History, academia winning duo

Dr Paul Strangio, 49, is a senior lecturer in politics at Monash University. He is also a regular media commentator on Australian politics.

Schools attended:

Stella Maris Catholic Primary School in Beaumaris and St Bede's College in Mentone. I enjoyed school. I was keen on sport and became more serious academically when I reached the upper levels.

Favourite subject:

History and physical education. I've always been attracted to the storytelling aspect of history, the empathy you develop with the past and how this enriches understanding of the contemporary world. History, if done well, is a captivating subject. I played football at primary school and outside school and enjoyed its team aspect. At secondary school I became passionate about cross-country running. It wasn't about coming first, but the satisfaction of training hard and measuring your personal improvement over time. I still love running.

Teacher who changed my life:

Allan Drummond, my senior history teacher, helped fire my curiosity in history. Also, Phil Hackett, St Bede's legendary cross-country coach, whose infectious enthusiasm nurtured my love of distance running.

Sports/academic prizes won:

I got the school's history prize in HSC and was a member of a team that won the Victorian schoolboy cross-country championship titles.

When I was 12 I wanted:

Implausibly, to play football for Richmond - alas, that dream eluded me.

In grade 6 I sat next to:

The wondrous Rod Aulich who I share a birthday with.

Why I took the educational journey I did:

Careers counselling and entry to university wasn't as formalised as it is now and my career path was more by accident than design. After HSC, my first choice was to study physical education at Rusden College. Within a few weeks of starting, however, I realised I wasn't cut out to be a PE teacher. Monash University still had vacancies in arts and I enrolled there, majoring in history. My honours thesis was on the Labor Party's attitude to Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War.

After university, I worked in different jobs and then travelled in Europe. I spent time in Cambridge, imbibing its beauty and atmosphere, and developed a romantic notion about a scholarly life. I returned to Australia and enrolled in a doctorate in Australian history (a biography of Jim Cairns) at Monash, although I completed it at Deakin University because I was offered a scholarship there. I also did sessional tutoring at different universities and this crystallised my ambition to become an academic. Having built up experience as a teacher and my profile as a researcher, in 2002 I gained a permanent, continuing position at Monash. I'm a senior lecturer in politics and chiefly regard myself as a political historian. I enjoy teaching and engaging with students; my research (I've just published a new book on the history of the Victorian Labor Party); and public engagement as a political commentator.

Best lesson ever learnt:

Pursue your passion even if you're unsure where it might lead.

What's right with schools today?

They are very inclusive and are mindful of developing each student's self-esteem, as well as offering a breadth of activities and opportunities.

What's wrong with schools today?

The inequitable distribution of resources across the different sectors and the polarised, zero-sum debate on school funding, and the dearth of teaching of civics and Australian history.

The story History, academia winning duo first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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