Meet the Author: Honae Cuffe

13 January 2022

‘Open access is incredibly important to me, and it was always my priority when selecting a publisher. As a researcher working at a publicly funded institution, I want to see my work reach the widest possible audience.’

Honae Cuffe holds a PhD in history from the University of Newcastle, and has worked in both the academic and public history sector. Honae has published widely on issues of history, contemporary policy and academic research practices. The Genesis of a Policy: Defining and Defending Australia's National Interest in the Asia-Pacific, 1921–57, is Honae’s first book published with ANU Press.

1. What drove you to research and write this book?

This book began its life as a PhD thesis sparked by frustration at the lack of historical consciousness in popular discussion about Australia’s alliance strategy – both contemporary and historical. I wanted to explore previous points where Australia was forced to weigh up its geography, trade, and security interests, and, in doing so, reveal a pragmatism that had not been previously acknowledged.

2. Can you take us through the process of writing this book? What challenges did you face?

As I mentioned, this book began its life as a PhD thesis. My supervisor, Associate Professor Wayne Reynolds, gave me an excellent piece of advice: write your thesis with a book in mind. This meant that I had a really workable first draft of the book that only needed some minor adjustments. In terms of challenges, I think balancing full-time work with writing was my greatest. It was a matter of finding the time in which to write and edit – which usually meant late nights and weekend work. Online writing circles during lockdown certainly helped motivate me!

3. What surprised you the most either in researching or writing this book?

What surprised me the most was not the research or writing process itself, but how interested people are when they find out you’re writing a history book. From colleagues to friends to family, people have been genuinely interested in my work and counting down the days to publication. Not only is this a testament to the value of history, it reaffirms my choice to opt for an open-access publisher so that anyone has access to my book.

4. Why do you believe this history is important to tell? What impact has your research had, and what do you hope it with further achieve in the future?

When we look at political and policy histories, there exists a dominant narrative that for much of the twentieth century, Australia lacked the instincts, confidence, and machinery needed to design and implement its own distinct international policy. Instead, it is held that the nation simply followed in the footfalls of Britain and later the US. My research finds that here were those among Australia’s political and official class carefully observing the global and regional forces underway during the first half of the twentieth century. They had a keen appreciation for Australia’s place within the milieu and acknowledged that neither the policies of Britain nor the US completely served Australia’s national interest – indeed, at times they threatened it. Most importantly, these individuals were talking to one another, looking for policy options, and considering how best to develop systems that would allow Australia to intervene in the policies of the great powers in a way that would ensure the national interest was safeguarded.

I believe that the narrative presented in my book is valuable as it explores the origins of key issues continuing to inform Australia’s approach to world affairs and offers lessons for contemporary challenges gleaned from past failures and successes. My research identifies and reflects on the parallels between Japanese expansionism during the inter-war years and China’s moves today, the risks of asymmetrical relationships, and the value of diversification strategies – of strengthening linkages with multiple regional partners to hedge against dependence.

I believe that looking to the past and analogous circumstances and patterns over time provides the opportunity to better understand complex societal challenges by understanding their past. This is powerful insight that can be used to facilitate better decision-making today. My hope is that my book and the lessons it offers ends up in the hands of key decision-makers.

5. Why did you choose ANU Press to publish this book?

Open access is incredibly important to me, and it was always my priority when selecting a publisher. As a researcher working at a publicly funded institution, I want to see my work reach the widest possible audience.

6. What is next for you?

I am currently a Research Officer at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU. Here I have the enviable position of putting my love of research and writing into practice every day. ANZSOG’s role is to bridge the divide between research and the public sector so as to lift the quality of leadership and decision-making and deliver better outcomes for Australian citizens. This role allows me to work across a huge range of topics; I relish in this variety and the opportunity to work with a team who are as passionate about applied research as I am.

Along with my work at ANZSOG, the future definitely has in store a glass of bubbles and long and happy sigh to celebrate the completion of my first book!