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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Gough, Austin George (1926–1997)

by D. R. Hainsworth

The former colleagues, students and all the friends of Austin Gough, formerly Professor of History at the University of Adelaide, are in mourning for somebody who was respected by all who knew him and loved by a legion of friends. Austin died suddenly of a massive heart attack at his Croyden, Victoria, home on Sunday evening, 26 September. He is survived by his wife Genevieve, his son Julian, and daughters Lisa and Harriet. 

Deeply interested in World War II to the benefit of generations of students, Austin was primarily an historian of nineteenth century France who was greatly respected by French historians—a respect not casually bestowed on foreigners. An expert on the French church during the reign of Napoleon III, the regard in which he was held is demonstrated by the fact that his Paris and Rome: The Gallican Church and the Ultramontane Campaign 1864-1853 was recently translated by a distinguished French scholar of the period who was desperate to get a French version for his students. 

Of late years his publication of regular articles in first the Hobart Mercury and more recently in [The Adelaide Review], while they delighted appreciative readers and stirred debate, delayed completion of his long awaited study of the First Vatican Council of 1870 which promulgated the doctrine of Papal infallibility. It was to be based on a remarkable, little-known archive which he had discovered in Paris of letters from French society ladies, all fervent Gallicans, who had accompanied their priests to Rome to hold salons there and help sustain the fight against a doctrine they regarded as abominable, and whose priests betrayed their cause at the last. Many will be hoping that the manuscript was sufficiently advanced for the work to be edited and published by other hands. 

Austin Gough will also be remembered for his generous contributions to the scholarship of others, particularly his Adelaide postgraduate students. On the eve of retirement the Department nominated him for the Stephen Cole the Elder Prize for Excellence in Teaching, one of the first to be awarded. Students’ testimonies to his qualities as a teacher happily remain on file in the Department. To read them now is a moving, and for a former colleague, a humbling experience. Several comments catch the eye: “As a teacher he was not only interesting—he was interested.” You could hardly encapsulate Austin’s virtue as a teacher in fewer words. Another student found that he always succeeded in persuading her that what she was doing was important. .... Another described her sessions with him as “a shared experience”.  

In all his university and literary pursuits Austin was well served by a broad experience of life and of people. His had been no simple progression from school to university to postgraduate degree to academic preferment. Educated at Xavier College, where he simultaneously embraced reading and rejected Catholicism, after military service late in the war he embarked at the ripe old age of twenty on a career as a newspaper editor first in Walgett, then in Coonamble, where his father had acquired the local newspapers. Many of Austin’s most entertaining reminiscences related to those years (1946-1951). He enlivened the dull task of covering Saturday weddings in relentless detail by writing them in the style of favourite authors: one week Henry James, another Ernest Hemingway or Dickens. 

Later he worked for the PMG department in Melbourne and here a book should have been written supposing anyone would have dared publish it— certainly not before the last individual concerned was dead. It was a time when telephones were severely rationed and only essential services could jump the very long queues so that a police raid on a S.P. betting shop which contained, say, fifty busy telephones could be a serious embarrassment unless a blanket was hastily thrown over the scandal. Austin was a keen observer of much chicanery which extended to as high as gentlemen who had been knighted for their services to communication by indulgent governments. 

It was in those years that, as a “mature student”, he began to take part-time courses at Melbourne university and gradually transformed his career and his life, winning the R.G. Wilson Prize for the best degree in history (the equivalent of a gold medal), being appointed as a lecturer and a tutor, and eventually embarking with Genevieve for Oxford where at St. Anthony’s he completed his DPhil. This was quickly followed by a permanent appointment at Warwick University from which he subsequently returned to Australia to take up a readership at Monash University in a very distinguished department. It was a meteoric rise and it was capped by his appointment to a professorship at Adelaide during 1970. 

Two other aspects of this many sided man cannot be overlooked. He was a brilliant pianist and had moonlighted in Melbourne nightclubs in his early student days. Certainly I have been a delighted audience when he had played anything from Beethoven to jazz improvisations to blues and have many memories of guests harmonising ballads around his upright grand after one of Genevieve’s deservedly famous dinners. 

The other aspect was his golf. It has been claimed that he could have made his living as a professional but although very talented, he knew he was unsuited to the pressure of professional golf. However, I have watched all the great players of the last twenty years through satellite television, and I could not name six golfers whose swing combined equally his power, elegance and rhythm. 

His students testified to his urbanity, his charm, his wit and, above all, his humanity. That is also how his friends remember him and we always will.

by Roger Hainsworth

(An edited version of an obituary from the October 1997 Adelaide Review reproduced by courtesy of that paper.)

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

D. R. Hainsworth, 'Gough, Austin George (1926–1997)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/gough-austin-george-32177/text39776, accessed 5 December 2022.

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