Sir John Crawford and the Australian National University

In 1959 the secretary of the Department of Trade, John Crawford (1910–1984), accepted an invitation to become Director of the Research School of Pacific Studies and Professor of Economics at the Australian National University. In Australia, the appointment to a university post of a senior public servant such as Crawford was highly unusual even for the ANU, which had been founded after the war with the intention that its academics should carry out research that would exercise a positive influence on federal government policy formulation. While Crawford had been a part-time university lecturer at Sydney in the 1930s, there were some at the ANU as well as beyond it who worried over whether he would easily make the return to academic research. As it turned out, Crawford had a most unconventional academic career, one in which he combined academic administration and leadership, advising the Australian and overseas governments, and capacity-building at the ANU itself, as the institution grew in size and scope during the 1960s. He served as vice-chancellor in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and in the final years of his life, as chancellor.  All the while, he continued to combine his university activities with a broader role in and around government, in Australia and overseas. This paper – which comes out of an Australian Research Council Linkage grant with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Crawford Fund – is an early attempt to make sense of Crawford’s ANU service in the wider context of his life.  By examining Crawford’s activities at the ANU, and his ideas on university autonomy and accountability, it will relate his university service to the broader themes of his life and career as a ‘public servant’ in the broadest sense.


Frank Bongiorno works in the School of History, Research School of Social Sciences, at the Australian National University. With Denis Blight, Nicholas Brown, David Lee, Stuart Macintyre and Chad Mitcham, he is working on the Australian Research Council Linkage project, ‘J.G. Crawford: Shaping Australia's Place in the World’. His book The Eighties: The Decade That Transformed Australia, appears next month, and he is co-editor, with Tomoko Akami and Alexander Cook, of History Australia, the Australian Historical Association’s journal.


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Wed 30 Sep 2015, 4.15–5.30pm


McDonald Room, Menzies Library, ANU

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