Theme Anthropology

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Early Days

Women have been involved in anthropology, or 'study of man' in Australia since European settlement began in 1788. A Western scientific discipline arising out of Enlightenment thought and theories about the origins of humankind, early anthropology focused strongly on the study of so-called 'primitive societies'. As a settler colonial society with a significant Indigenous population, Australia held particular interest for anthropologists keen to observe peoples 'untainted' by civilisation. Anthropological theories of the late colonial period postulated that information gathered from these people-about their spiritual beliefs, rituals, customs and daily life-could provide a direct window into the world from which modern man and Western civilisation had emerged and flourished. Well into the 20th century, Australian anthropological investigations centred on making observations of and collecting information from various groups of Australia's Indigenous population, often with little sensitivity towards Indigenous people as individuals. Anthropological research in Australia was driven by an imperative to find out as much as possible about the beliefs and customs of all Aborigines across the country before, as seemed inevitable, the Aborigines died out in the face of 'civilised' life.

Until the post-World War II years, female anthropologists were proportionately few, and most were associated in one way or another with male mentors, but women were nevertheless integrally involved in the development of the field: responsible for collecting significant information and for enduring research results and influential publications. As the 20th century progressed, anthropologists began to look to regions beyond Australia, to Papua New Guinea, Asia and the Pacific, and the parameters of anthropological theory and practice expanded to consider economic interactions, gender relations and occupations in a range of other cultures. This expansion also allowed comparisons between these different cultures. By the end of the 20th century, anthropology had also produced several subdisciplines, such as social anthropology and cultural anthropology, which encompassed the investigation of diverse social groupings other than Indigenous people. The insights of second-wave feminist theory also saw the development of specifically feminist anthropology and informed women anthropologists' groundbreaking work on marginalised groups, including migrant women, working-class women and refugee women in Australia.

The first women to be involved in compiling anthropological records in Australia were British settlers, who recorded their first-hand observations of the local Indigenous peoples in diaries, letters and notebooks. These women have been classified as 'station ethnographers': their observations were of the Aborigines who lived and worked on the vast outback stations of which the women were 'mistress' or daughter. One such 'station ethnographer' of this period was Mary Bundock (1844-1925), whose family lived in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales. The unmarried Mary spent much time with the local Bandjalang people, at Wyangari on the Richmond River, NSW, and collected artefacts from them such as dilly-bags, water vessels, fishing lines, boomerangs, message sticks, weapons, baskets and net-work. Many of these related to the activities and cultural life of Bandjalang women. Bundock did not write up her findings, but she did document them carefully, aware her collection could hold international anthropological interest. She sent some artefacts to the 1883 Amsterdam International, Colonial and Export Trade Exhibition and later to the Rijksmuseum voor Volkunde in Leiden. In 1895, she donated twenty-one artefacts to the Australian Museum in Sydney (Mary Bundock Collection). Her activities waned towards the end of the 19th century but her donated articles continued to be displayed throughout the 20th.

Another 'station ethnographer' was Katie Langloh Parker (later Stow) (Muir, ADB; Kovacic, 'Parker', AWR). Langloh Parker collected stories rather than artefacts from the Aborigines who lived and worked on Bangate, the cattle station leased by her husband. By the end of the 19th century, she had published two volumes of Aboriginal myths and legends. Australian Legendary Tales and More Australian Legendary Tales were ostensibly aimed at children, but Langloh Parker's introduction conveyed her added hope that they would provide a permanent record of stories that would soon be lost when the Aboriginal race died out, as seemed inevitable to many at that time. In 1905, Langloh Parker published The Euhalayi People, a full-length study of the customs and language of the people who lived on Bangate, their rituals and day-to-day living. It was the first clearly anthropological work to be published by an Australian woman and was significant in that Parker displayed a sensitivity and respect towards the Euhalayi people and their culture that was often lacking in anthropological work of this period.

Although Mary Bundock and Katie Langloh Parker lived in relative isolation on outback stations, both were aware of existing anthropological investigation; they corresponded with male anthropologists and had a perception of their own work as contributing to the progress of the field both locally and globally. Even so, there is a sense that their respective contributions to anthropology were the result of an incidental occupation taken up because of the restrictions of station life. As the 20th century progressed, women began to engage with anthropology in Australia in a more deliberate manner. Their work was sometimes couched as 'welfare' rather than scientific inquiry, as caring for people was seen to be a more feminine occupation than science.

