Editorial: Better late? June 2012

It is a terrible cliché: better late than never.  It overlooks too easily the fact that success is a matter of better timing; as happens so well when the lucky ones launch a timely idea. Yes, but!  (There is always the “but”). There are those moments in history where being late may fortuitously bring us to a timely encounter with success, in ways in which we could not anticipate. And much in this –  very late – issue of the e-bulletin illuminates that insight.

Our new John Kerr Medal winner, our PHAQ Patron, Dr Ross Johnston, tells us about his luck in becoming a historian, starting his postgraduate history journey in 1962. Those Queensland historians of a younger generation look in envy upon the 1960s cohort which pioneered the work.  They were lucky in their timing: an era when university education was expanding, when the Australian humanities were flourishing, and when history was respected as a professional discipline rather than as a hobby for the undisciplined masses.  Yet younger colleagues are also lucky to have mentors like Ross Johnston. Pioneers in Queensland history did not squander their timely opportunities, and we – the younger professional historians – are largely the measure of their success.

The late Diane Menghetti was part of the cohort that followed later in the 1980s. Dr Menghetti sadly passed away a few weeks ago, and we, as her colleagues, have honoured her in the tribute placed in this edition.  The life of Diane Menghetti speaks of that sense of fortuitous lateness. She started her universities studies in her thirties, and like most professional historians, found the success of a history career in the latter half of her life.  The death of a dear colleague does cause us to ponder how little time we have to research, write, and publish. So much else gets in the way: family commitments, domestic duties, business administration, community engagements, and, yes, the responsibility of being part of a professional association. However, the testimony of Diane’s life is that, in spite of having endured life’s endless demands, it is never too late.

Finally – for this edition – that sense of endurance is conveyed in Helen Gregory’s insight into her work as a professional historian. For those of us, who have never had to suffer under the stress of enduring a flood, we are confronted by the fact that, for many people in the world, major setbacks in life are key milestones (or is it “millstones”?) in personal history.  It should give us a moment to pause.  We complain too easily about lacking time, being delayed in reaching our goals, but fortunately most of us have never had to loose prized possessions and valuable professional work in a flood, earthquake, or fire (etc.).  I know that some members have been in this terrible situation, and I commend those members for their strength in facing tragedy and showing that it is never too late.