Ellen Gray

HDR student

My PhD topic is about the role Australia played in shaping the United Nations response to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Despite being a significant event in the history of the Cold War, the diplomatic aspects of the crisis have yet to be investigated by Australian historians. Therefore, I hope my thesis can act as a starting point from which Australian scholars can learn more about our country’s participation in this important event.

Using primary materials from Australian and British sources, my research aims to map out Australia’s involvement in the affair from the outbreak of the crisis in late October of 1956, through to September 1957. This will provide the narrative account of these events which is currently absent from the literature.

Furthermore, I hope my research will contribute to a greater understanding of Australia’s foreign policy outlook more broadly during the mid-1950s. For example, my work aims to use the Hungarian matter as a lens through which to assess topics such as the attitudes of Australian ministers and diplomats towards the United Nations, Australia’s interactions with its British and American allies, its approach to the challenges and opportunities posed by its Asian neighbours, and the extent to which Australia took an interest in the policies of the Soviet Union.

  • What first sparked your interest in your field and how has that interest lead you to topic of research?

    I’ve always been interested in Cold War history since my high school years and continued to study it during my undergraduate degree at university. I think the imagery of the nuclear bomb was probably why I was initially drawn to it – terrifying but you can’t look away. Then, when I decided I wanted to write an honours thesis, I sought the advice of one of the history Professors at Victoria University, Phillip Deery, and we discussed a few possible topics. I actually had a few ideas that weren’t related to the Cold War at all, but he suggested perhaps writing on Australia’s involvement in the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. I knew about the event, but nothing about Australia’s part which really intrigued me. So, went with Phillip’s suggestion and ended up loving the subject. That’s what led me to my PhD topic. During my honours research, I discovered that while the Suez crisis was happening, the Soviet Union was crushing an uprising in Hungary. In fact, both of these emergencies were being debated in the United Nations at the same time. Curious, I wanted to know what Australia was doing in relation in the Hungarian issue, but there was essentially no secondary information on the subject. So, I did I search on the Australian national archives website and found that none of the files on relating to the Hungarian revolution had ever been looked at. That’s when I realised it would make a perfect topic for a PhD thesis. 

  • Why did you pursue a PhD?

    Ever since I was very young, I’ve pretty much been obsessed with history. I remember watching documentaries wishing someday I’d stumble across an ancient tomb while holidaying in Egypt, or find a secret stash of important letters from hundreds of years ago hidden in a library book. So, I suppose a PhD is a kind of version of that dream. You get to research a subject that nobody has embarked on before you, and you end up learning things that nobody other than yourself know in that moment.  

  • What has been the highlight of your candidature so far?

    Travelling to Canberra to use the archives. It is always exciting going through the files, especially the ones that have only just been opened to the public.

  • What has been the most unexpected moment of your candidature so far?

    Most definitely the COVID-19 situation. It’s certainly changed a lot of plans and assumptions about how the rest of my candidature would play out. But it’s not all been bad. I’ve now got into the routine of writing from my desk at home in the company of my dog, which has generally been much more relaxing that writing on campus given how noisy it can be sometimes.

  • Writing is big part in the HDR process. Do you have any rituals that help you get in the writing mood/vibe/mindset?

    I like to go for a run and eat a good breakfast to wake my brain up. After that I can sit at my desk and be ready to write.

  • If you could research another area/field/topic outside of your current area/field/topic, what would you research?

    Well, if I was going to choose the ideal topic, it would probably have something to do with Elizabeth I and her relationship with the Islamic kingdoms. But I’d probably need to be able to read and write in quite a few more languages before that could ever happen!

  • What do you do to relax and unwind after a long day of research/writing?

    Usually I will cook. I find it very relaxing. Lately I’ve been cooking a lot of Indian inspired meals.

Australian Policy
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