Vale Weston Bate

We learn tonight of the passing of Weston Bate at the age of 93. Extended eulogies will of course follow in coming days, but the debt Australian urban historians pay to that grand old man of local history will long endure. My personal debt goes back at least as far as 1990, when Weston invited me to give the Annual Young Historian’s lecture at the RHSV. As I write I have Weston’s A History of Brighton (Melbourne University Press, 1963 reprint) on my desk—an inscribed copy he donated to the old Jessie Webb Library in 1971, and which I rescued on the occasion that august institution’s disestablishment when the History Department moved out of the old Medley Building. It took him nine years to write, but in typical feisty fashion he asserted in the preface: “Nine years might seem like a long time for its completion. But a schoolmaster has little time for research and writing; and I regard my intermittent efforts during these years as a reproof to those who would belittle both the interest and significance of local history”. The Brighton history has been lauded as being in the vanguard of Australian urban history, particularly in its pioneer use of municipal rate books to reconstruct the social composition of the suburb, and of course he went on to write further influential studies — including of Ballarat, and Melbourne’s laneways. The company he kept in Tom Stannage’s review of four influential books from 1978 sums up the esteem in which Weston’s work was held: Graeme Davison’s The rise and fall of Marvellous Melbourne, Weston Bate’s Lucky City: the first generation at Ballarat, Peter Spearritt’s Sydney since the twenties, and Max Kelly’s edited collection, Nineteenth century Sydney. But the passionate defence of local history was the leitmotif of Weston’s persona. When Alan Mayne and I started the Cultural Heritage Unit in the History Department in December 2003—the predecessor of our Melbourne History Workshop—who better to launch the endeavour than Weston. His core values were on show: the importance of data, the critical nexus between genealogy and history, the value of community connections and networks, the fascination with local/central power relationships, and the fact that local history societies are more important than they think they are. Vale Weston—scholar, teacher, wordsmith and mentor.

 

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