One of the first women to actively seek a career of sorts as an anthropologist was Daisy Bates (Wright, ADB; Land, 'Bates', AWR), an Irish-born woman who had immigrated to Queensland to work as a governess in the 1880s. In 1905, Bates offered herself to the Western Australian government as an honorary protector of the Aborigines and as the chief investigator of the culture and rituals of the Western Australian people. During the period 1905 to 1911, she worked in these capacities, with the intention of publishing a full-length anthropological study. She corresponded with her male contemporaries in the field, most significantly Cambridge-educated Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, whom she accompanied on a 1910 expedition, before they fell out and she left-later to accuse him of plagiarising her work. She published a couple of papers in scientific journals but, although she collected a vast amount of material, her planned book did not appear in her lifetime. It was finally published in 1988, after anthropologist Isobel White undertook the massive task of editing and compiling it from Bates' field notes. While these notes are anthropologically important, particularly as records of information about Noongar life that would otherwise be lost, Bates' more lasting legacy is that of an eccentric writer of sensationalist and damaging prose about Aborigines that appeared in newspaper columns in the Adelaide Advertiser during the 1930s and as the book The Passing of the Aborigines (1938). Daisy Bates claimed to be a leader of knowledge about Australian Aborigines, and also a devoted carer, dedicated to soothing the way of what she called 'the dying race', though both claims are dubious (Standish, 'Daisy Bates', ). Another woman working with Aborigines at this time, Mary Montgomerie Bennett (Bolton & Gibbney, ADB; Tallis, AWR), was far more of a social reformer and activist on behalf of Indigenous peoples. Her books, with provocative titles for the time, like Aborigines are Human Beings, convey the tone for her work. Bennett was a leader in Indigenous education and welfare rather than anthropology, but the insights of her work have proved useful for later anthropologists.

Trained Professionals

During the first half of the 20th century, the legitimacy of anthropology as a scientific discipline became more fixed as opportunities for formal study and qualifications extended. Leading male anthropologists from overseas, usually Britain or Germany and often with Oxbridge degrees, travelled to Australia to mount investigations and expeditions and, when it became possible, to take up academic positions in Australian universities. These developments were significant to the Australian women who emerged as among the first professional, trained anthropologists.

After several years of debate over where and how anthropology should be included within the academy, the first Department of Anthropology in Australia was founded, at Sydney University in 1925. Its founding professor was Alfred Radcliffe-Brown. After his field trips to Western Australian and, earlier, the Andaman Islands, Radcliffe-Brown had held teaching posts in Tonga and Cape Town, before arriving in Sydney to head the department. Radcliffe-Brown, who came to be known as one of the founders of social anthropology, was particularly interested in kinship structures and social relations. He was succeeded in 1931 by the Australian-born A.P. Elkin. Elkin had completed an MA on anthropology at Sydney University before the department had been established, and then trained as an Anglican priest. In 1925, he left Australia to do a PhD in anthropology at University College, London, after which he was encouraged by Radcliffe-Brown to return to Australia to do fieldwork and teach. When Radcliffe Brown retired to take up a position in Chicago, Elkin was appointed, first, lecturer-in-charge and then, in 1933, professor of anthropology. He continued in this role until retirement in 1956, during which time he was the dominant force in Australian anthropology.

The differing approaches and mentoring styles of Radcliffe-Brown and Elkin had a major influence on those who studied or worked under them, including women. The first of these was Camilla Wedgwood (1901-1955) (Wetherell, ADB; Heywood, AWR), a member of the Wedgwood pottery family in Britain, who had studied anthropology at Cambridge. In 1928, Radcliffe-Brown appointed Wedgwood as a temporary lecturer in anthropology at the University of Sydney. She did not at this time conduct her own research; instead she edited books written by male members of the department, Raymond Firth and Bernard Deacon (who had recently died: it was his position Wedgwood was filling). Between 1930 and 1932, Wedgwood lectured at various universities including the University of Capetown in South Africa and the London School of Economics and Political Science. She returned to Australia in 1932 when granted a fellowship by the Australian National Research Council. Elkin, then head of the department, and Firth encouraged Wedgwood to carry out field-work, which she did on Manam, a volcanic island of around four thousand inhabitants off the northern coast of New Guinea, and Nauru. She adopted a 'participant-observer' approach to field work and immersed herself in the culture she was studying. A member of the early cohort of women field workers, which included British Audrey Richards and US scholars Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, Wedgwood established her scholarly reputation with her Manam research but was passed over for tenured positions at both the University of Sydney and the London School of Economics. From 1944 to 1947, she produced a pioneering survey of mission schools in Papua and New Guinea, intended to assist the establishment of a government education scheme. She died in 1955.

Three other women who performed significant anthropological research over the following two decades, studied at the University of Sydney and gained from Wedgewood's presence. One, Phyllis Kaberry (1910-1977) (Cheater, ADB), progressed conventionally through the academic system, while the older Olive Pink (Marcus, ADB; Land, AWR) and Ursula McConnel (Perusco, ADB; Butterworth, AWR) arrived at the study of anthropology via a circuitous route. All three struggled to build stable careers in the area, but there is little doubt they led the way for Australian women to become accepted as professional anthropologists.

