FEW people know the history of Colac quite like Dr Dawn Peel.
Through a PhD on Australia’s war front, eight books, and many other writings, she has documented not only the history of her home town of the past 50 years, but also our nation.
Today, Dr Peel made a little bit of history herself, being awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM).
Dr Peel said she became hooked on history ever since attending her first meeting of the Colac Historical Society in 1957.
Originally from Gippsland, she studied teaching at Melbourne University before teaching history at Colac High School.
During research into the home front in Australia, Dr Peel discovered that there was very little information on the subject and after making enquiries was awarded a scholarship from the Australian War Memorial to undertake a masters degree on the subject, which led to her PhD.
Dr Peel is credited with uncovering a lost piece of Colac history after locating a missing 1850s Colac court book at Duke University in the United States. Dr Peel managed to secure a digital copy of the book from the university.
The renowned historian has now published four books on the history of the Colac area. Her book, Year Of Hope: 1857 In The Colac District, received a commendation in the 2006 Victorian Community History awards.
Her other publications include Anna’s Journey: A British Lady In West Africa & Colonial Australia, Wartime In A Country Community, and Quality Community Care as well as a number of academic journal articles.
When she first received the letter from the Governor-General, she put it to the side unopened.
When she did get around to opening the letter, Dr Peel said that she was “completely stunned” to be awarded the prestigious honour but happy to know that her and, in turn, the society were being recognised.
“It’s interesting how much the historical society has contributed to the community while not having a high profile,” she said.
Dr Peel has been involved extensively with the historical society and the local library, running a number of programs over the years which has ensured that Colac’s history will be secured for future generations.