Jenny’s unwavering commitment to preserving political history
Kensington academic, historian, and award-winning biographer Jenny Hocking has been awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2023 Australia Day honours list.
The award recognises her significant service to the preservation of Australian political history, which she described as a “great honour” and “humbling”.
As a Kensington resident of 35 years and an Emeritus Professor at Monash University, Prof Hocking said she was “really pleased” the prestigious honour acknowledged the importance of archives to the nation’s history – which saw her research uncover the infamous “Palace letters” and the role in which the former High Court justice Sir Anthony Mason had in the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975.
Prof Hocking took the National Archives of Australia to the Federal Court of Australia in 2016 seeking the release of the secret correspondence between then Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, and the Queen relating to the dismissal of the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
“They kept them secret for over 45 years, wrongly, as the High Court found and should always be a part of our history. We would’ve known that the Queen was well aware of Kerr’s planning and also advised him on the nature of the Governor General’s reserve’s powers,” she said.
It was only through Prof Hocking’s diligent research that she discovered an “extraordinary document” that described in “extraordinary detail” Kerr’s “many, many months of discussion and planning” with Mason to sack the PM, which prompted her court proceedings.
“It indicates collusion on a level we haven’t seen before, but if we hadn’t access to that single document we would never have known about Mason’s role, and that’s how important archives are to history,” she said.
The court case, which ruled in Prof Hocking’s favour in 2020 and resulted in the release of the letters, was made possible thanks to a crowd fundraiser that garnered hundreds of supporters.
“I thank them all – not just financially but in terms of the moral support and the view that Australians should know their own history,” Prof Hocking, who also authored a two-volume biography of Gough Whitlam, said.
Speaking about her passion for Kensington, Prof Hocking said she loved the community which was “very welcoming and friendly” with many local identities.
“It’s been a marvellous place to do the sort of work I do, a lot of interesting conversations over coffee,” she laughed. •