The Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) is the largest and most successful cooperative research enterprise in the humanities and social sciences in Australia. Hundreds of academics and other professionals give of their time freely to serve on Working Parties throughout Australia to choose who will have entries and to nominate the 4500 authors who have written the Dictionary’s 13,000 entries. The ANU hosts the editorial staff in the School of History.
This year the ADB is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of vol. 1 in 1966. As its founder, historian Sir Keith Hancock foresaw, the ADB—more than any other single enterprise at the ANU— realises the national mission that is literally at the university’s heart. Its website receives 60 million hits a year and in the recent words of the Chancellor of the ANU, Professor the Hon. Gareth Evans AC QC, ‘The Australian Dictionary of Biography captures the life and times and culture of this country in an absolutely distinctive and irreplaceable way ... I could not be prouder of the ANU’s continuing role as custodian of this crucial part of our national legacy’.
Since 2015 the ADB has been regularly extended directly online by an annual update published every March. Entries for those who died in 1992 are being added to the ADB website on Friday 18 March. A full list of the 80 new biographies being published is below.
As usual the entries include a diverse range of people including:
Torres Strait Islander leader Eddie Mabo (1936-1992) who often spent his lunch hours, while working as a gardener at James Cook University from 1967 to 1975, reading A. C. Haddon’s six-volume Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. When he later learnt that he and other Murray Islanders were not the legal owners of land inherited under custom and tradition he was spurred into action and began a campaign which culminated in the landmark High Court Mabo judgments. The second ruling, handed down a few months after Mabo’s death, overturned the doctrine known as terra nullius (land belonging to no-one), and paved the way for the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993.
Teacher and author Dora Birtles (1903-1992) and her husband, author and journalist Victor (Bert) Birtles (1900- 1994), share an entry. The couple met while studying at the University of Sydney. Bert’s erotic poem, dedicated to ‘D’, and published in the student newspaper, Hermes, led to his expulsion for ‘misconduct in writing a poem’. After graduating, Dora taught at a high school for a few years and then set off for London with four other people in a 10-metre boat. They got as far as Singapore. Dora continued on with her travels through China, Japan and Europe before settling in London. The story of her adventures was published as North-West by North in 1935. Bert remained at home in Newcastle, working as Dora’s agent and establishing his career as a political journalist. Dora later worked as an assistant writer and talent scout on the film, The Overlanders, set in the Northern Territory, and wrote the novel of the film. A substantial inheritance in 1958 gave her the freedom to travel again, this time to Afghanistan, the Soviet Union, China and South America. Following his retirement as a journalist in 1972, Bert devoted his life to writing poetry.
Singer and songwriter Peter Allen (1944-1992) began his performing career at the age of 11 in the ladies’ lounge of the New England Hotel at Armidale. Four years later he was part of the Allen Brothers, and was regularly appearing on the popular TV program, Bandstand. By 1964 he was performing with American singer and actor, Judy Garland, and married her daughter, Liza Minnelli, in 1967. The couple divorced after Allen acknowledged his homosexuality in 1970. In that same year Allen began a successful solo career, writing songs, and performing on stage with great energy and in trademark Hawaiian shirts. He is best remembered for his song, ‘I Still Call Australia Home’.
Beatrice Davis (1909-1992), was book publisher Angus and Robertson’s first full-time editor. Starting as a proof reader in 1937, within four years she was hosting functions and meetings of authors. She encouraged A&R to take over the publication of the literary magazine Southerly and from 1957 was a member of the judging panel of the prestigious Miles Franklin award. She was sacked by Richard Walsh in 1973 after he had been brought in by A&R's new owner, Gordon Bryant, to modernise the publishing department. Davis went on to work for Thomas Nelson (Australia), taking with her several authors, including Thea Astley.
Mining magnate Lang Hancock (1909-1992) never actually owned any iron ore mines. The astute agreements he and his business partner, Peter Wright, signed saw them secure 2.5% of the royalties of the value of ore mined by Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd on their claim in the Pilbara region. Following his wife Hope’s death in 1983 Hancock married his flamboyant housemaid, Rose Porteous, whose many whims he indulged, to the chagrin of his daughter, Gina Reinhart, who had been involved in her father’s business from an early age. Following Lang's death, his daughter and wife spent 11 years in an acrimonious legal dispute over his estate.
