Woman Giese, Nancy

AO, OBE, Doctor of Education, honoris causa

Community leader and Educator
Alternative Names
  • Giese, Nan

Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne

Born in 1922 in Brisbane, Queensland, to Robert and Daisy Wilson, Nancy Giese was a champion of education and the arts and one of the Northern Territory's most important leaders. The extent of her contribution to community life is reflected in the numerous honours she received, culminating in her 2004 award of Doctor of Education, honoris causa, from the university she was instrumental in founding, and which she served as Chancellor for ten years. The citation described her as 'a true pioneer within our community, recognizing needs and then taking the lead in the creation of amenities and institutions to meet those needs' (Doctor of Education honoris causa Citation). Other awards include Officer of the Order of Australia in 1997, OBE in 1977, the Centenary Medal and the Administrator's Medal in 2003, and Tribute to Northern Territory Women in 2005.

Educated at Brisbane Girls' Grammar School and the University of Queensland, as a young teacher she joined the flying squad travelling around the state's schools promoting health and fitness. Her boss was Harry Giese, the first Queensland Director of Physical Education (1944-47), whom she married in 1946. Their dynamic partnership powered their years in Darwin from 1954, through pioneering initiatives in education and health.

Nan Giese saw immediately that families were leaving the Northern Territory, 'good citizens lost to a developing society that badly needed them', because their children could not matriculate (Vale Nan Giese). She lobbied tirelessly for full secondary education and for the provision of amenities that were the most modern in Australia. She became a key member of groups such as the Graduates' Association demanding tertiary education for Territory students as part of the full range of educational opportunities available to other Australians. In the late 1960s a Commonwealth government report looked to the successful American model of community colleges, and recommended an independent tertiary institution which could offer both higher education and technical courses. Giese was a member of the planning committee and later Chair of the Council of the Darwin Community College (DCC), the prototype community college in Australia. Its laboratories and trade workshops, classrooms, art studios, library, theatre and student accommodation, opened in 1974. At the end of that year, Cyclone Tracy swept them all away. But this was just the beginning. Nan Giese and others persisted, and in January 1989 the Institute of Technology that succeeded the DCC amalgamated with the embryo University College to form the Northern Territory, now Charles Darwin University. Bridging courses and scholarships for Indigenous people were set up and education for regional and remote areas became a priority.

From the 1960s, Nan Giese was on the founding committees and led arts organizations such as the Arts Council of the Northern Territory, the Darwin Performing Arts Centre Board and the Museums and Art Galleries Board of the Northern Territory. The Arts Council flew in international groups such as the Barangay Dancers from the Philippines and the Polish Chamber Orchestra, and toured them throughout the Territory. The performing arts centre and the waterside museum and art gallery opened just after Territory self-government. They are large and beautiful buildings and thriving community hubs which enhance the modern city that has replaced the post-War frontier town of Darwin.

When Giese died in 2012, her friend and fellow pioneer of Territory tertiary education, Joyce Cheong Chin observed: in all these initiatives 'there seems to be this one link, this thread right through from the beginning, the one person who's been a driving force through all those years when others have come and gone, either left Darwin or given up' (Celebration of the Life of Nancy Giese).

Additional sources: Celebration of the Life of Nancy Giese, in private hands. Records from Charles Darwin University including: Doctor of Education honoris causa Citation dated 2004 in the Nancy Giese Collection. Program for the official opening of Darwin Community College by Prince Philip dated 10 March 1974.

Archival Resources

Charles Darwin University Library

Northern Territory Archives Northern Territory Archives Service

  • Nancy Giese, interview by Francis Good, NTRS 1942; Northern Territory Archives Northern Territory Archives Service. Details

Northern Territory Council of Educational Administration

  • Nancy Giese, 'Towards a Northern Territory University', the Lampe Oration, November 1991; Northern Territory Council of Educational Administration. Details

Published Resources

Edited Books

  • Who's Who in Australia, Crown Content, Melbourne, Victoria, 1927 - 2013. Details


  • Giese, Nancy, The Darwin Community College, Paper presented to the Conference on the Community College in Australia, Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education, November 1976, N. Giese, Darwin, Northern Territory, 1976. Details
  • Nancy Giese, The Darwin Institute of Technology: a historical perspective, Northern Territory Library Service Occasional Papers, State Reference Library of the Northern Territory, Darwin, Northern Territory, 1990. Details

Online Resources