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The ADB’s Story

The ADB’s Story

Melanie Nolan
Christine Fernon
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    The ADB’s Story
    Book Description:

    ‘The Australian Dictionary of Biography captures the life and times and culture of this country in an absolutely distinctive and irreplaceable way. It is the indispensable record of who we are, and of the characters who have made us what we are. I could not be prouder of ANU’s continuing role as custodian of this crucial part of our national legacy.’ Professor the Hon. Gareth Evans AC QC, Chancellor, The Australian National University ‘A mature nation needs a literary pantheon of inspiring and instructive life histories, a gallery of all the possibilities of being Australian. The Australian Dictionary of Biography responds to that vital need in our culture. It is a stunning collaborative achievement and I feel so proud that we have such an activity here in Australia—to a great extent it describes and defines Australia.’ Professor Fiona Stanley AC, Australian of the Year, 2003 ‘The Australian Dictionary of Biography is our greatest collective research project in the humanities and a national triumph. We have much to learn from it. The project is continuing to change as we mature nationally, with deeper understanding about the impacts of gender, race, environment, religion, education, language, culture, politics, region and war on what we are and what we may become.’The Hon. Dr Barry Jones AO ‘Australia is very fortunate to have a national biographical dictionary that is democratic as well as distinguished, one that represents the rich variety of Australian culture. The Australian Dictionary of Biography gathers together the stories of people from all walks of life, from the outback to the city and from the bush to the parliament. It is a monument of scholarship—and it is for everyone.’Dr Dawn Casey PSM ‘Few things are more illuminating than taking a random stroll through a volume of the Australian Dictionary of Biography—new insights into our greatest men and women, chance encounters with people whose exploits are all too often unpardonably overlooked. I first read the ADB with my mother, Coral Lansbury, who wrote four entries. One of her mentors, Bede Nairn, was a prodigious contributor. The Australian story is a story of Australians, no better told than in the ADB.’ The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP ‘I find it difficult to bring to mind more than a handful of comparable enterprises in the fields of biography, history, philology or the social sciences more broadly—anywhere in the world. The status and appeal of the Australian Dictionary of Biography do not lie only in its scale and size. They reside also in the meticulous research, the erudition and scholarship, and the sweat and possibly tears involved in the editorial and publishing process. Its constituent dramatis personae are an eclectic mix of the noble and the notorious, the famous and the largely unsung. The underlying theme of the mosaic is quite clear: nothing less than the making and remaking of Australia.’ Her Excellency Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland

    eISBN: 978-1-925021-20-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. A Dictionary of Public Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
    Geoff Page
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Tom Griffiths

    When an organisation begins to imagine the next phase of its future, it generally composes a strategic plan. TheAustralian Dictionary of Biography(ADB), however, writes a history—and one spiced with biographical portraits. Of course, theADBhas done the strategic plans too—more than should have been demanded of such an unimpeachable and impressive national enterprise. But the reality of daily life in theADBis that, even after 50 years, it continually has to fight for its future, especially against those within its own university who are driven by corporate competition rather than national collaboration.The ADBʹs...

  5. Obligations and Debts in Writing the ADBʹs Story
    (pp. 1-4)
    Melanie Nolan and Christine Fernon

    At the beginning of 2009 we decided to write an account of theAustralian Dictionary of Biography(ADB). Melanie Nolan took up her position as general editor of theADBin June 2008. While she had been involved in theDictionary of New Zealand Biographyas a working party member and author, she was the first general editor of theADBnot to have had experience with the institution. She was, moreover, heading a unit in a state of change: many staff were retiring and there was a pressing need to develop the online version of theADBfurther. Nolan...

  6. 1. ʹInsufficiently Engineeredʹ: A Dictionary Designed to Stand the Test of Time?
    (pp. 5-46)
    Melanie Nolan

    In May 1962 Sir Keith Hancock, Professor of History and Director of the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS), appeared before the ANU Council to put the case for funding theAustralian Dictionary of Biography(ADB). TheADBEditorial Board had appointed Douglas Pike as general editor of the dictionary in January 1962 but there was no provision in Hancockʹs budget for the position. Boldly, Hancock went to the council to convince it to cover Pikeʹs appointment. He hoped to also convince council members to release funds for the appointment of research staff.¹

    Hancock began by discussing theADBʹs ʹprehistoryʹ:...