Sculptor Margel Hinder (1906-1995) shares an entry with her artist husband, Frank Hinder (1906-1992). The couple met in New York, where they were studying, and in 1934 moved to Sydney. Margel taught sculpture from the 1940s and in 1953 began to work with metal. She was one of the few women artists in Australia involved in large public commissions. Like many artists, Frank worked in the directorate of camouflage during World War II, developing methods to disguise and conceal equipment and structures. After the war he returned to teaching and became interested in theatrical design, creating 17 sets and 11 costume designs between 1957 and 1965. The couple worked together, inspiring each other, for more than fifty years.
Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) started his career as a commercial artist in 1956. In 1960 he was awarded a travelling art scholarship and moved to London with his future wife, Wendy Julius, and then on to New York in 1967. Whiteley began experimenting with various mediums – in one instance, rice and a hand grenade – and with drugs and alcohol. The couple returned to Sydney in 1969 with their young daughter and bought a house at Lavender Bay. The views from there inspired some of Brett’s most elegant seascapes and landscapes. In 1985 Brett and Wendy booked into a London clinic to beat their drug addiction; only Wendy succeeded and they later divorced. Brett died in a hotel room from the effects of alcohol and drugs.
Australia’s first air hostess Hazel Holyman described her job as ‘literally pushing’ passengers into cramped small planes that flew between Launceston and Maria Island in Tasmania. The wife of Victor Holyman, who operated the twice weekly service in the 1930s, Hazel drove passengers to the airport, and provided them with blankets, biscuits and coffee for their trip across Bass Strait. Following her husband’s death in a plane accident in 1934, she retired from work, but was persuaded to join Australian National Airways as superintendent of air hostesses in 1939. Affectionately known as Matron, her duties included taking charge of stores, designing uniforms and spotting ‘crooked stocking seams and soiled unpressed uniforms at fifty paces!’. She retired in 1955. Her portrait hangs in the Sir Reginald Ansett Transport Museum.
Indeed the 1992 batch includes articles on significant and representative Australians from all walks of life; entertainers, academics, artists, sportspeople and plain eccentrics. There is a Lord Mayor and a town clerk; professors and local historians. Actors’ advocate and performer Hal Lashwood is joined by actors Judith Anderson, Frank Baden-Powell and Willie Fennell. Entomologist and ecologist Herbert George Andrewartha has been added, as has polymath and eccentric Alfred James, as well as pop singer Olivia Newton John’s father, university administrator and professor of German literature Brinley Newton-John. Janet Mathews was a recorder of Indigenous culture while Roland Edward Robinson was a poet and collector of Aboriginal legends. Among the many artists & painters are Henry Francis Hinder and Margel Hinder, Gil Jamieson, Sidney Nolan and potter Eileen Keys. They are joined by art historians and gallery directors. Don Bradman opined that cricketer and journalist, ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly was ‘probably the greatest of all time’. For a different speed, Geoff Sykes was a motor-racing promoter. In addition to traditional military figures, church leaders, farmers, trade unionists and nurses, there are those with more unusual occupations: model-aircraft enthusiast Arthur Gorrie, fencer Ivan Lund, surf lifesaver and beach inspector Aub Laidlaw and coastwatcher, Jack Read. There are female as well as male politicians, those who were straight as well as others such as gay-community activist Peter Tully. There are also articles reflecting Australia’s multicultural population and interests including softgoods manufacturer and Lebanese community leader Nicholas Aboud, Budapest-born professor of anatomy Istvan Törk and sinologist Charles Patrick Fitzgerald.
