ANU Spaces – Nicholas Brown

Meet Dr Nicholas Brown ... a Senior Research Fellow at the ANU School of History. Dr Brown has published a new book called A History of Canberra.

Dr Brown, what do you do at ANU?

I am an associate professor in the School of History, teaching mainly in the area of 20th   century Australian history - but keen to branch out.

What is your favourite spot on campus?

Under the poplars and willows along Sullivan's Creek, near the Chifley Library, in summer and autumn.

You like it because...

The place captures so many elements of the ANU: the landscaping, the light, the grace of the buildings, the sense of space, quiet but movement, and windward presence of Black Mountain.

If you were free for an afternoon you would...

Head out past the Murrumbidgee, into the Brindabellas or down into Namadgi National Park.

Can you tell us how you came to be involved in writing A History of Canberra?

I was approached by the publisher, daunted by the task of finding something fresh to say about Canberra, but galvanised by thinking that it was high time someone did.

You are a seventh generation "Canberran" - did it make collating the information challenging for you, given your connections to the city? Did you find yourself having to analyse research in a different way because of your connection to the city?

No, the personal connection gave me a kind of touchstone: my father was a direct man, my mother practical: and I would often ask myself, would this make sense to them?

Was there anything you learned from the research project that you didn't know about, when it comes to Canberra's history?

A constant surprise was the drive of Canberra's many communities, over many years, to 'make' the place - to work with its privileges, overcome its alienating elements, and set an example.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of putting the book together?

Simply seeing the ways that, in microcosm, and however paradoxically, and not always for the best, Canberra is the national history. As Jeanne MacKenzie noted while at the ANU many years ago, 'Canberra is not like Australia and yet it could not be anywhere else'.