Phyllis Kaberry was the first Australian woman to be recognised as a fully trained and qualified anthropologist. She achieved several other 'firsts' along the way; she was the first female Australian anthropologist to complete doctoral work, which she did at the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1938, and the first who took a particularly woman-focused approach to her fieldwork and theories. The US-born Kaberry had moved with her family to Sydney at the age of ten. After finishing secondary school, she completed a BA at the University of Sydney, followed by an MA in anthropology that focused on New Guinea. She studied under Elkin, who encouraged her interest in the women of the cultures she investigated, believing 'female anthropologists were able to give a unique and beneficial perspective of women in various societies'. After completing her MA, Kaberry spent three years studying Aboriginal society in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, funded by an ANRC grant, before undertaking her PhD. She focused on kinship, religion, and the economic and social organisation of women, as well as the influence of European contact on traditional culture. At the LSE, she worked closely with Bronislaw Malinowski. The Kimberley fieldwork and her doctoral studies formed the basis for her first book, Aboriginal Woman Sacred and Profane. Published in 1939, this was the first major anthropological study of Aboriginal women and their roles in sacred ritual, and it influenced many studies of Aboriginal women that would follow.

Kaberry's next foray into fieldwork in New Guinea was cut short when events of World War II forced her to return to Sydney, where she was employed as an honorary assistant lecturer. After the war, she won fellowships to Yale, edited The Dynamics of Culture Change (1945), a posthumous collection of Malinowski's unpublished papers, and held a research assistant position at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs before embarking on the work that was to occupy her for the rest of her life. She was invited by the Colonial Social Science Research Council to investigate the cause of malnutrition in the British Cameroons and, over the next twenty years, would spend a great deal of time in West Africa. The results of her research were published in Women of the Grassfields (1952). In January 1949, Kaberry had joined the staff of University College, London, and was reader in anthropology from 1950 until her retirement in September 1977. She died later that year.

With Camilla Wedgwood, Kaberry was for many years the most prominent female anthropologist in the world. Her work on Indigenous Australian women and West African women was of deep significance: for the extent of her fieldwork, for showing that women anthropologists could develop theories as well as collect field data, and for arguing that Indigenous women were as integral to their society as men and that to ignore this was to produce flawed research. These outcomes attracted considerable criticism from the male-dominated anthropological establishment but were also highly influential on the work of women anthropologists to come. But, even before that, the influence of Kaberry's presence as a tutor within the department was evident.

Ursula McConnel (1888-1957) was born into an outback Queensland grazier family and came to anthropology through the study of psychology, which she began at the age of twenty-five. In 1918, she graduated from Queensland University with first class honours in philosophy and, in 1923, began a doctorate in anthropology at University College, London, although health issues forced her to return to Australia and she did not complete the degree. Her interest in dreams led to an interest in mythology, particularly in primitive beliefs, and then, in the late 1920s, to the study of the Wik-Mungkana people of the Cape York area. Under the supervision of first Radcliffe-Brown and then Elkin at the University of Sydney, McConnel made several field trips to the area between 1927 and 1934, and published numerous articles in Oceania and one book, Myths of the Munkan. Despite these publications, and the award of a fellowship to Yale University in the United States, University College, London, refused to award her a doctorate and the Anthropology Department at Sydney passed her over for academic appointments, which caused her great disappointment. She basically retired in 1935, financially secure from family money and her investments. She died in 1957. McConnel's work had an intellectual rather than observational focus, with a particular interest in Aboriginal women, and, despite lack of recognition during her lifetime, her publications form the foundations of present-day anthropological research on western Cape York Peninsula.

McConnel's contemporary, Olive Pink (1884-1975), born in Hobart, Tasmania, arrived at anthropology through art-which she studied and taught for most of her adult life. Pink's first contact with Aboriginal people occurred on a botanical drawing tour in 1926, when she stayed with Daisy Bates at Ooldea Soak, a watering hole beside the transcontinental railway line that had become home for many Aboriginal people dispossessed of their traditional lands and hunting grounds. Inspired by this experience, Pink attended lectures and classes in anthropology at the University of Sydney, where she was tutored by Phyllis Kaberry, although she did not take a degree. Pink's approach to anthropology was heavily influenced by Daisy Bates. She emulated Bates in dress, and her behaviour was similarly often perceived as eccentric. She did, however, also receive recognition from the anthropological mainstream in the early 1930s, when she was awarded grants from the Australian National Research Council to work among Arrernte people near Alice Springs and Warlpiri people of the Tanami Desert. She published several papers on the Arrernte in 1933 and 1936, and, around this time, she also began writing endless letters to politicians and newspapers to raise the profile and awareness of difficulties faced by Aboriginal people. Her strong criticism of government officials, missionaries and pastoralists, along with her uncompromising demands on politicians, put her offside with many white people, and no further grants were forthcoming. She was also determined and outspoken in opposition to inter-racial sexual relations. She died in Alice Springs in 1975, aged ninety-one, having lived since 1956 on the 'Australian Arid Regions Flora Reserve', of which she was honorary curator. The reserve was renamed the Olive Pink Botanical Garden in 1985, and it is for this, rather than her anthropological work, she is now most remembered.