  7. Editors and their Eras

    • 2. Sir Keith Hancock: Laying the Foundations, 1959–1962
      (pp. 49-100)
      Ann Moyal

      The genesis of the idea for a biographical dictionary of Australia lay with the librarian, classicist and scholar of Australian history Laurence (Laurie) Frederic Fitzhardinge (1908–93). A graduate of the universities of Sydney and Oxford, he was, from 1934, a research officer in the Commonwealth National Library, where he immersed himself in the documents of Australiaʹs history. In 1943 he began teaching Australian history at the newly established School of Diplomatic Studies within Canberra University College. Taking up an appointment in 1951 as reader in the sources of Australian history at the young Australian National University, he headed the...

    • 3. ʹBorn to do this workʹ: Douglas Pike and the ADB, 1962–1973
      (pp. 101-130)
      John D. Calvert

      Douglas Pike was an enthusiast for theAustralian Dictionary of Biographyproject from the outset. At the conference on Australian history, held at the ANU in 1957, he supported the call for a biographical dictionary. When Ann Mozley travelled to Adelaide to gauge support for the dictionary project in August 1959, she reported that ʹDr Douglas Pike is a strong advocate of the Dictionary plan and supports our ideas of centralization in Canberra and an Advisory Committee consisting of one representative from each University to act in a consultative capacityʹ, and he was the ʹobvious choiceʹ to chair the SA...

    • 4. Bede Nairn and Geoffrey Serle: A Fine Partnership, 1973–1987
      (pp. 131-152)
      Christopher Cunneen

      When theAustralian Dictionary of Biographyʹs general editor, Douglas Pike, was felled by a devastating stroke on Remembrance Day 1973, theADBteam was fortunate to have, at ʹfirst dropʹ (to use a cricketing analogy that Bede Nairn might have appreciated), a veritable Victor Trumper of a historian, able to continue the strong innings that the openers had established.¹

      Noel Bede Nairn (1917–2006) was born on 6 August 1917 at Turill, near Mudgee, NSW, youngest of six children of Robert John (Jack) Nairn and his wife, Rose Ann, née Hopkins.² When the boy was six, the family moved to...

    • 5. John Ritchie: Consolidating a Tradition, 1987–2002
      (pp. 153-180)
      Geoffrey Bolton

      In 1987, when John Ritchie was appointed general editor of theAustralian Dictionary of Biography, he must have believed that he was being entrusted with one of Australiaʹs most respected and securely established academic enterprises. Ritchie himself was given to quoting commentators who described theADBas ʹthe largest work of collaborative scholarship in the arts or social sciences in Australiaʹ, and ʹarguably the nationʹs most substantial and significant publishing venture, and amongst the greatest of its kind in the worldʹ.¹ Few would have forecast that the ensuing 20 years, under the general editorship of Ritchie and his successor, Diane...

    • 6. The Di Langmore Era, and Going Online, 2002–2008
      (pp. 181-210)
      Darryl Bennet

      The stroke suffered in August 2001 by the general editor, John Ritchie, marked the beginning of a time of turbulence and transformation for theAustralian Dictionary of Biography. There had been pressure to trim the budget in the 1990s and, as recounted in the previous chapter, the first signs were appearing that theADBmight be called upon to justify its existence in the new century. Nevertheless, in 2001 the organisation that had evolved over four decades was intact and apparently under no immediate threat.

      Three factors foreshadowed a dramatic change in theADBʹs fortunes. First, the sudden incapacity of...

  8. National Collaboration

    • 7. Working Parties: Recollections of the South Australian Working Party
      (pp. 213-248)
      John Tregenza, Beverley Kingston, Russell Doust and Spencer Routh

      At the very beginning, 1960 to 1961, before I came back to Adelaide, Douglas Pike himself seems to have played an important role in the establishment of the SA Working Party and was probably responsible for the appointment of his good friend Harold Finnis as chairman—a position Finnis held through the first 14 years or so of the working partyʹs life. Finnis much admiredParadise of Dissentand would have almost unquestioningly supported Pikeʹs suggestions for the first two volumes. Gerald Fischer says that he remembers Douglas coming in to the South Australian Archives (he is not sure whether...

