Stephen Wilks will present his thesis on the remarkable but little-studied Earle Christmas Grafton Page (1880-1961) – Country Party leader, Treasurer, Prime Minister and perhaps the most extraordinary visionary to hold high public office in the Australian Commonwealth. Page’s incessant activism in issues of regionalism, new states, hydro-electricity, economic planning, co-operative federalism and rural universities make him a vehicle for studying the place in Australian history of ideas and ambitions for national development – ‘developmentalism’. His efforts influenced wider and more conventional government policy, and had a major and long-term impact on what public policy ideas were prominent in public debate. What Page did – and did not – achieve helps define what was possible in Australian government and provides a more nuanced understanding of developmentalism. Studying his rich life is an exercise in the methodological value of biography as a means of illuminating the wider past.
Stephen Wilks fervently hopes that he is about to finish a PhD on the policy ideas of Earle Page. He studied economic history at Monash University before embarking on a decidedly mixed career in government based in Canberra and overseas, covering almost as many different issues as did Page himself. This was leavened by a shadow career writing reviews and articles for newspapers and magazines on Australian history and anything else editors would entrust him with. When not still labouring in the public service he is often to be spotted in the vicinities of the ANU History School, the National Library and suchlike institutions.