David Denholm was born in Maryborough, Queensland, in 1924. Thanks to a good teacher at his one teacher school, he won a scholarship to study at Brisbane Church of England Grammar School, where he passed his junior certificate. The failure of his widowed mother's business forced his withdrawal from school before he completed his senior certificate. Equipped with a junior certificate he was immediately employed by the Queensland Public Service in the Department of Public Instruction, where he remained until 1942, when he was called up for war service.
With the 58/59 battalion he fought in New Guinea and on Bougainville, returning at the war's end to the Public Service in Brisbane. From there he transferred to the Commonwealth Bank, learned Russian at night classes, and got involved with the Brisbane Realist Writers' Group and the Fellowship of Australian Writers. Under the nom de plume of David Forrest, he wrote numerous short stories and two novels, The Last Blue Sea (1959), which won the first Dame Mary Gilmore Award, and The Hollow Woodheap (1962).
With the encouragement of his wife, Zita, and with some apprehension, David enrolled as an undergraduate in history at Queensland University in 1964, graduating with first class honours in 1967. He completed a PhD in history at the Australian National University in 1972, and then taught at the University of New England, before being appointed a lecturer in history at Riverina College of Advanced Education in 1974.
In 1979, Penguin Books published his best selling history book, The Colonial Australians, which reveals his adeptness in finding the right question to ask of almost any historical source.
David was a strong supporter of what was then known as the Riverina Archives, chairing the Archives Advisory Committee, and devising subjects in local history which allowed students to get hands-on experience in working with original archival sources. In retirement he put his first class knowledge of the Archives' collections to use as a research assistant for colleagues from other universities, among them Jim Hagan and Ken Turner.
David was particularly fascinated by maps and map making. He devoted much effort to arranging the 12,000 maps held in the Regional Archives, and producing finding aids of utility to historians and other researchers. Among these is a helpful guide that collates the Regional Archives' parish map holdings with those of the Mitchell Library, showing where gaps exist or are filled on a complementary basis.
David died on 19 June 1997, after a short illness. He had continued working on a research project, making use of the resources of the Archives and the Church of the Latter Day Saints family history centre, until some three weeks before his death.
Compiled by : Don Boadle.
Sources : Personnel file of David Denholm, CSU Human Resources, CSU1922, CSURA.
Photograph : David Denholm, RCAE staff photograph, c. 1975.