Vale Trevor Vivian Matthews (1940-2022)

5 August, 2022

Vale Trevor Vivian Matthews (1940-2022)

Trevor was a member of the Department of Government and Public Administration (now the Discipline of Government and International Relations) at the University of Sydney from 1962 until his early retirement in 1996. A multiple prize-winner in the third and fourth years of his Bachelor of Economics degree, which he completed in 1961 with First Class Honours in Government, Trevor joined the Department as a Teaching Fellow before becoming a Lecturer in 1965, Senior Lecturer in the first half of the 1970s, and Associate Professor in 1983.  

A good administrator, steady and reliable, with a wry sense of humour, Trevor was Head of Department in 1985 and 1986. For a year or two, from 1965, he also served as Warden of a University residence for post-graduate students in the neighbouring suburb of Glebe.

As a teacher, Trevor was genial and engaging. Valued as ‘quite the all-rounder’, as Terry Irving notes, he taught across a wide range of areas: Australian politics, lecturing on political institutions, issues, and liberal democracy in the big first year courses; Japanese politics; comparative politics; political theory, including power, to Government III Honours students. If a colleague wanted to know what was the latest critique of, for example, functionalism or environmental theory, Trevor could reel off the relevant sources from the top of his head. 

While his interests were wide, it was Trevor’s work on Australian pressure groups, the subject of his PhD on ‘Business associations and politics, chambers of manufacturers and employers’ federations in New South Wales, Victorian and Australian national politics to 1939’ (1971), that established his reputation. His chapter on ‘Pressure Groups in Australia’, in the first of Henry Mayer’s readers on Australian Politics (1966), became the standard Australian reference for students and researchers; it was revised for the second (1969), third (1973) and fourth (1976) editions – the last two collections co-edited by his colleague and fellow opera-enthusiast Helen Nelson who had joined the Department in 1963. From the 1950s, under Mayer, work related to ‘group theory’ became a hallmark of political science at Sydney. Trevor’s most notable contributions are listed in R.A.W. Rhodes, ed. The Australian Study of Politics (2009).

Although other members of the Department – Dennis Altman and Lex Watson, most notably – were prominent in the struggle for gay rights, Trevor was not. However much he might have sympathised with the aims of an organisation like CAMP (Campaign Against Moral Persecution), founded in 1970, or Gay Liberation, established in 1972, Trevor ‘was not temperamentally inclined towards political activism’, as Irving has observed. Writing in the fourth edition of Mayer and Nelson, Trevor saw ‘the homosexual movement’ as having ‘dwindled’, beset by ‘organizational problems’ and ‘leftist factional disputes.’ In addition, ‘the trend in community attitudes towards favouring homosexual law reform’ had ‘made it difficult for the movement to attract activists: the cause had lost its urgency’.

Beyond the academy, Trevor was a consultant to the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration (1974-75), set up by the Whitlam Government and chaired by H.C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs; he contributed a paper on ‘Interest group access to the Australian government bureaucracy’ (Appendix 2.D). Subsequently, he served as a senior advisor in the Cabinet Office of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (1976-77). 

Trevor was the inaugural Visiting Professor in Australian Studies at the University of Tokyo for two years (1978-1979), immersing himself in Japanese culture and politics. Subsequently, he co-authored The Japanese Connection: Australian Leaders’ Attitudes towards Japan and the Australian-Japanese Relationship (1988), based on a survey conducted in 1982, and, with John Ravenhill, wrote a number of articles on elite attitudes to Australian foreign policy.

Secretary/Treasurer of APSA from 1972 to 1975, and joint compiler of ‘Australasian Theses in Political Science to 1990’, with its 4,652 entries, Trevor was made a Life Member in 2013.

After retiring from the university, Trevor became a highly regarded book indexer for Cambridge University Press, Melbourne University Press and UNSW Press, among others; two years before he retired, he had already become a member of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers. His breadth and skill as an indexer are nowhere better demonstrated than in the monumental Mao Zedong: A Biography, Volume 1, 1893-1949 (CUP, 2020), prepared by historians of the Party Literature Research Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. This second career, in which he focused on biographical indexing and the areas of politics in which he had taught, was of almost equal duration to his first.

With Lye Yang, his partner, Trevor divided his time between Sydney and Paris. They had met in Sydney in 1981. Lye migrated from England to live with Trevor in 1983. They shared interests in travel, culture, films, and world affairs. In 2018, following the legislative change that allowed same-sex marriage, Trevor and Lye were able to marry. 

Rather than excel in political science, Trevor might have gone on from Dubbo High to become an academic in a department of foreign languages; in 1957, at the New South Wales Leaving Certificate, he had topped the state in French.

Murray Goot

Emeritus Professor, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University

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