Geoffrey Bolton 1931-2015: A Tribute
GEOFFREY BOLTON 1931-2015: A TRIBUTE
News of the death of Geoffrey Bolton, on 4 September 2015, prompts much sadness and many reflections.
A personal tribute is always open to the reproach that it is implicitly self-centred, saying as much about the writer as the subject. In response to any such criticism, I can only say that Geoff Bolton was somebody for whom I not only felt great affection, but also a historian from whom I learned much, both through his books and perhaps more especially the warmth of his company and the generosity of his encouragement. In letters and e-mails, he was always "Geoff". Like so many Australian academics of his generation, he made the transition in publishing from "G.C." to "Geoffrey". I first became aware of his work in an era when academics referred to each other by their surnames (as an amusing incident in his own career will recall): hence he is to me Bolton as a historian and Geoff as a friend, and so he appears in this tribute.
To put Bolton's life and work into context, it is necessary to signpost the two opposite poles from which he approached his subject matter. First, he was from Western Australia, and -- in his generation in particular -- that meant far more than outsiders may realise today. Dame Edna Everidge sang a famous couplet in praise of "Australia's modern cities, so famed throughout the Earth", which concludes in a devastating side-flip at sameness, "... the Melbourne end of Perth". It was certainly true that West Australians could move easily enough into the big leagues of New South Wales and Victoria, but there was always a slight sense of apartness. Bolton himself was a suburban boy, not the classic Sandgroper of the barren interior. Indeed, Perth in his time was pretty much all suburbs: in later life he would write a history of the street where he grew up, and the State government paid him the tribute of naming a road in his honour in the city's Elizabeth Quay urban development. The underlying sympathy that illuminates his last work, Paul Hasluck: A Life (2014), comes from his identification with an exile from the West whose career in Australian national politics was somehow a duty rather than the result of any natural attraction to Sydney or Melbourne, let alone the artificial world of Canberra. Yet, in stressing his regional roots and identity, it is important to emphasise that he operated, like many outgoing personalities, through layers of identity, confidently holding his own as a Western Australian dealing with 'Tothersiders, and as an Aussie moving among Poms. When Bolton was a babe in arms, his home State voted in a referendum to quit the Australian Commonwealth. The tantrum burnt itself out, but the threat sometimes loomed in the background. Bolton had no patience for "ratbag secessionists", as he once called them in an ABC programme: whatever changes might be made in Australia's constitution, he firmly believed that the concept of an "indissoluble" union must be retained. (Radio had played a role in his earlier life: he was one of the noted "quiz kids" on a local general knowledge programme, a distinction that sometimes placed intolerable pressures to succeed on youngsters in such a closed society.)
Around 1950, when Bolton was an undergraduate at the University of Western Australia (UWA), Perth's planetary isolation was intermittently punctured by the arrival of liners from Europe at the port of Fremantle, briefly stopping off on their way to the eastern States. Distinguished passengers were whisked to the campus to deliver whistle-stop lectures, a pattern which tempted a group of students to organise a hoax. They announced a workshop session by a modernist French artist, who happened to be touring the Antipodes. The creative figure, a heavily disguised mature student who was not often on campus, would produce various brutalist objects, allegedly of his creation, to which the audience would be invited to respond, describing their reactions to the meaningful qualities of the art work. As editor of the student newspaper, Pelican, Bolton became aware of the plot, but promised to refrain from advance exposure on condition that his reporters and photographers could cover the event. The upshot was a feature article revealing the stunt, and illustrated with photographs of the University's literary and arty elite making fools of themselves. The student newspaper also gave Bolton his first opportunity to get out of Western Australia, through an ingenious project for a national conference of campus journalists. It was difficult to see why Australia's budding reporters needed to exchange ideas, but at the time there was no other way of getting a trip to Melbourne.
If the micro-world of Western Australia provided one anchor point for Bolton's historical writing, the other came from an opposite pole that was global and imperial in outlook. First Class Honours at UWA won him the Hackett Studentship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he undertook research between 1956 and 1958 for a doctoral dissertation on the background to the Irish Act of Union of 1800. His supervisor was the Namierite J.B. Owen, to whose influence we should probably attribute Bolton's closing words, denying that there were heroes or villains in his study and describing it as "simply the attempt to understand the actions and motives of men confronted with a problem in administering the affairs of their fellows."