1992 articles published—18 March 2016
Nicholas Aboud (1911–1992) softgoods manufacturer, company director and executive, and Lebanese community leader
Peter Allen (1944–1992) singer, songwriter, and entertainer
Dame Frances Margaret (Judith) Anderson (1897–1992) actress
Herbert George Andrewartha (1907–1992) entomologist and ecologist
Frank Vincent Baden-Powell (1929–1992) actor, director, theatre-restaurant entrepreneur, and city councillor
Bauer, Walter Ernest (1921–1992) tourist-resort developer and operator
Dora Eileen Birtles (1903–1992) teacher and author, and Herbert Victor Birtles (1900– 1994), author and journalist
John Langdon Bonython (1905–1992) resources entrepreneur and company director
William Bryden (1904–1992), museum director, geneticist, and educator
Gladys Selby (Jim) Buntine (1901–1992) Girl Guide commissioner
Sir Joseph Terence Burke (1913–1992) art historian
George Garrett Burniston (1914–1992) rehabilitation medical practitioner
Kenneth John Clements (1905–1992) Anglican bishop
Stanley John Collins (1911–1992) grazier, businessman, and local government representative
Frederick Colin Courtice (1911–1992) medical scientist
Diana Craig (1912–1992) orthoptist
Beatrice Deloitte Davis (1909–1992), editor
Brian Alexander Eaton (1916–1992) air force officer
John Qualtrough Ewens (1907–1992), parliamentary draftsman
William John (Willie) Fennell (1920–1992) actor, comedian, producer, and author
Charles Patrick Fitzgerald (1902–1992) sinologist
Owen Maynard Fletcher (1908–1992) solicitor and philanthropist
Bernard Flewell-Smith (1898–1992) fruit grower and fruit producers’ co-operative manager
Arthur Dingwall Gorrie (1922–1992), toastmaster, community worker, hobby-shop proprietor, and model-aircraft enthusiast
John Brook Hampshire (1918–1992), air force officer
Langley Frederick (Lang) Hancock (1909–1992) pastoralist and mining magnate
Harry Frederick Heath (1903–1992), teacher, union leader, and public servant
Patrick Darcy Hills (1917–1992), toolmaker and politician
Henry Francis Critchley Hinder (1906–1992), artist and teacher, and Margel Ina Hinder (1906–1995), sculptor and teacher
Hazel Holyman (1899–1992), air hostess services superintendent,
Alfred Francis Phillip James (1918–1992), journalist, publisher, airman, political and religious activist, polymath, and eccentric
Hugh Gilmour Jamieson (1934–1992), painter
John Anthony Keaney (1914–1992), Catholic priest and archivist
Eileen Constance Keys (1903–1992), potter
Jack Royston Kinninmont (1920–1992), air force officer
Aubrey Shackleton Laidlaw (1909–1992), surf lifesaver and beach inspector
Harold Francis (Hal) Lashwood (1915–1992), entertainer and actors’ advocate
Agnes Mary ‘Molly’ Lions (1908–1992), industrial nurse and union official
Harold Francis Lobb (1913–1992), musician and educator
Ivan Bernard Lund (1929–1992), fencer
Alan McLeod McCulloch (1907–1992), artist, art historian, critic, and gallery director
Edward ‘Koiki’ Mabo (1936–1992), Torres Strait Islander community leader and land rights campaigner
William Darcy Mason (1911–1992), air force officer
Janet Elizabeth Mathews (1914–1992), music teacher and recorder of Indigenous culture
Brinley Newton-John (1914–1992), university administrator and professor of German literature
Sir Sidney Robert Nolan (1917—1992), artist
Roderick John Charles O’Loan (1915–1992), retail executive, footballer, army officer, and community worker
William Joseph ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly (1905–1992), cricketer and journalist
Daniel Christiaan Overduin (1929–1992), clergyman and bioethicist
George William Pont (1910–1992), trade union official and industrial commissioner
Anne Elizabeth Press (1903–1992), politician
Kevin Sajieh Rasheed (1919–1992), tourism operator and promoter
William John (Jack) Read (1905–1992), coastwatcher and public servant
Robert Joseph Henry Risson (1901–1992), army officer and tramways board chairman
Frank Edward Roberts (1913–1992), solicitor, politician, and lord mayor
Roland Edward Robinson (1912–1992), poet and collector of Aboriginal legends
Francis Henry Rogan (1915–1992), town clerk and local government reformer
Frederick Romberg (1913–1992), architect and academic
John William Ryley (1926–1992), veterinarian
Charles Ronald Stuart Saw (1929–1992), journalist
John Howard (Jack) Simmonds (1901–1992), plant pathologist
Geoffrey Percy Frederick Sykes (1908–1992), motor-racing promoter
Neville Hamlin Teede (1924–1992), actor and university lecturer
Sir Leslie Charles Thiess (1909–1992), construction and mining industries entrepreneur
Geoffrey Thornton (1925-1992), air force officer and horticulturalist
Istvan Joseph Törk (1939–1992), professor of anatomy
Peter Craig Tully (1947–1992), jeweller, costume designer, and gay-community activist
Erica Reid Underwood (1907–1992), psychologist, broadcaster, education administrator and community worker
Charles Viertel (1902–1992), accountant, businessman, and philanthropist
Roelf Vos (1921–1992), supermarket entrepreneur, property developer, and philanthropist
Patience Australie (Pat) Wardle (1910–1992), local historian and diarist
David Adie ‘Torpy’ Whitehead (1896–1992), soldier and business executive
Brett Whiteley (1939–1992), artist
Ian Alexander Christie Wood (1901–1992), politician and mayor
Frank Woods (1907–1992), Anglican archbishop
Elinor (Ellinor) Caroline Wray (1899–1992), speech therapist