The First Eight Project: Interview with Dr David Headon
The First Eight Project launched in early 2018 as a joint undertaking between the Australian Parliamentary Library, the National Museum of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, the Victorian Parliamentary Library and the Australian National University Australian Studies Institute.
“This collaboration aims at enlivening interest in this formative period of the nation’s history, focusing on the private, public and political lives of its political leaders, and something of the essence of the world they inhabited and which shaped them.” Dr Dianne Heriot, Parliamentary Librarian.
Dr David Headon, Australian Studies Institute Foundation Fellow, has been tasked with writing the biographies for the first eight Prime Ministers and delivering a series of lectures for the project. From 2008 to 2013, Dr Headon served as Advisor on the Centenary of Canberra in the Chief Minister’s Department of the ACT Government. Dr Headon's interest in the first eight Prime Ministers emerged as a natural progression of his research into the early history of the nation's capital.
One inspiration for the First Eight Project was a catchy advertisement used during the festivities for Australia's Centenary of Federation in 2001. A young boy asked his perplexed father "Dad, who was Australia's first Prime Minister?" The dad sends the boy off to ask his mother.
“Some Australians now know the name of the first Prime Minister,” Dr Headon says, “but not much more. This series aims to change that.” The initial intent of the monograph series was simple: to make contemporary Australians more aware of these important figures in our history and the period in which they were shaped, and to give the early Australian Prime Ministers a living, breathing personality that goes beyond their political lives.
“I’m conscious of so many wonderful areas of Australian history that are virtually invisible today. Even educated audiences often know very little about the early Prime Ministers.” The monographs are intentionally kept at about 100 pages to encourage a wider readership. This was a deliberate decision on the part of Dr Headon who hopes that the series will serve as an entry-point into further study and debate, encouraging vigorous discussion of Australia’s early Prime Ministers and the culture that shaped them.
In the first volume of the series, Alfred Deakin—the lives, the legacy: Australia’s second Prime Minister, Dr Headon explores the ways in which Deakin’s deep spiritual life posed a number of challenges for subsequent biographers. Each of Deakin’s five major biographers to date has approached their subject in entirely different ways. Australia’s second Prime Minister is both complex and enigmatic.
The first monograph of the series is available for download on the Australian Parliamentary Library website at no cost. Hard copies are available for purchase at the Parliament Shop.