Research for the dissertation took him to Dublin, where Balliol had natural links to Trinity, still very much a Protestant university in Ireland's divided culture. Bolton was duly allocated to one of Trinity's Church of Ireland landladies, who took a liking to the pleasant young man from Australia. With a daughter approaching marriageable age, she began to scheme for a possible alliance. The fact that the lodger was from the wrong end of the world was not an insuperable problem in a culture inured to emigration. What mattered was that the Australian visitor came from the right side of the Reformation divide. (His father had been an Anglican lay reader, and Bolton once took the title of a waspish article from the Book of Isaiah.) Daughters can usually spot maternal manoeuvres, and in this case the intended victim took him into her confidence. She was in fact secretly doing a line, as they say in Dublin, with a Catholic lad, and the young couple needed time to be sure where they were heading, since the announcement of a mixed marriage would cause a seismic explosion in both households. Ever the gentleman, Bolton agreed to engage in a phantom courtship. Colonial and colleen would literally walk out together. However, a few streets beyond maternal supervision, she peeled off to meet her swain, while he headed in the other direction to the library. When Geoff and Carol Bolton visited Ireland in 2007, I reminded him of the story. He not only confirmed the details, but added that he remained in touch with the daughter of the house. She had married her young man and -- in a greatly changed Ireland -- they were about to celebrate half a century together.
The dissertation was later published by Oxford University Press as The Passing of the Irish Act of Union: A Study in Parliamentary Politics (1966), conversion to book form being one fruit of Bolton's postgraduate research fellowship at the Australian National University. But the Oxford years gave him more than a doctorate and a grounding in British and Irish political history. V.T. Harlow's imperial history seminar imbued in him a broad approach to the British imperial experience, a wider lens which he would bring to his work on Australian history. In 1973, Bolton published Britain's Legacy Overseas, a dispassionate attempt to outline some sort of balance sheet for the British empire. It is a relatively short book, organised thematically, carefully categorised and densely argued. For instance, he distinguished between "colonies of settlement" and "colonies of alien rule", while insisting that his use of such terminology "implies no emotional overtones". Two points are worth noting. First, he took for granted that by the nineteen-seventies, the imperial experience was over, terminated and relegated to the past: "it was now time for Britain to return to her European roots." The deduction may not have been open to debate, but it reflected the observations of a friendly outsider who had been at Oxford when Britain's pretensions to independent world power had crumbled at Suez. It followed that Australia had not broken with its mother country, but rather that there had been a process of mutual disengagement at both ends of the imperial chain. Second, he queried whether the "colonies of settlement" really were "transplants of the metropolitan society of Britain." It was a theme to which he hoped to return at some later date when he would "enter into it more amply". Formally, this never happened, and it was left to a later generation of historians to explore the "British World" and sketch the thesis of an "Anglosphere". But much of Bolton's subsequent writing on Australia was implicitly shaped by this underlying question, and there can be no doubt that studying the British empire reinforced in him the concept of an autonomous and independently creative Australian experience. But it was a national history that he believed could be illuminated by questions and themes from parallel societies. His biography of Australia's first federal prime minister (Edmund Barton: The One Man for the Job, 2000), so he explained to me, owed its long-range inspiration to Donald Creighton's life of Canada's John A. Macdonald. By the nineteen-nineties, few Australian historians would have been thinking in such a broad span.
It was always likely that Bolton would return to the burgeoning field of Australian history after his return from Britain (he had worked on Alexander Forrest before going to Oxford), although two of the three formative influences were perhaps unexpected. In 1956, the North Queensland Local Government Association resolved, in an imaginative decision for the time, that their region deserved its own history. Having heard that the country's most distinguished historian, W.K. Hancock, was heading a research unit at the Australian National University, they sent a deputation to Canberra to commission him as their author. As it happened, Hancock would in time become interested in a regional study, but as a vehicle for pioneering a new form of history, dealing with the environment in the mountain pastures of the Monaro, which was conveniently handy to the capital. In 1957, deep in his biography of Smuts, there was no way he was going to divert his energies beyond the Tropic of Capricorn. For all his charm, Keith Hancock had something of the feudal chieftain about him. He quickly persuaded the Queenslanders that he had just the young scholar to take on their task, and Bolton found himself conscripted for the task. The plus side of the deal was that the project was astonishingly well funded for travel and research. A Thousand Miles Away: A History of North Queensland to 1920 appeared in 1963. The book was a success: there were seven further editions and impressions in the next twelve years. The irony was that a historian from the gentle Mediterranean lands of Australia's remote south-western corner became the interpreter of its raw and remote north east. But A Thousand Miles Away left him uniquely equipped to approach wider Australian themes, as perhaps the only professional historian with a grounding in two regions of the country, both of them generally perceived as peripheral.