Postwar to Post-Elkin

The patronage of A.P. Elkin was central to the achievements of these women-as it was to the careers of male anthropologists of the period. Not only was he professor in the only teaching department of anthropology in an Australian university, thus responsible for setting students on their research paths and making academic appointments, he was also chairman of the Anthropology Committee of the ANRC, responsible for allocating funds for anthropological work. He effectively controlled all aspects of the profession in Australia and, with this power, was able to pursue his goal of gathering ethnological material from all Indigenous peoples everywhere in Australia. For this, he needed followers to carry out extensive fieldwork, and he found women to be particularly suitable for such work. Women were not, he thought, capable of the deep analysis of collected information that went into developing large-scale theories of the human race, but he did allow that what he saw as particularly feminine traits, such as patience, eye for detail and capacity to interview others, meant women could be at an advantage when gathering information male anthropologists could then use in the more challenging work of theorising. He also saw that women anthropologists could be useful in finding out more about Aboriginal women and their roles within Indigenous social life and rituals. This was an area that had not received much attention until Kaberry's work, as the gender biases held by most male anthropologists led them to believe women's lives were of little significance and any major discoveries were to be found in the lives of men. Elkin, then, was far from being a feminist crusader, but he was more sympathetic towards women than some male anthropologists, and he happily employed women, albeit in untenured positions, and provided funds for their research.

Two other female anthropologists of note emerged with the support of Elkin from the University of Sydney Department of Anthropology before World War II. These were Catherine Berndt (1918-1994) and Marie Reay (1922-2004). New Zealand-born Catherine Berndt (née Webb) studied under Elkin at Sydney from 1940 to 1943, after completing a BA at Victoria University and a Certificate of Proficiency in Anthropology from the University of Wellington. At Sydney University, she met and married fellow student Ronald Berndt. According to Geoffrey Gray, the 'Berndts were not the brightest and best of Elkin's students-a fact acknowledged by Elkin-yet they went on to accept his mantle as the authorities on all matters to do with Aboriginal Australia and Aboriginal Studies'. Elkin's patronage was crucial to the Berndts' success; it also highlights the way academic positions were filled. As noted earlier, Elkin had recognised a lack of anthropological knowledge about Indigenous women and the Berndts, as a married research team, offered the perfect means to research both men and women at the same time. It was, however, Ronald's career he supported; although Catherine's academic achievements were greater than Ronald's, as a married woman, Catherine's role was to support her husband's career rather than ambitiously pursue her own. Nevertheless, while the Berndts did do a great deal of work as a team, Catherine's field and academic work was extensive in its own right. During the late 1940s, Berndt was able to verify and extend Phyllis Kaberry's observations about Aboriginal women's role in politics, economics and religion through fieldwork in Ooldea, along the Lower Murray and in Arnhem Land. In 1951, she was awarded an Ohio State Fellowship from the International Federation of University Women and Ronald obtained research funds from the Department of Anthropology in the University of Sydney. In the early 1950s, the couple did fieldwork in the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea. New Guinea, always an attraction for Australian-based anthropologists despite the disruptions of World War II, was becoming a more crucial site for research.

Elkin had backed Ronald Berndt as his successor as professor in anthropology at Sydney University but his wishes were not followed and the position was awarded to the Africanist, J.A. Barnes. After Ronald was denied this posting, the Berndts moved to Perth in 1957 to establish a centre of anthropology, which eventually became the Department of Anthropology at the University of Western Australia with Ronald as head of department and professor (Tonkinson, ADB). They both taught within the department, although Catherine only held the positions of visiting tutor and part-time lecturer, and both also continued to research and publish widely. In 1983, the university conferred on Catherine an Honorary D.Litt for her services to anthropology and the university. She held the position of senior honorary research fellow in anthropology from the time of Ronald's retirement in 1982 until her death in 1994.

In 1953, Marie Reay (1922-2004) became the first woman anthropologist to go the Papuan Highlands to conduct fieldwork. Reay had also been a disciple of Elkin in the Anthropology Department of Sydney University and he encouraged her research, including the anthropology of women and the study of race relations in the small towns of north-western NSW and, later, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, most notably among the Kuma. A pioneering ethnographer, Reay was at the forefront of expanding fields in 20th-century Australian anthropology. She was also involved in the expanding academic opportunities in the field. When the Research School of Pacific Studies was established at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1951/52, she moved there to complete her doctoral work, which she did in 1957. In 1959, she was appointed a research fellow at the Research School of Pacific Studies. Reay remained a member of the Department of Anthropology from 1959 until her retirement in 1988, during which time she was promoted to fellow and senior fellow (Young, 81-4).

The departments of anthropology at the University of Western Australia and the ANU may both have been staffed by former students of Elkin, but their formation was still the beginning of the end of Elkin's almost complete control over anthropology in Australia. With his retirement in 1957, new influences began to be felt within the discipline. But despite this, and despite what women in anthropology had achieved so far, it was still very difficult for women to forge ongoing careers in anthropology. As Marie de Lepervanche has put it, women were 'treated woefully by the establishment'. They struggled to be accepted within the profession, had difficulty getting recognition for their work (which was routinely used by their male supervisors) and found it impossible to secure tenured academic positions. As more women entered the field, these difficulties eased slightly, but not entirely, and not quickly.