    • 8. From the First Fleet to ʹUnderbellyʹ: Writing for the ADB
      (pp. 249-276)
      Gerald Walsh

      I became acquainted with theAustralian Dictionary of Biographyhalf a century ago, in February 1961, when I was appointed a research scholar in historical geography in the Research School of Pacific Studies (RSPS) at the ANU. My task was to research the origins and development of manufacturing, or secondary industry, in Sydney, from its foundation to 1900. This involved identifying the manufacturers and industrialists—the flour millers, brewers, tanners, engineers, ironworkers, soap and candle makers, and textile manufacturers, for example—and gathering information on the locations of their factories, the processes employed, the power used, and the duration of...

    • 9. National Collaboration: The ADB Editorial Board and the Working Parties
      (pp. 277-298)
      Jill Roe

      On 6 February 1985, Geoffrey Serle wrote to me inquiring if I would be willing to join the Editorial Board of theAustralian Dictionary of Biography. At that stage I had contributed no more than half a dozen entries to theADB, though, like most contributors, I was familiar with its work and aspirations. Naturally, I hastened to say I would be happy to accept.¹

      A month or so later, a formal letter arrived from Alan Barnard, acting chair of the Editorial Board, informing me that the vice-chancellor of the ANU, Peter Karmel, had confirmed my appointment to the Editorial...

    • 10. Assessing the ADB: A Review of the Reviews
      (pp. 299-334)
      Mark McGinness

      The greeting in March 1966 from W. G. Buick in theAustralian Book Review, ʹLet us celebrate the birth of a giantʹ, must have been music to the ears of Douglas Pike and his team on the publication that month of Volume 1 of theAustralian Dictionary of Biography.¹ In the Age, Noel McLachlan concluded, ʹ[a]s a work of reference the series will certainly be invaluableʹ, and Professor Pikeʹs modest hope that ʹit will inform and interest the lonely shepherd in his hut as readily as the don in his studyʹ ought to be richly fulfilled. Not just shepherds and...

  9. Pasts and Futures

    • ADB Volumes
      (pp. 337-344)
    • 11. Opportunities for National Biography Online: The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2005–2012
      (pp. 345-372)
      Philip Carter

      Anniversaries, like that to mark theAustralian Dictionary of Biographyʹs recent half-century, are principally times for looking back and reflecting on what has been done. But they can also be opportunities for assessing current situations and thinking about the future: what could be done, and what might be possible at the start of the next half-century. For most of theADBʹs first 50 years the sole medium for publishing Australian lives, and those of other national biographies, was print, either as sequential chronological volumes—as favoured by theADBand theDictionary of Canadian Biography(DCB) and theDictionary of...

    • 12. From Book to Digital Culture: Redesigning the ADB
      (pp. 373-394)
      Melanie Nolan

      TheAustralian Dictionary of Biography(ADB) was designed for publication as a series of books.¹ Three main activities lay at the heart of the project: the books, intended as repositories of concise, scholarly biographies of famous and representative Australians; the Biographical Register (BR); and the index. Preparation of the volumes involved working parties and staff in selecting, commissioning and research editing the entries. The BR (originally called the National Register) was a tool for establishing a pool of names, from which to make the selections for inclusion; it eventually developed into a publication in its own right. The index was...

  10. Appendices

    • Appendix 1: Time Line
      (pp. 397-402)
    • Appendix 2: ADB Staff List, 1958–2013
      (pp. 403-410)
    • Appendix 3: National Committee, Editorial Board and Working Parties by Volume
      (pp. 411-442)
    • Appendix 4: ADB Medal Recipients
      (pp. 443-446)
    • Appendix 5: ADB Bibliography
      (pp. 447-468)
  11. Abbreviations
    (pp. 469-470)
  12. Index
    (pp. 471-492)