His return to Perth in 1966 further encouraged Bolton to write about his home State. A Fine Country To Starve In (1972) was more than a picture of Western Australia in the depression years of the nineteen-thirties. It was also one of the first scholarly works in Australia to make extensive use of oral history sources. That may sound straightforward enough now, but I found a good deal of lip-pursing about the approach among established historians when I arrived in Canberra soon after its publication, and my first notion of G.C. Bolton was that he sounded a dangerous character. Fortunately, that mis-impression was soon corrected, thanks to Geoff Bolton's third and perhaps most unlikely entrance point into Australian history, the result of an unlikely collision between a grand explanatory theory of the country's identity and his own doctoral research among the archives of the era of the younger Pitt.
In 1966, Geoffrey Blainey published a firecracker of a book, The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia's History. Perhaps its impact would have proved more persuasive had the author stressed its inter-related, minor-key theme, that Australia's history was also a process of ignoring, resisting and overcoming the challenges of distance. On the face of it, the British government's decision in 1786 to exile England's criminals to New South Wales was absolutely in line with the headline argument -- out of sight, out of mind. But Blainey was also an Australian patriot and a historian interested in the exploitation of resources, and he was reluctant to accept that the convict-dumping theory told the whole story. Blainey felt sure there must have been a more positive motive for locating a colony at the far end of the world, and he believed it could be found in the strategic need to develop supplies of flax, vital in the manufacture of ropes and sails for the Royal Navy. It was a hypothesis that could make sense to the Cold War mentalities of twentieth-century readers: the problem lay in proving that it had also appealed to eighteenth-century policy-makers, and here the available documents were irritatingly reticent. Bolton felt that Blainey simply did not understand the political environment upon which he projected his enthusiasms, and a lively exchange ensued between them. Yet it was characteristic of Bolton that his concerns were expressed, cogently indeed, but in a low-key and humorous tone. "It would be nice if we could always infer what was uppermost in the minds of bygone politicians from what they left unwritten and unsaid," was his arch reflection on his opponent's methodology. A few years later, as a research fellow in Canberra, I put together a book of contributions to what was by then known as the Botany Bay debate, and that was how I came into contact with Geoff Bolton. (Indeed, all the participants cheerfully agreed to have their material used.)
After a brief stint as a lecturer at Monash, in 1966 Bolton was appointed to the second Chair of History at the more traditional University of Western Australia. There was an initial period of awkward relations between the ex-student and the incumbent professor, H.E. Hallam, an old-fashioned Englishman whose ambition was to create a school of mediaeval history that would make Perth the Cambridge of the southern hemisphere. For some weeks, the necessary negotiations over policy and turf were conducted between Professor Hallam and Professor Bolton. Eventually, the older man thawed slightly, and suggested that they might employ less formal terms of address. However, he bristled when his junior colleague replied, "Good idea, Bert!", curtly pronouncing: "I'll call you Bolton, and you can call me Hallam." Of course, it would be misleading to take this anecdote as characterising Bolton's sojourn at UWA. More noteworthy was the fact that his seven-year term coincided with planning for Perth's second university, a process in which UWA academics, Bolton included, were closely involved, since the original scheme was for a new campus under the umbrella of the existing institution. In 1970, the project was put on track to become an independent university, named in honour of long-time UWA professor Walter Murdoch. Murdoch's comment on the gesture provided the title for Bolton's 1985 tenth-anniversary history, It Had Better Be A Good One, in which he sketched his own developing involvement, from member of the Planning Board, to foundation Professor of History and Pro-Vice-Chancellor as Murdoch moved from concept to concrete. It is noteworthy that the sabbatical which produced Britain's Legacy Overseas was spent, not in Oxford, but at the University of Kent, one of Britain's gleaming nineteen-sixties campuses where new approaches were encouraged and new ideas flourished. I have been told that one of the Bolton's last acts as a professor at UWA was to deliver a public lecture, with a title on the lines of "Why I am leaving the University of Western Australia." I understand that its content made it unlikely that he would ever be invited to return. And so it proved. His career did take him to other places -- to London before being "poached" (as a Murdoch honorary degree citation mildly grumbled) to become Professor of Australian Studies at the University of Queensland, where he wrote about Queensland's reluctant role in the movement for Australian federation. When he returned to the West, it was to start a History programme at Edith Cowan, Perth's fourth university, upgraded from College of Advanced Education (polytechnic) status. He served as Murdoch's Chancellor from 2002 and 2006, and was involved in another anniversary history, this time to mark forty years of teaching, at the time of his death. Murdoch's ethos is perhaps captured by the University's citation in awarding Bolton an honorary degree in 1995 (the first of two), which recorded that the Planning Board had been "immensely chuffed" on learning that he sought the foundation Chair of History.