The first woman to gain tenure in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney was Margaret McArthur (Meyering, AWR), who was appointed lecturer in 1965 and promoted to senior lecturer in 1970. McArthur had taken a BA and MA in science from the University of Melbourne, followed by a postgraduate course in nutrition at the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra. These qualifications led to her joining a New Guinea expedition of the Commonwealth Department of Health. In 1948/49, she was appointed nutritionist in the great Australian-American Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land, one of the largest and most comprehensive scientific expeditions ever undertaken in Australia, covering medicine, nutrition, ethnology and natural history. McArthur researched the quality and quantity of food consumed by the Arnhem Land people, and the experience inspired her to further her qualifications. She undertook a postgraduate diploma in social anthropology at the University of London and two postgraduate fellowships, one from the University of Sydney and another from the Royal Anthropology Institute in London. She then conducted fieldwork in Papua, before returning to Australia for her appointment to the University of Sydney. In 1973/74 Margaret was appointed a senior fellow in the Food Institute of the East-West Center, Hawaii, where she analysed social aspects of nutrition and helped develop training programs in nutrition for the Pacific region. Margaret left Sydney for Honolulu in 1976 to marry Douglas Oliver, professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii (formerly professor at Harvard), who shared her interest in PNG. She died in 2002 (de Lepervanche, 230-1; Harris).

Marie de Lepervanche had been employed within the department before McArthur, but did not gain tenure until some time later. From 1963, she taught as a casual tutor while a postgraduate student, and then rose through the academic hierarchy until she retired as an associate professor in 1993. Her first anthropological publications in 1967-68, 1972 and 1973 were on traditional New Guinea social systems. Her later doctoral fieldwork was among Punjabi Indian settlers on the NSW north coast. This enterprise entailed a critical inquiry into the interrelation of 'race', ethnicity and class in Australian society, an interest that some of her colleagues labelled 'not proper anthropology'. A growing preoccupation during the 1980s with feminist anthropology and gender inequality accompanied her support for the development of a Women's Studies program at the University of Sydney in which she also taught after the program was established in 1990 (Department of Anthropology, Sydney, 'de Lepervanche').

Expanding Parameters

As the increase in research and teaching departments of anthropology removed the focus from Sydney University, so did the influence of women who came to Australia from elsewhere, or who came to anthropology through other disciplines. Such women tended to enter the anthropology profession in Australia without the history of patronage and debt associated with those who had studied under Radcliffe-Brown or Elkin, and their different experience contributed to a widening of focus within the profession from the late 1950s onwards. There was also a little more support for women to have family lives as well as careers. An example is Isobel White, always known as Sally, who had read economics at Cambridge with Milton Keynes; she completed the course in 1933, but, as a woman, was not awarded a degree. In 1938 she married a scientist, Michael White, and by the end of the war they had two sons.

After the war, the family followed Michael's career through appointments in the United States until the early 1950s, when Michael took up the chair of zoology at the University of Melbourne. Here, Isobel continued to pursue an academic interest in anthropology that had begun in the United States. She worked with the Melbourne Museum and the Victorian Anthropology Society, then, in 1964, joined the Anthropology Department at the new Monash University, Melbourne, where she taught and inspired a generation of young anthropology students. Her own fieldwork with Tiwi, as well as with Andagarinja, Jangkundjara and Pidjanjara women, looked at the exclusion of women from male rites examined in the light of reported ignorance of physiological paternity; the role of women in physical procreation and birth; the role of men in spiritual rebirth at initiation; acceptance of junior status by women and reinforcement of male superiority by men. She also undertook the major task of sorting and editing the massive collection of notes collected by Daisy Bates while researching the book she had proposed early in the 20th century. This book was published in 1988 as Daisy Bates, The Native Tribes of Western Australia, ed. Isobel White (McBryde, ix-xi).

Another force in diversifying the direction of Australian anthropological study from the 1960s was Isabel McBryde (1934- ), who studied history at the University of Melbourne, then archaeology at Cambridge. McBryde is notable as an archaeologist; she held a teaching position in prehistory and ancient history at the University of New England before she was appointed senior lecturer in the Department of Prehistory and Anthropology at the Australian National University in 1974. She became professor of prehistory at the ANU in 1986. Although not an anthropologist by training, McBryde's investigations of Australian Aboriginal prehistory inspired and influenced anthropological research. Her sense of the past as 'peopled', alongside her focus on social questions, has informed research interests that combine the fields of archaeology, ethnohistory, historical archaeology and cultural heritage. Retired in 1994, McBryde is professor emerita, Australian National University. She also holds honorary visiting fellowships at the Australian National University and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (Australian Archaeological Association).

Canadian-born Diane Barwick (1938-1986) (Rowse, ADB; Kovacic, 'Barwick', AWR) was also a pioneer in Australia of ethnohistory. As Diane McEachern, she arrived at the ANU to study anthropology under a postgraduate research scholarship. She studied the cultural adjustment of Aboriginal people in Victoria, with a focus on urban and industrial workers. She was particularly sensitive to the Indigenous people's connection to land, and the impact of dispossession, stressing the importance of understanding the historical context. McEachern married a fellow doctoral student, Richard Barwick, in 1961. In 1964, she was a founding member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIAS) and in May 1978 she was the first woman to be elected to its council. Her work was highly influential but this was not reflected in her academic appointments, which were never secure, partly because they crossed the boundaries between the disciplines of history and anthropology. From March 1966 to June 1972, she was a research fellow in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Research School of Pacific Studies, ANU. Between April 1974 and December 1978, she was intermittently employed as a tutor and lecturer in anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and, in 1979/80, she was a temporary research fellow in the Department of History, Research School of Social Sciences. In May 1985, she was appointed by the AIAS in an honorary capacity to establish a national Aboriginal biographical register. Her untimely death from a brain haemorrhage in April 1986 cut short her research, although the work she had completed remains influential.

