On 6 June 2019 at the Brisbane Club, The Royal Historical Society of Queensland and the Professional Historians Association (Qld) Inc, in the presence of His Excellency Paul de Jersey AC, Governor of Queensland, were pleased to award the 2019 John Douglas Kerr Medal of Distinction to Dr Margaret Kowald.
Dr Kowald has demonstrated an enthusiastic and rigorous approach to preserving Queensland’s history, most notably in the areas of organisational, environmental and pastoral history. Kowald’s first major work The Queensland Police Force 1895-1910, a thesis prepared for the University of Queensland’s Master of Arts program, awarded in 1989, demonstrated Kowald’s assiduous research techniques and excellent skill for identifying appropriate primary source information. In 1992, Kowald collaborated with Professor W. Ross Johnston on You Can’t Make It Rain: the story of the North Australian Pastoral Company, an expanded version of which is to be published later this year. In 1993, Kowald together with Helen Gregory published Women on the Course: the McLeod Country Golf Club 1968-1993, before she embarked on several research projects connected to environmental history, the most significant of which, the Historical Overview of the South East Queensland Biogeographic Region with particular reference to forested areas, provided a contextual basis for cultural heritage assessment of forested lands. In a career spanning over 30 years, Kowald has authored dozens of research papers, conference presentations and published articles. She has worked as an oral historian for the Northern Territory Archives Service, a Cultural Heritage Assessor, a lecturer and tutor for tertiary students, and a consultant historian.
Dr Kowald is an ardent advocate for academic rigor and critical analysis within the history profession. Her thoughtful paper, Commissioned History: is there a future?, published in the Queensland History Journal in 1993, reflected on challenges and opportunities facing historians in contemporary society. Other seminar papers, including Archivists and Historians, presented in 1991 and Local History Societies and the Historian, presented in 1993, highlight Kowald’s keen interest in examining the history profession and identifying opportunities that further the voice of historians in the wider community.
In 1990, Dr Kowald joined the newly incorporated Professional Historians Association (Qld), and has remained a member of the organisation to the present. She was the first editor of the Association’s newsletter, and served as President of the Association 1997 to 1999. She is highly regarded among her peers for her conscientiousness, analytical skills, and project management acumen. This is demonstrated most effectively in her leadership of the research and editing team for two publications, Lost Brisbane and Surrounding Areas 1860-1960, published in 2014, and Lost Brisbane 2 and Surrounding Areas: the later years, published in 2016, and in her service as Honorary Editor of the Queensland History Journal since 2008, regarded as the most authoritative journal on Queensland history. She was awarded The Royal Historical Society of Queensland’s Centenary Medal in 2013, and was appointed a Fellow of The Royal Historical Society of Queensland in 2016.
Throughout her career, Margaret has always brought her approachable and collegiate personality to her work. She freely shares information with fellow historians; and in various professional roles as editor, project manager, and academic lecturer and supervisor, has supported professional development and cross-generational learning by providing constructive insights to her colleagues. Testament to her many valued relationships within Queensland and Australia’s community of historians, Margaret presented a eulogy for John Douglas Kerr – this award’s namesake – at his funeral in 2003.
The John Douglas Kerr Medal of Distinction acknowledges excellence in historiography, historical research and writing. Dr Margaret Kowald is indeed a most deserving recipient of this year’s award.