The counterpart to Bolton's institutional work in Australia, and most notably to his contribution to the building of Murdoch, was his launching of Australian Studies in Britain, on a three-year secondment to the University of London from 1982 to 1985. As I was then heading a unit devoted to Canadian Studies at Edinburgh University, we exchanged ideas: I recall, for instance, dinner at a restaurant followed by a stroll to Waverley station where Geoff boarded the midnight sleeper to London -- not my preferred mode of travel, but no doubt it chimed with his Western Australian origins, and the train ride to King's Cross was less gruelling than the rail journey across the Nullarbor. I was very conscious of the pressures of meeting the open-ended targets of a small unit devoted to a single country -- the need to be the UK's Mr Canada or Mr Australia on every subject under the sun -- but Geoff managed a major creative achievement in what seemed a remarkably effortless manner. One of his associated aims was to create an academic association devoted to the study of Australia. One aspect of the project was to ensure that it had a distinctive name, and acronym, that would avoid confusion with the host of British Associations for this and that which already existed. Geoff took an impish pleasure in coining the title British Australian Studies Association, because its acronym, BASA, would echo another Barry Humphries character, Bazza Mackenzie.
Since this is a personal tribute and not a comprehensive bibliographical note, I confine myself to highlighting what I regard as Bolton's two most important areas of contribution to the writing of Australian history. They are, of course, inter-related: his work on Australia as a whole and their anchor in the study of his home state of Western Australia -- the latter producing a whole range of specific publications, which acted as scaffolding for his major work, Land of Vision and Mirage: Western Australia Since 1826 (2008). In its preface, he was apologetic about the time he had taken to complete the project, although he might well have defied the productivity commissars and pointed out that a slow book is usually a matured one. In a private note, he modestly called it his "parvum opus", and he seemed surprised that it had sold 2,000 copies in six weeks. "I am not accustomed to this level of demand." Of course, it was a work of enormous personal engagement -- he had lived through more than a third of the period himself, and he was no casual onlooker -- yet he could produce a narrative of the still-recent years dominated by the shenanigans of Alan Bond and Brian Burke that was terse, movingly understated and, above all, tied to his organising theme that the European project in Western Australia had consistently confused realistic aims with fantastical schemes for enrichment -- vision and mirage. Knowing my grumbles as a reviewer about the shortcomings of regional histories, he was apologetic at his failure to insist on the inclusion of a map. (In fact, the simplifications of single-page maps in general histories usually make me reach for a road atlas anyway.)
It seems ungracious to criticise any aspect of so large and impressive a book, but perhaps it might have given more attention to two aspects of the subject. One of these represents my regular grumble about such books: it would have been useful to have had not merely more population figures, but a greater emphasis on the comparative aspect of Western Australia's demography -- a much smaller settler community than New South Wales or Victoria -- plus a subjective evaluation of the narrowing implications of the State's numerical small-pond life. However, there is a refreshing emphasis on the dominance of metropolitan Perth, something so fundamental to the internal structure of Western Australia that another writer might have taken it for granted (as has happened in some histories of other jurisdictions dominated by their capital city). I should also have welcomed more about the alternative vision/mirage of a separate Western Australia. By the late twentieth century, Bolton was a rare historian in taking the federation movement seriously: he memorialised Edmund Barton partly because modern Australians had come to view the creators of their political structure as "boring old farts". Yet surely something could have been distilled from the anti-federation sentiment of the 1890s, and from the alternatives envisaged by advocates of secession in 1906 and 1933-35? Bolton saw the manoeuvres of mining magnate Lang Hancock as an attempt to create the private fiefdom of a banana dominion, but the rejection of earlier particularism does seem to require some appreciation of the imagined alternative. Against this we can and should set one of the book's most important insights: West Australians did not automatically sign up to the Bondi assumption that Australia is a Pacific nation. Their beaches flank the Indian Ocean, their distant perspectives look outwards to Asia. Yet, Bolton lamented, while the State's universities sought to project this message, it was not obvious that the wider public took it aboard.
