Eric Irvin



Mr Chancellor,

But for Eric Irvin the history of Australian theatre in the nineteenth century would consist largely· of blank spaces. For over forty years he has been engaged in painstakingly thorough research in newspaper, archival and other primary sources in order to illuminate this fascinating part of our Australian cultural heritage. He acquired an immense knowledge of the general, cultural context of the British, American, and Australian repertoire and theatrical practice, enabling him to produce a series of works unlikely to be superseded for many years.

His Theatre Comes to Australia, published in 1971, is a magisterial account of drama in the earliest years of white settlement. His Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 1788-1914, published in 1985, immediately became the standard reference work. 

In between these two works came Australian Melodrama of 1981, which contains the identification of over 600 plays written and performed in Australia up to 1914. It has proved to be a most valuable codification for further research. Much of the scholarly study of colonial performance and popular culture that has proliferated in the last decade could not have been carried out without the aid provided by Eric Irvin. His assistance has been manifested not only in his publications but also in his generous personal responses to fellow research workers. 

Mr Irvin's generosity has been of exceptional benefit to this University. At a time when there is a lucrative market in literary papers, he resisted tempting offers from two other major libraries in Australia in order to give his research papers-and his own working library-·tq the Library of The University of Queensland. 

All of this has been achieved from a background with few privileges and many disadvantages. Eric Irvin left school in Sydney at the age of fifteen as, in his own words, 'one of the drop-outs of the 1920s'. After a succession of semi-skilled jobs he studied art and window display at the East Sydney Technical College and began to write copiously. 

During the 1939-45 war he served in New Guinea and in Africa, first in the Signals Corps and later as an Education Officer. 

After the war he became a journalist, retiring from an editorial position on the Sydney Morning Herald in 1973. From that time on he has devoted himself almost entirely to the theatre research from the results of which we have derived such great benefit. 

Mr Chancellor, for his incomparable contributions to Australian theatre. history and for his selfless generosity to the cause of scholarship, I present to you Eric Irvin, poet and theatre historian, for the conferral of the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, to which he has been admitted by the Senate of the University. 



Doctor of Letters honoris causa