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Martin, Allan (1926–2002)

by David Lee

I am one of the many who are fortunate to have been taught by Allan Martin, to have worked with him as a colleague, or to have been his friend. I belong to the generation of students who knew Allan through coming to the History Department of the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University in the period from 1973 to 1992 when Allan was a Senior Fellow.

Allan had returned to the ANU—where he had completed his postgraduate thesis on 19th-century New South Wales politics—after teaching in three Universities (New South Wales, Melbourne and Adelaide) and establishing the History Department at La Trobe University (1966-1973). He had come back to ANU so that he could spend more time researching and writing—time which had been denied to him as a professor in a busy and innovative teaching department.

Returning to the ANU enabled Allan to complete his biography of Henry Parkes, research and write his two-volume biography of Menzies and to publish many other works. During this most productive period of Allan's life as a historian, his dedication to teaching and to being a good colleague remained undiminished. Allan created a collegial and nurturing environment for colleagues and for all the students in the department, not only his own students.

He did so in many ways. He hosted an annual end-of-year dinner for all the post-graduate students and regularly had students around to his home to sample his excellent cooking. As a PhD supervisor, Allan was patient, encouraging and dedicated. Many students over several decades who would have given up the daunting challenge of a postgraduate thesis owe it to Allan that they persevered and succeeded.

And after completing their studies, Allan would be generous and unstinting in supporting students in their professional careers.

Allan was keen to engage with and learn from disciplines other than history. For example, in the late 1980s Allan hosted a group of students to study the theory and philosophy of history with one member of the group organising the discussion of readings. And Allan was always interested in historians engaging with and learning from the social sciences and from philosophy and law. It was no accident that, after retiring from history, the Law Department in the Research School of Social Sciences welcomed Allan and provided him an office to complete his biography of Menzies.

When organising the departmental seminar series Allan always looked to make them as stimulating and varied as possible for both colleagues and students. All of us who knew Allan at the ANU will remember his many acts of kindness. John Delaney remembers Allan visiting him in hospital when he suffered from glandular fever; I remember the many times Allan gave me lifts to Sydney on his way to Whale Beach in his beloved Alfa Romeo; John Williams, now an academic lawyer, remembers fondly the experience of sharing an office with Allan in the Law Department; and younger historians, particularly, remember his encouragement of them.

In all the time I knew Allan, I was always struck by how as a person he constantly thought of others, never complained for himself, even during the last sad period of his illness, and never spoke harshly of others. As one who knew Allan and was one of his students at the ANU, I remember him, as I am sure all who knew him do, as a great writer, a great Australian historian, a generous colleague, a supportive and wise supervisor, and fundamentally as a thoroughly good and kind man.

Original publication

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Citation details

David Lee, 'Martin, Allan (1926–2002)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 7 August 2020.

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