Dr Hirst was one of the earliest appointments to La Trobe's history department, beginning his tenure in 1968. He went on to become a leading historian, public intellectual and former convenor of the Republican Movement in Victoria. He has been a member of the Film Australia Board and a council member of the National Museum of Australia. He also developed the first course on Aboriginal history to be taught in any Australian University.
Katie Holmes, Director of Research Focus Area: Transforming Human Societies and Professor of History, said Dr Hirst played an instrumental role in shaping La Trobe's early history department.
"John will be remembered for his ongoing intellectual curiosity, the quality of his thought, his generosity as a supervisor and mentor to younger scholars and his commitment to helping them get their work published," Professor Holmes said.
"He was controversial and provocative, but he had a generous and open mind and was always willing to engage respectfully and rigorously about ideas. He believed passionately in the importance of writing for a wide readership and making history relevant. John made an outstanding contribution to shaping the public debate about Australian History. He also had a great sense of humour.
"He was a much valued and highly respected colleague, who understood the importance of collegiality and that the robust exchange and interrogation of ideas lay at the heart of the university's mission."
Dr Hirst retired in 2006 but remained a strong presence in the Australian historical community, authoring a number of books and contributing many opinion pieces in the media.
His books covered much historical terrain including the early days of Australia, the character of Australia's democracy and its place in the wider world. He was co-editor of The Oxford Companion to Australian History and in 2015 published his final book, Australia's Catholic University: the first twenty-five years.
His 2009 book, The Shortest History of Europe, was translated into several languages and has become a bestseller in China, where it has sold more than 100,000 copies.
La Trobe Emeritus Professor Robert Manne recalls Dr Hirst as "courageous and very generous".
"He was extraordinarily independent and had a penetrating intellect," Professor Manne said.
"We disagreed frequently, but enjoyed conversation and enjoyed the differences of opinion. We enjoyed trying to work them through."
Our deepest sympathies are extended to Dr Hirst's friends and family.