was to release staff to develop new areas otherwise unavailable to students. I had chosen to go on 6 months study leave in 1983. The promises given (that it subsequently required some effort and personal cost on my part and that of Brian to retrieve) enabled me to spend my leave in Cambridge researching in my new field, and my articles on Newman then came on stream. Thus began my first six months of sabbatical with bees buzzing in Australia over my crossing from Education to History immediately after my departure.
I returned to Australia in September 1983, now researching my way into my new field, to find my proposed move frustrated on every side. I ended up hospitalized and by December needing a minor but necessary operation as a result of which I had my first real contact with the Mater Misericordiae hospital in Townsville that I was destined to serve later as an Anglican chaplain. Mid December saw finally the capitulation of a weak management to the unmistakably logic of my case, and I crossed triumphantly to the Faculty of Arts and to History with Brian Dalton.
There began the creative period of my career as a University Teacher and I pioneered two new courses that were to attract a significant student following, Philosophy and Religious Studies, a Background to Intellectual History, and A History of Political Thought. Brian undoubtedly was the most impressive Head of Department that I have ever had the privilege of working under. Some believed his style was autocratic, but this meant we had no academic committees and so no internal politics with destructive teeth. His style was as successful as it was because he had no personal agenda that was not transparent, treated all interests equally, and fought ferociously for the interests of his department to those without whilst defending and protecting his staff and their personal interests from within. It was a lesson that his successors after his retirement never grasped. I was to be promoted, first as Senior Lecturer (1985) under him and then as Associate Professor under his immediate successor whilst still in an acting role (1993).
In 1989 Brian insisted that I take study leave that I had accrued and so I spent my first full year's sabbatical in Cambridge. I had already, in 1987, spent with Kathy and Christopher part of a long vac (November-February) at the British School at Rome which I experienced for the first time, and which I describe in more detail on another page (Career: Cambridge).
It was in Australia, in the Anglican Diocese of North Queensland, that I was ordained, almost immediately after crossing to History, to the Anglican ministry, to the Anglican deaconate (Ascension, 1984) and then to the Anglican Priesthood (Pentecost, 1985), (see Church:Anglican).
Following my Visiting Fellowship at Clare Hall (1994-1995), I resigned from JCUNQ, having foreseen subsequent developments that was to wipe out any achievements in securing the serious study of European History, discarding Brian Dalton's great vision, and replacing it with a curriculum in 'Australian' history that seemed designed to be a service unit in the new pursuit for a 'degree' in Tourism. I returned to Townsville for a holiday and a trip down memory lane in 2004. My old office in what had been a new floor for a new History Department in 1993 was in ruins and in process of being turned into student accomodation. Professor Noel Loos, an old friend, now in an 'adjunct' position with an office but in retirement, took me to the new History rooms housing two staff on a floor shared by a few English and Foreign Languages lecturers. The dream was clearly over. In some moods (particularly during the most unpleasant five years of my life spent at a college in Plymouth) I had dreamt of our life in Townsville and of what might have been. But my trip in 2004 revealed to me how far from reality such dreams had been. I looked around the new campus and I saw, in addition to the new Law School of 1993, new Engineering buildings, and indeed a new state of the art hospital that had replaced the old Townsville General in the city center where my wife Kathy had worked as a nurse. Here was the center of the new School of Tropical Medicine. I was pleased for them and for the achievement of their objectives. But it was clearly not a scene that would have had any room for me and the academic work that I had wished to pursue.
Australian society in general and North Queensland society in particular is nevertheless the poorer. I looked around at the development of a modern, tropic city, with fine houses with swimming pools set in a tropical paradise. But giving every appearance of being culturally and historically rootless.