A contemporary of Barwick, New Zealand-born Gillian Cowlishaw (1934- ) entered the University of Sydney as a mature age student, graduating in 1974 with a BA (Hons) in Anthropology. She proceeded to postgraduate work under the supervision of Dr Lester Hiatt. During her candidature, she led the demands of fellow postgraduate students and part-time tutors for better conditions. After the completion of her PhD in 1980, she held a series of academic appointments at Charles Sturt University's Bathurst campus until 1990 (with a year's break at the ANU), the University of Sydney from 1992 to 1997 and the University of Technology, Sydney, from 1998 to 2005. In 2006, when she was seventy-one, the ARC awarded her an Australian professorial fellowship, which enabled her to embark on new research in Sydney's western suburbs. She was subsequently reappointed as a research professor at the University of Sydney (Department of Anthropology, Sydney, 'Cowlishaw').

Diane Bell (1943- ) was another female anthropologist of this generation who brought Aboriginal women to the fore. Her book, Daughters of the Dreaming, published in 1983, was ground-breaking scholarship; its focus on the religious, spiritual and ceremonial lives of Aboriginal women in central Australia made an indelible mark on Australian anthropology. Her work has also been influential in Aboriginal affairs and policy. Through her research and in giving expert evidence, Bell has been able to demonstrate that Aboriginal women are owners and managers of land in their own right, and it is now well-established practice to have women's councils as part of the decision-making and consultative structures in Aboriginal affairs. Bell is the author/editor of ten books, including several significant monographs on Australian Aboriginal culture and numerous articles and book chapters dealing with religion, land rights, law reform, art, history and social change. She was professor of anthropology and director of women's studies, George Washington University, DC, USA, from 1989 to 2005, after which she became professor emerita. She is also writer and editor in residence at Flinders University, SA, and a visiting professor at University of Adelaide (The Conversation).

Bell's work is indicative of the changing nature of anthropological work, with land-claim evidence and policy advice becoming an increasingly large part of contemporary anthropology. There have been other changes in the interests and concerns of anthropology more generally since the 1960s, some of which are the results of women's contributions to the field. Feminist analysis has widened the parameters of what anthropology means and how anthropological knowledge, with its potential links to economics, human rights and gender relations, can be used in a practical sense. The geographical parameters have also shifted, with a far greater focus on the wider Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Trying to uncover the traditional beliefs of Australia's Indigenous peoples is no longer a central aim of Australian anthropology. The diversity of interests held by the significant number of women anthropologists currently working in Australia reflects this.

Top of their Field

Greater access to secondary and tertiary education for women in the postwar era, and second-wave feminism's support for women entering the work force has seen a steady stream of women forging careers as anthropologists since the 1960s. They undertake both fieldwork and analysis and, through the academic institutions, teach future anthropologists. Within the academy, women have continued at times to find it difficult to secure tenured positions. Nevertheless, a significant number have now reached senior positions in a range of universities across Australia. These include Margaret Jolly, Maila Stivens, Martha Macintyre, Diane Austin-Broos, Deborah Rose and Marcia Langton. The varied areas of investigation, and the theories drawn from them and uses made of them, are an indication of how women continue to break new ground in anthropology.

Margaret Jolly, for example, has written extensively on gender in the Pacific, on exploratory voyages and travel writing, missions and contemporary Christianity, maternity and sexuality, cinema and art. She undertook her first ethnographic research in Vanuatu (then New Hebrides) in the 1970s and was awarded her PhD from the University of Sydney for her thesis Men, Women and Rank in South Pentecost in 1980. Between 1980 and 1986, Jolly worked at Macquarie University and the ANU before being appointed to a permanent position as a senior fellow and head, Gender Relations Centre, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU, in 1995. In 1999, Jolly was promoted to professor in gender and cultural studies/Pacific studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, ANU, a position she held until retirement in 2009 (ANU, 'Jolly').

Maila Stivens also undertook her postgraduate work in anthropology at the University of Sydney and at the London School of Economics. Her early work focused on middle-class kinship in Sydney but, for most of her career, her research has centred on Malaysia, where she has looked at 'matrilineal' Negeri Sembilan, and modernity, work and family among the new Malay middle classes, with publications including Malay Peasant Women and the Land (co-authored, 1994), Matriliny and Modernity: Sexual Politics and Social Change in Rural Malaysia (1996) and Gender and Power in Affluent Asia (co-editor, 1998). Finding major problems with the frameworks then available within anthropology to think about gender in relation to economic activities 'especially the notions of the "economic" and the "domestic"', she has sought different ways to understand gender. Stivens taught anthropology at University College London for ten years from 1977 and, since then, has been based at the University of Melbourne, where she has taught history, anthropology and gender studies. She was director of the gender studies program for many years and is now principal research fellow in the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne (World Who's Who, 'Stivens').

