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Peter Loveday (1925–2011)

by David Carment

from Journal of Northern Territory History

Dr Peter Loveday, AM, who died on 20 August 2011, was a leading Australian political historian and political scientist whose activities and publications had a considerable impact. As Field Director of the Australian National University’s North Australia Research Unit in Darwin between 1981 and 1990, he provided scholarly leadership in a region that had previously received far too little academic interest.

Peter Loveday was born in Renmark, South Australia on 28 December 1925. His English-born father Ronald (Ron) Loveday migrated to the state in 1919 and much later served as a Labor member of its parliament and as Minister for Education. His mother Lizzie Hilary Mills belonged to a prominent South Australian pioneering family.

Part of Peter’s childhood was spent on a small mixed farm on the Eyre Peninsula, where conditions were particularly arduous. Drought, insufficient capital and lack of government support forced the Lovedays to move from their farm to Kernella near Port Lincoln in 1936 and later to Whyalla.

Peter was educated at North Shields primary school, Port Lincoln High School and Sydney Technical College, from where he graduated with a Diploma of Metallurgy. Between 1942 and 1952, he worked as a metallurgist in Newcastle and then Port Pirie.

In 1952, he commenced studies at the University of Sydney, which awarded him a Bachelor of Arts degree with First Class Honours and medals in History and Philosophy in 1956. In 1962, he graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy from the same university for a thesis on the development of New South Wales parliamentary politics between 1856 and 1870. It was the first doctoral thesis in Australian history at the University of Sydney.

He married Ruth Laing in 1953 and they had two children, Nicholas and Kate. The marriage was dissolved in 1986. In 1988 Peter married the archivist and historian Baiba Berzins.

From 1957 until 1965, Peter was a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Government at the University of Sydney. He was Reader in Politics at the University of Adelaide in 1966 and 1967 before moving to the Australian National University as Senior Fellow in Political Science. Following his retirement from the North Australia Research Unit in 1990, Peter and Baiba returned to Sydney but Peter remained active as a researcher and writer. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 1977. In 1980 and 1981, he served as President of the Australasian Political Studies Association.

Almost all of Peter’s publications focus on Australia. They cover influential and frequently cited articles, books and papers on political theory, political history, political biography, parliamentary politics, pressure groups, social movements, political economy, ideology, Indigenous politics, elections, and the history of education.

Among his books, one of the most significant remains Parliament, Factions and Parties: The First Thirty Years of Responsible Government in New South Wales, 1856-1889 (1966), which he co-authored with his close friend Allan Martin. Using many sources not previously exploited, they considered the breakdown of the faction system and the emergence of political parties in New South Wales well before the labour movement participated in parliamentary politics. Other notable works include Promoting Industry: Recent Australian Political Experience (1982), a pioneering analysis of the interdependent interests of government and private industry, and, co-authored with Baiba Berzins, A University for the Territory: The Northern Territory University and Preceding Institutions 1949-1999 (1999), a comprehensive study of the development of post-school education in the Territory.

Peter’s decade in the Northern Territory was especially fruitful and happy. He greatly enjoyed living in Darwin. He published widely on various aspects of north Australian economic development, history and politics. A gifted collaborator and mentor, he co-authored and co-edited publications with his North Australia Research Unit colleagues and positively encouraged them with their own work while always insisting on the highest standards. The North Australia Research Unit became a hive of intense intellectual activity. Its seminars and conferences attracted many attendees from the wider community. An active publication program resulted in numerous well-received books, edited conference papers and discussion papers. In 1992, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to education in the Northern Territory. After retiring, he maintained strong links with the Territory, which he and Baiba frequently visited.

In addition to his university activities, he served on various committees and boards in Darwin, including the Northern Territory University Planning Authority, the Council of the University College of the Northern Territory and the Northern Territory History Awards Committee. He and Baiba were responsible for the Historical Society of the Northern Territory’s book publication program, which resulted in the appearance of worthy contributions to Territory history that would not have been published otherwise. Local historians such as their friend Pearl Ogden greatly benefited from Peter and Baiba’s editing skills. His interests went well beyond academic work. He played tennis, was a keen bushwalker, enjoyed sailing and was a gifted photographer.

I first met Peter in 1972, when he attended a seminar that I gave as a doctoral student at the Australian National University and made some insightful comments at a crucial stage of my research. I came to know him much better when I lived and worked in Darwin from 1981. We maintained regular contact for the rest of his life. Like many others, I found him a wonderful colleague and friend. He, Baiba and I had memorable discussions about history, politics and other topics, quite often at long lunches. He always showed a lively and inquiring interest in events, places and people. His understanding of Australian Indigenous issues was especially impressive.

Peter’s wives, children and four of his seven siblings survive him.

Original publication

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Citation details

David Carment, 'Loveday, Peter (1925–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 29 May 2024.

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