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McMinn, Winston Gregory (Greg) (1930–2011)

by Peter Hempenstall

Greg McMinn, 1989

Greg McMinn, 1989

photo supplied by Celia Parkinson

Winston Gregory McMinn (Greg to his family and colleagues) died in Newcastle on 16 November 2011 aged 81. An academic and teacher at the University of Newcastle since its early days, McMinn was a scholarly historian best known for his work on the nation’s constitutional history. He was born in Maitland on 9 October 1930, schooled at Maitland Marist Brothers and studied at Armidale Teachers College where he met his partner in life, Martha; they celebrated 60 years of marriage in 2010. After stints in primary and secondary schools, McMinn joined the fledgling University of Newcastle in 1962 under the ‘thoroughly traditional Trinity man’, Vice Chancellor J. J. Auchmuty. McMinn shared Auchmuty’s staunch conservative values though not his ebullient celtic personality. McMinn presented a rather stern, schoolmasterly profile to students and younger colleagues alike, though this hid an essentially friendly and helpful nature, always ready to suggest sources and improvements, and armed with a lecture on British historical precedents for most things.

Greg McMinn taught British history, with an attention to its long serving legal and political structures, and Australia’s nineteenth century colonial history, whose depth he had added to with a book length study of Alan Cunningham, the explorer, and a well regarded biography of George Houston Reid, Premier of NSW and a key figure in the young nation. He also published numerous articles in political and religious history and was a contributor to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

McMinn belonged to the early Newcastle academic caste who lectured in black gowns to working class audiences thirsting for the best of a traditional university education. Reading glasses perched on his nose, McMinn read from beautifully written lecture scripts, his lectures clearly organized with precisely calibrated historical arguments. He rarely looked up and did not often entertain interruption or a question, though once the performance was ended he was approachable and keen to help.

McMinn was of that generation that ‘ran’ the university as a hierarchical academy of notable gentlemen and was no fan of the democratic, feminist push for more open government and equality of gender. But he accepted the reforms that emerged in the 1980s and even defended History’s new elective administration in the notorious affair of the Professor who resigned on his first day in office because the department would not make him Head.

Greg McMinn always pursued life outside the academy. He was wicket keeper for that body of enthusiastic cricket-playing staff members, the Venerable Gentlemen, for almost 20 years, then turned to refereeing local rugby union games with the same stern, undemonstrative approach as he employed in his teaching. His decisions were not readily disputed, at least to his face. In retirement he transferred the same enthusiasm to golf, playing each Tuesday and Thursday with like-minded veterans of the Maitland Golf Club. Greg was a fervent and loyal Catholic who attended mass every morning if he could, until his health failed. He was working on a history of the Catholic Church in Australia when he died.

Greg McMinn was more than just another staff member to be forgotten. He was part of the fabric of the most traditional phase of Newcastle University’s growth, one of the people who helped carve out its red-brick identity and stood determinedly for a conservative, disciplined scholarship and a proper instruction in the origins of our civilization’s structures. He believed in conservatism in its original sense of holding on to the best values that had come down across 800 years of academic tradition from British roots. That meant respecting academic freedom and letting younger colleagues (even women) have their head in where and how they plied their scholarly interests. That meant he also fought for his own interests against young Turks and for an older style of government that looked up to those in authority before it looked across to the aspirations of (junior) colleagues. But he was respectful, attentive and hard to defeat in argument. Once he got the rhythm of a good story going he was hard to stop.

On 25 November he was farewelled at St Therese’s Catholic church, New Lambton, by family, colleagues and mates from cricketing days and the Maitland Golf Club. Greg McMinn is survived by his wife Martha, his daughter, Celia, and sons, Bernard and Bryan, four grandchildren and a great-grandson.

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Citation details

Peter Hempenstall, 'McMinn, Winston Gregory (Greg) (1930–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mcminn-winston-gregory-greg-14162/text25174, accessed 25 September 2017.

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