Martha Macintyre studied history at the University of Melbourne before moving on to postgraduate study in anthropology at Cambridge University. She gained her PhD from the Australian National University. From this period on, the main focus of her research has been Papua New Guinea, where she has combined anthropological and historical scholarship with practical and policy concerns as an advisor and consultant to the Papua New Guinea government, AusAID and several multinational corporations. Her earlier work addressed questions about matrilineal kinship and exchange through a historical lens. Her most recent books, including Women Miners in Developing Countries: Pit Women and Others (2006), edited with Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt shows how her concerns with social, economic and cultural changes in Melanesia have persisted and developed through her career. Macintyre has also written extensively on gender, human rights and violence against women. She is a past president of the Australian Anthropological Society and was made a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 2012 (University of Queensland, 'Macintyre'). Macintyre is currently an associate professor and honorary senior fellow at the University of Melbourne.

Australian-born Diane Austin-Broos, like many of her generation, did her undergraduate study in Australia but travelled overseas for postgraduate work. She completed her doctorate in anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1974. She then returned to Australia to teach anthropology and conduct further fieldwork. Her main areas of research have been in Central Australia (among Western Arrernte people at Ntaria/Hermannsburg) and in the Caribbean (mainly Jamaica). Her work focuses on the relation between culture and economy, to which she brings the tools of ethnography and ethno-historical research. She has published two books on her Jamaican research and a much-applauded ethno-historical work on the Western Arrernte of Central Australia, Arrernte Present, Arrernte Past (2009). Her most recent book, A Different Inequality, examines two debates about the representation of remote Aboriginal peoples by the discipline of anthropology. Austin-Broos has long taught at the University of Sydney and is now professor emeritus there. She has been a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia since 1990 (Department of Anthropology, Sydney, 'Austin-Broos').

Deborah Bird Rose, who was born in the United States and educated at the University of Delaware and Bryn Mawr, has since 1980 focused on entwined social and ecological justice, based on long-term research with Aboriginal people in Australia. Her approach is multi-disciplinary-drawing on elements of anthropology, history, philosophy, cultural studies and religious studies-and she has worked with Aboriginal people on Native Title claims. Her doctoral work was inspired by wanting to know how a group of Aboriginal people in outback Australia posed and answered fundamental questions such as why are we born, why do we live, why do we die? Her thesis dealing with these questions became a book, Dingo Makes Us Human: Life and Land in an Australian Aboriginal Culture (1994). Rose is currently completing a book on relations between humans and animals, which brings Aboriginal philosophy into conversation with western philosophy. Rose worked at the ANU for many years and is now professor in the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion at Macquarie University (Ecological Humanities, 'Rose').

Marcia Langton (1951- ) (Francis, AWR) has broken a great deal of new ground as Australia's first Indigenous woman anthropologist. Langton, who gained a BA (Hons) from the ANU in 1984, has been long known for her work in several academic fields, linked by a concern for Indigenous rights, justice and artistic expression. Her PhD in geography from Macquarie University applied phenomenological theory to the study of Aboriginal peoples of the eastern Cape York Peninsula. Langton conducts anthropological research to support land claims by Aboriginal peoples and their negotiations with mining companies and the state. She supports cultural self-expression in Indigenous Australian young adults and has also worked internationally with First Nation rights in Canada, conservation and environmental policies, and providing long-term support to the people of East Timor. In Australia, Langton is a frequent and sometimes controversial media commentator. In 2012, she caused much debate with her claims, made in her series of Boyer Lectures, that settlement with mining companies on Aboriginal land is often more beneficial to local interests than settlement with the Australian government. Langton has also served on various high-level committees on Indigenous issues, including the Centre for Aboriginal Reconciliation, and the Centre for Indigenous Natural and Cultural Resource Management (of which she was director), and hs been chair of the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council, and chair of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, Queensland. In May 2008, the federal government appointed her to a committee looking into reform of the Australian Native Title process. Alongside this work, she has pursued a highly successful academic career, having been appointed the foundation professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne in 2000. She was made a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 2001 (IPCS, 'Langton').

Other leading women anthropologists currently hold highly senior positions at Australian universities. Annette Hamilton, a cultural anthropologist who worked with Indigenous communities in remote Australia until the mid-1980s, when she began working on visual anthropology in Southeast Asia, is professor of film studies and media anthropology at the University of New South Wales, having previously worked at Macquarie University (School of the Arts and Media, UNSW). Helen Lee, whose research has focused on the people of Tonga in the South Pacific and Tongans who have migrated and settled in countries such as Australia, is professor and head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at La Trobe University in Melbourne (Humanities & Social Sciences, LaTrobe). Victoria Burbank is professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Western Australia, where she carries out research into health determinants in Australian Aborigines (UWA Staff Profile). Franscesca Merlan is professor of anthropology at the ANU. She has undertaken research over many years in Northern Australia into changes in the lives of Aboriginal people who have moved into regional towns. She has also been involved in the processes (land and native title claims) by which the state has sought to regulate and restore Indigenous associations with land (ANU, 'Merlan'). Also notable is Veronica Strang, a cultural anthropologist who has conducted a great deal of research in northern Australia and among Indigenous people along the Mitchell River in Queensland. She was professor of anthropology at the University of Auckland before taking up a post as the executive director of Durham University's Institute of Advanced Study in 2012 (Durham University, 'Strang').

