“PEOPLE think because Canberra is relatively new it doesn’t have much history to uncover, but I’m hoping what I’ve done is enough proof to end that notion,” local historian and author Alan Foskett says.
With more than 30 historic books on the capital published in the last 23 years, Foskett has long been passionate about unearthing Canberra’s rich and “unique” social and urban history – and at 84 years of age he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
His books range far and wide; from the history of hostels in Canberra to the origins of the Ainslie Football Club.
Foskett’s latest book, “Caring for the Community Rain Hail or Shine – The History of District and Community Health Nursing in the ACT”, is to be launched in March as part of Canberra’s centenary.
The book’s printing is funded by the ACT Government under the Heritage Grants Program and will provide an in-depth look at the evolution of district nursing and the roles of nurses in caring for patients in Canberra over the last 100 years.
A self confessed “history addict”, Foskett’s love of the past spurred from an honours degree in geography at the University of Sydney, where he studied the history of the mining towns in Queensland for field work and became “fascinated” by their stories.
He moved to Canberra in 1950 where he worked in the public sector, including the then Capital Territory Health Commission and ACT Health Authority.
It was when he started his own urban development consultancy business in 1987 that he had more time on his hands to indulge in what he calls his “hobby.”
“That’s when I started to research and write about the history and stories of Canberra, which I’ve continued to do now in my retirement,” he said.
“For me it’s a hobby; it’s just enjoyable. I usually find what I’m interested in and start from there, or sometimes people will approach me and ask me to write.”
In 2009 Foskett received a Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to ACT history and heritage, which he says was a “huge honour,” although he remains modest.
“I get a bit embarrassed about that sort of thing, but it was wonderful to be acknowledged.”
He says his latest book was a long time coming.
“For some 20 years a group of community nurses wanted to have a book on their history but they kept deferring it,” he said.
“Finally, they got together and said ‘we’ve really got to do this book’ and approached me to be the author. I had always been interested in that area from my work in the health field and my wife was a nurse, too,” he said.
He believes people won’t need to have an interest in nursing to enjoy the book.
“It is really a history of health services here and I think anyone interested in the way Canberra has developed will have an interest in it,” he said.
“The main attraction, apart from the general history, is the range of stories the nurses have provided – the emotional involvement they sometimes had with patients is extremely interesting.”
It took Foskett about two years to research and write the book from his home office in Campbell, sifting through resources from The National Library and stories and photos supplied by a committee of long-serving community nurses.
“It depends on the timing, but I’ll usually spend 800 hours altogether on my books, which ends up to be about two years for each one. Some days I’ll do two hours, other days I’ll do eight,” he said.
For Foskett, documenting Canberra’s history is as rewarding as it is addictive, and he’s not ready to give up just yet.
“There’s a lot of demand for these books here; people are very interested in our history,” he said.
“I always say ‘this will be my last book’, but I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon. There’s still plenty of great stories to be told.”
Pre-paid orders of “Caring for the Community Rain Hail or Shine – The History of District and Community Health Nursing in the ACT” are available ahead of the books” launch on March 24. Visit canberra100.com.au/calendar/celebration-events/view/264/book-launch—act-districtcommunity-nursing/ for more information.