Each year, on Queensland Day, the Royal Historical Society of Queensland announce the winner of the prestigious John Douglas Kerr Medal of Distinction for research and writing of Queensland history. The winner of this year’s award is historian William Ross Johnston.
For fifty years, William Ross Johnston’s career has been devoted to the pursuit of information and excellence in Queensland historical studies. During his career as a Senior Lecturer and Professor of History at the University of Queensland from 1969 to 2001, he was the author of many publications, among them ground-breaking works which pioneered local and regional studies which inspired a generation of researchers. He also created and shaped a landmark course on the history of Queensland, which raised awareness of the distinctive elements which shaped Queensland’s history. This was the first under-graduate survey of a state’s history to be offered by any Australian University.
Ross Johnston’s publications include:
- The History of the Queensland Bar, (1975) drawing upon his legal background to reveal and assess for the first time the practice and performance of the leaders of Queensland’s legal life.
- The Call of the Land (1982) the first one-volume history of Queensland since Raphael Cilento’s celebratory Triumph in the Tropics in 1959,
- Brisbane, the first thirty years (1988), an historical study of European settlement in Queensland, conceived in terms of a generation (20-30 years).
- The long blue line (1992), the definitive history of Queensland’s Police Force.
Ross has also had a long and close association over many years with the John Oxley Library, serving in the following capacities:
- Member of the Publications Committee, John Oxley Library, 1969-1979.
- Editor of the John Oxley Library’s journal, Queensland Heritage, from 1970-1972. [As editor of Queensland Heritage, he guided and stimulated authors, advocating rigor and professionalism and promoting new areas of historical research.]
Member of the Library Board of Queensland Publications Committee from 1987.
He has been the recipient twice of the State Library of Queensland’s John Oxley Library Award: in 1999 and, most recently, in 2011.
The 1999 John Oxley Library Award acknowledged Dr Johnston’s ‘Outstanding Contribution to Library Services in Queensland History’. The 2011 Award recognized his ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Appreciation of Queensland History’.
- Member of the Queensland Place Names Committee (later the Queensland Place Names Board), he was active in applying high standards of scholarship and awareness of original derivations to the exercise of toponymy in respect of Queensland localities.
- Chair of the Queensland Working Party of the Australian Dictionary of Biography he shaped directions and decision-making with regard to the choice of those worthy of inclusion in Australia’s premier biographical reference work.
- Patron of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland) from 2010 to date, having previously been a founding member and inaugural Vice-President of the precursor organization, Queensland Historians Institute Inc.
Dianne Byrne – Librarian, State Library of Queensland