Bolton's work as general editor of the Oxford History of Australia represented a positive contribution to public understanding of the country, if not an unmixed achievement. The series was inspired by the 1988 Bicentennial although its publication did not precisely coincide. Bolton's own volume, published in 1990, was not the last to appear, although he noted that it had become known in his own household as "the bloody book". The series was planned as five volumes. In an imaginative response to the commemoration of 1788, the first of them was to be wholly devoted to Aboriginal times. Unfortunately, that volume did not appear, certainly not in the form envisaged. Unlike the Oxford History of England, heavy tomes with a forbiddingly omniscient appearance, the Australian volumes were brightly designed and easy to handle. Each was intended to be "a work of historical narrative in its own right. ... No common ideological orthodoxy has been imposed on the authors". Perhaps there could have been a memorandum of shared structure, if only to counter my perennial complaint about missing population figures, but the upshot was not so much a series as four distinct and lively studies. Bolton himself was the author of the final volume, covering 1942 to 1988 and called The Middle Way. It is undoubtedly one of his best books, and certainly one with wide appeal. Although dealing with the most recent period of the country's history, he intended it as a reflection on the accidental nature of the century and a half before its opening crisis -- the perspective of the Oxford doctorate on the late eighteenth century on the transient nature of a seemingly unending past. A large part of his message was encapsulated in a pregnant opening sentence: "For a century and a half it looked as if the unlikely experiment would work." The Japanese assault brought a touch of overdue reality to a society dreaming of its Britishness at the far end of the globe. Just how bewilderment could be reconciled with geography would be a theme of the book. As with the post-1993 chapter of Land of Vision and Mirage, "Happily ever after?", the final section approaching the then-present had to be tentative, "And It Works -- Kind Of." With brilliant ingenuity and in tightly written prose, Bolton turned uncertainty into complexity, closing with a quotation that portrayed Australia as "home of a subtle people." As with his subsequent narrative of Western Australia's attempt to hypnotise itself into a golden age, so Bolton's account of the turbulent Whitlam years was a masterpiece of understatement. Overall, the brisk but apparently bloodless nature of the narrative adds to the almost physical impact of the author's occasional barbs. Whitlam's problem was that "he could never take the rest of Australia quite seriously, and often behaved as if the sun rose over Sydney and set over Canberra." An Anglican archbishop was dismissed as "a man chiefly notable for his belief that the female half of humanity were unfit to be clergy" -- splendid grist to my own anti-clerical mill, although I suspect an oversimplification of the theological debate on women priests. Nor were the Boltonisms all about personalities: Advance, Australia Fair was succinctly condemned as "a mediocre tune with mediocre words". Yet, perversely, mediocrity, in its non-pejorative incarnation of the middle way, the golden mean, was ultimately to be hailed as the key to Australia's inner strength.
It could be tempting to move from saluting The Middle Way as Bolton's triumphant unravelling of modern Australia into pro forma expression of regrets that he never produced a single-volume interpretation of the country. His pioneering work in the cross-disciplinary area of Australian Studies would have made him peculiarly well-equipped for the task, while Land of Vision and Mirage showed how he could illuminate a defined community over a long period of time. Yet two considerations head off any such lament. First, it is now more than half a century since historians like Clark, Crawford, Pike and Shaw encapsulated Australia in single-volume overviews. Five complex decades have been added to the Australian past, along with a great deal of historical writing, much of which requires distillation into any analysis. Moreover, as confronted by both The Middle Way and Land of Vision and Mirage, Australia is no longer easily summarised in satisfactory and self-satisfied formulae like Douglas Pike's "Quiet Continent". But Bolton did produce one single-volume work that merits an enduring place in the evolution of the country's historiography. Spoils and Spoilers: Australians Make Their Environment 1788-1980 may look like a pot-boiler, a slim volume in an interpretative series, but -- unlike the equally short Britain's Legacy Overseas -- it does not read as an agenda for a larger study that remained unwritten. Spoils and Spoilers is an impressively economical and marvellously erudite book which drew upon Bolton's broad knowledge of Australia as a whole. There are the bizarre details which so appealed to him, such as the demand by Western Australian wheat farmers for a detachment of Army machine-gunners to shoot down a plague of emus. But, basically, these enliven the stimulating thematic inter-connections which underpin the book. Thus the early settler idealisation of a timeless land wilfully ignored superior Aboriginal techniques in resource management. The suburbs, in so many ways the distinctive achievement of Australia's nineteenth-century process of urbanisation, also raised in sharp, obvious, neighbourhood form the issue of conservation as they encroached upon adjoining wilderness. Like A Fine Country To Starve In, Spoils and Spoilers was in the methodological vanguard. If it was no longer straightforward to produce a single-volume interpretation of everything Australian, Spoils and Spoilers showed that a questioning overview of one major theme could throw light on both past failures and future agendas.
