I began my research career fascinated by how the political system resolved complex policy issues and issues which attracted controversy and debate. I was interested in blending documentary analysis with extensive interviewing and opening up issues of power to multidisciplinary approaches. While I have tackled a range of such issues, a key focus of my work has been in Indigenous affairs.
The first project I tackled with an ECU colleague - Dr Paul Omaji who was a specialist criminologist - was the problem of Aboriginal juvenile crime. In the early 1990s this issue created significant anxiety in the community as young Aboriginal people attracted disproportionate media attention for their involvement in dangerous high speed car chases. Our research highlighted the multifaceted causes propelling large numbers of this group into criminal activities and the limited nature of government responses addressing their needs. The research was published in a book - Rites of Passage Aboriginal Youth Crime and Justice.
We found that many of the youth involved in the criminal justice system had a family background in which their parents/grandparents had been removed under assimilation policies. In a follow-up book, Dr Omaji and I tackled the issue of the history and impact of the policy of assimilation which was published asOur State of Mind: Racial Planning and the Stolen Generations.From these experiences I wanted to examine the processes by which governments went about making the 'big'decisions that affected the whole of society and especially in an emerging era of globalisation. I put this analysis into a text,Government, Markets and Globalisation: Australian Public: Policy in Context.
Over the years, I have been involved in several ECU-based research teams which have brought colleagues from various disciplines together. One project focused on the failure of the education system in Australia to respond to the needs of Aboriginal youth in the education system and the other dealt with the emerging crisis of dryland salinity. In each case, the multidisciplinary approach proved to be an extremely rewarding and productive experience.
Recently, I have moved from the complexity of policy problems to the complexity of understanding peoples individual lives. I have found political biography an especially challenging field in which to research and write. The two lives I have written about couldnt have been more different. My biography of Aboriginal rights activist and leader, Rob Riley, looked at his efforts to tackle racism in Australia. My recent biography of disgraced former WA Premier, Brian Burke, uncovers why he had chosen to live such an unconventional and controversial life. My involvement in these projects has greatly enriched my career as a teacher, researcher and writer.