CQUniversity’s Dr Benjamin Jones was just 17 years old when the country last went to a referendum, on whether Australia should become a republic.
It was to change the course of history for the young man who would spend the next decades unfolding the complex issue.
Now a historian and academic, Dr Jones said he was just a few months too young to cast his own vote when the majority of Australians said ‘no’ to moving away from the British monarchy, which left him with many questions about why the nation voted the way it did.
“I wanted to know why my fellow citizens voted ‘no’ and what was the historical background to the question and where Australia may go in the future,” Dr Jones explained.
As the focus of his Honours thesis and the centre of his later research as an academic, the subject provided him with many questions.
“Why a country that has such self-confidence, and such a sense of self, that seems to be this independent, progressive, multicultural nation in the Asia-Pacific, would look all the way to Great Britain and decide that with all of our citizens ... that we still fall back on this very medieval notion that there is a royal family who are just entitled to the position of Head of State?”
He said while there was so much online that historians had access to, there was still the need to dig into the physical archives at times – “those dusty old books” – particularly for those historians going down the PhD route.
“It’s like detective work, because it was only other humans with a certain amount of time and skills who sometimes just threw things in a box...”
He says history academics also have a duty to be writing for public consumption via the press and also make themselves available for broadcast media as much as they can.
“Historians are well placed not just to talk about what happened hundreds of years ago, but to join the dots about how they might be relevant for today.”