Chris could be said to have begun his career as an historian while still at secondary school in rural Victoria, when he completed a narrative account of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 using the limited resources of local libraries. The account may have been amateurish and unpublishable, but it demonstrated early his passion for researching and writing military history.
In 1969 he entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and while still a cadet began writing articles for the Army Journal. He also embarked on a biography of the college’s founder, Major-General Sir William Bridges, which was published some years later by Melbourne University Press (then the country’s most prestigious publisher of military biography).
Graduating from Duntroon with a BA degree in 1972, Chris continued his writing activities and after being posted to Canberra began researching for a MA thesis examining the role and place of the RMC in the Australian Army and community. He also became active in the Military Historical Society of Australia and for a while was editor of Sabretache, the Society’s journal. In 1976 the Society published his first book, a pioneering study of the Army’s intelligence corps before World War I—beginning a long record of publications written under the name of Chris Coulthard-Clark.
Realising that his talents and historical bent were unlikely to find satisfaction in an army career, Chris resigned his commission in 1979 and entered the Australian Public Service, returning to the Defence Department in 1980 to work in policy areas. On completing his MA that year, he began revising his thesis for publication; it appeared in print in 1986 as the sponsored history marking Duntroon’s 75th anniversary.
Next year he began working as a strategic adviser in international security and arms control in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. In 1988 he was invited to undertake a project for the Royal Australian Air Force, to write a history of the RAAF between the world wars in time for the service’s 70th anniversary in 1991. In conjunction with his research for the RAAF, Chris enrolled for a PhD at the Australian Defence Force Academy (University College of the University of NSW) on the development of Australian air power in the two decades after World War I.
With his RAAF history on track for publication and his PhD thesis completed (conferred 1991), in 1990 he began working on a volume of the official history of Australian involvement in South-East Asian Conflicts covering RAAF operations in Vietnam. Having finished his volume by mid-1993, he accepted appointment with Australian Defence Industries (ADI) Limited to write a history tracing the development of the nation’s defence factories over more than a century.
On completing this initial commission, Chris continued working as a consultant producing a range of sponsored histories for the next six years. In 1999 he became Commonwealth and Armed Services research editor with the Australian Dictionary of Biography at the Australian National University, then from 2001 Historian for Post-1945 Conflicts at the Australian War Memorial. In 2004 he was appointed RAAF Historian and headed the Office of Air Force History until 2013 when he “retired” to devote his time to private writing.
He was twice president of the Canberra & District Historical Society (1987-88, 1990-91), and during his first term on the Society’s council he led a writing team formed to produce a history of Government House, Yarralumla. In 2002 he assembled and edited a booklet of essays marking the Society’s first half-century which was published in 2003 as Canberra History 1953-2003: Celebrating 50 Years.
A Visiting Fellow in the School of Humanities & Social Sciences at UNSW Canberra (2003-2016), where he supervised and frequently examined candidates for higher degrees, he continued to be active in the Australian military history field. He has contributed to many other books apart from his own, and published numerous articles in journals and newspapers across Australia and overseas—including features and book reviews. In addition to speaking at conferences in Australia, Britain, US and Canada, he has lectured in Singapore and New Zealand, and appeared on television and radio segments in Australia and New Zealand.
In March 2016 he ended his residential connection with the national capital, where he had lived continuously for forty years, and moved to Melbourne.