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Commemorative plaques reveal history

By Leanne Coleman

 Dr Steven Farram’s book reveals there is more to most plaques than meets the eye Dr Steven Farram’s book reveals there is more to most plaques than meets the eye

Some of the Northern Territory’s most significant and tumultuous events are the focus of a new book to be launched by a history academic as part of Charles Darwin University’s 25th Anniversary celebrations.

Dr Steven Farram has delved into the history of commemorative plaques across Casuarina campus finding there is more to most plaques than meets the eye, often revealing chapters in the Territory’s political history and the struggles to establish a university.

“The plaques can be read as a type of institutional autobiography, but to understand the importance of these plaques it is necessary to pay close attention to what buildings or facilities were being commemorated,” Dr Farram said.

“Also who was given the honour of opening those facilities and, in many cases, what entity was listed as providing the necessary funds, when examined reveals a great deal.”

Dr Farram said that the existence of the plaques and what was written on them was almost never without political significance.

“The plaques tell us much about the educational aspirations of a small community in regional Australia and the often conflicting responses of local and federal governments, each pursuing its own political agenda,” he said.

The book documents the oldest plaque unveiled by Commonwealth Minister for Education and Science Malcolm Fraser in 1972 to the most recent unveiled in 2013 by previous Prime Minister Julia Gillard to open the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education.

“In 1972 Malcolm Fraser unveiled the plaque marking the beginning of construction of Darwin Community College,” Dr Farram said.

“The plaque presents a picture of a benevolent Commonwealth Government providing educational facilities for the people of Darwin. In fact, since its formation in 1963, a group calling itself the Graduates’ Association had been lobbying the Commonwealth government for a university in the Northern Territory.” 

The book is entitled “A History Written In Metal: Commemorative Plaques At Charles Darwin University’s Casuarina Campus, 1972-2013”. It will be officially launched on Tuesday, July 22 at CDU’s Casuarina campus. The book is published by the Historical Society of the NT and will be available for purchase from the CDU Bookshop or visit W:

Steven Farram is Lecturer in North Australian and Regional Studies (History) at CDU. His main research interests are the history of the Northern Territory and Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Timor-Leste.