Happily, the world of History is well populated by people who see shared endeavour as a title to potential friendship. But I have never encountered anybody who could equal Geoff Bolton's ability to transcend age and status. When required, he could assume the mantle of an academic elder brother if a younger colleague needed to talk through some career issue, as I can testify. But he was never concerned to project seniority or "side". There was in him an element of the gadfly: even when he was heading an important programme, he always radiated the sense of affectionately mocking established values. Geoff was a tall man, physically broad-chested and personally ebullient. Yet his handwriting -- and he came from a generation which used longhand a lot -- was small, regular, almost italic in quality -- and hardly seemed to deteriorate with age. In his later years, a mass of facial hair turned into the billowing pavlova of white beard, giving him the appearance of a cheerful caveman. Most of us, I fear, recount anecdotes to make ourselves seem savvy or important. Geoff was a fine raconteur, but his stories were always inclusive: implicitly, you were invited to become a co-conspirator in that phantom romance on the streets of Dublin, or to thumb your nose in mockery behind Prof. Hallam's back. He was shrewd in his assessments of professional colleagues: during his early career, the Australian university world had been a small fraternity (the gender-specific noun is deliberately chosen), and strengths and weaknesses were well know on the various circuits. But Geoff Bolton was always more interested in gently ribbing his colleagues' foibles, not in savaging their flaws. He enjoyed highlighting the ironic in any drama: when Kevin Rudd publicly resigned as prime minister in 2010, he commented to me that his speech was "the nearest we shall ever get to watching a Tudor statesman ascend the scaffold" -- although, he pointed out, no fallen Tudor minister had his wife alongside to hurry his remarks. (In the event, it was the Labor Party that proved to be headless, and Rudd returned for a brief second innings.)
Geoff and Carol Bolton enjoyed travelling in their retirement years: in 2011, he replied to a query from an airport in Cambodia which generously granted travellers free access to e-mail. I savour two particular memories of their visit to Ireland in 2007. I produced my copy of The Making of the Irish Act of Union (suspiciously pristine, no doubt), and requested the author's autograph. However, I accompanied this deferential gesture with my habitual diatribe against visitors who scrawled "To Ged, with X's compliments", a formula that invariably caused me to protest that I had bought the book, and now it looked as if I had wheedled it as a gift. Geoff found that amusing, and duly penned an inscription thanking me for my purchase and adding a collegial greeting. As it was to some extent extracted by menace, I do not quote it, but it is valued all the same. The second incident perhaps speaks more to my own covetous idleness. A few weeks after the Boltons' departure, a smart-casual menswear jacket with a lapel badge turned up in the wardrobe of our guest bedroom. An e-mail exchange confirmed that it was Geoff's -- indeed, he was mildly relieved to discover where he had left it. We agreed that it would be simpler to retain the jacket here, but we did carefully package and return the lapel badge of the Order of Australia.
Geoff's last message to me came in June 2015. I had bewailed reaching another landmark birthday, a feeder line to octogenarian friends who delight in assuring me that I am just a youngster. The Bolton response was more thoughtful. "Cherish your seventies," he counselled. "The eighties are less fun but better than the alternative." Now that the alternative has engulfed him, I am reminded of Geoff's typically quixotic verdict that modern-day Western Australians seem to measure success in life by the number of memorial notices inserted in the press to mark their passing. I hope Geoff Bolton's life will be honoured not simply by the quantity of condolence but even more by the quality of tribute -- and tribute to the friendly and incisive qualities that he brought to the writing of Australian history, and the understanding of his world.
Shanacoole, County Waterford, Ireland
7 September 2015