Anthropology in Australia has changed markedly over the 20th century and, among those changes, has been a greater recognition of the role of women researchers within the field. That role has always been significant. The contribution of women has done a great deal to advance anthropological knowledge and extend the understanding of what might constitute that knowledge. As with the profession as a whole, particularly in the earlier half of the century, not all women anthropologists have shown sensitivity or respect for the people and cultures they have researched; some, indeed, have been damaging. But they have all extended the scope of the discipline. Women have been pioneers of fieldwork, both accidentally, as with the station ethnographers, and more intentionally. They have also broken through restrictions to gain the highest academic positions available. They have led, and continue to lead, the field down diverse paths and towards unexpected concerns.

Archival Resources

Australian Museum

  • The Mary Bundock Collection: Australia, late 19th century, 1870 - 1895, AM0042; Australian Museum. Details

Australian National University Archives

  • Marie Reay collection, 1940 - 2006, AU ANUA 440; Australian National University Archives. Details

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection

  • Camilia H. Wedgwood (1901-1955) [manuscript] : perspectives of an early anthropologist 1981, 1901 - 1955, MS 6484; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details
  • Papers of Camilla Wedgwood, 1928 - 1954, MS 483; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details
  • Papers of Camilla Wedgwood, 1913 - 1955, MS Acc 11.020; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Isabel McBryde interviewed by Martin Thomas, 17 August 2004 - 19 August 2004, ORAL TRC 5194; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

State Library of Victoria

  • Records, 1772-2006 [manuscript]. Diane Barwick 1938-1986., 1772 - 2006, MS 13521; State Library of Victoria. Details

Published Resources

Australian Women's Register Entries


  • Austin-Broos, Diane, A Different Inequality: The Politics of Debate About Remote Aboriginal Australia, Foreward by Myers, Fred, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, New South Wales, 2011, 200 pp. Details
  • Bates, Daisy, The Passing of the Aborigines: A Lifetime Spent Amoung the Natives of Australia, Murray, London, England, 1938. Details
  • Bell, Diane, Daughters of Dreaming, 3rd edn, Spinifex Press, North Melbourne, Victoria, 2002. Details
  • Kaberry, Phyllis, Aboriginal woman: sacred and profane, Routledge &​ Kegan Paul, London, England, 1939. Details
  • Macfarlane, Ingereth, Many Exchanges: Archaeology, History, Community and the Work of Isabel McBryde, Aboriginal History, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2005. Details
  • McGregor, Russell, Imagined Destinies: Aboriginal Australians and the Doomed Race Theory, 1880-1939, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1997. Details
  • Moreton-Robinson, Aileen, Talkin' Up to the White Woman: Indigenous Women and Feminism, University of Queensland Press (UQP), Brisbane, Queensland, 2000. Details
  • Paisley, Fiona, Loving Protection: Australian Feminism and Aboriginal Women's Rights 1919-39, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 2000. Details
  • Rose, Deborah bird, Dingo Makes Us Human: Life and Land in an Australian Aboriginal Culture, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1992. Details
  • Standish, Ann, Australia through Women's Eyes, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, Victoria, 2008. Details
  • Toussaint, Sandy, Phyllis Kaberry and Me: Anthropology, History and Aboriginal Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1999. Details

Book Sections

  • Evans, Julie, 'Katie Langloh Parker and the Beginnings of Ethnography in Australia', in Davis, Fiona, Musgrove, Nell and Smart, Judith (eds), Founders, Firsts and Feminists: Women Leaders in Twentieth-Century Australia, The University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, 2011, pp. 13-26. Details
  • Reay, Marie, 'An Innocent in the Garden of Eden', in Hays, Terrence E (ed.), Ethnographic Presents: Pioneering Anthropologists in the Papua New Guinea Highlands, University of California Press, Berkeley, United States of America, 1992, pp. 137 - 166. Details
  • Standish, Ann, 'Daisy Bates: Dubious Leadership', in Francis, Rosemary; Grimshaw, Patricia; and Standish, Ann (eds), Seizing the Initiative: Australian Women Leaders in Politics, Workplaces and Communities, The University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, 2012, pp. 89-105. Details
  • White, Isobel, 'Daisy Bates: Legend and Reality', in Marcus, Julie (ed.), First in their Field: Women and Australian Anthropology, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1993. Details

Edited Books

  • Hilsdon, Anne-Marie, Macintyre, Martha, Mackie, Vera and Stivens, Maila (eds), Human Rights and Gender Politics: Asia-Pacific Perspectives, Routledge, New York, United States of America, 2011. Details
  • Marcus, Julie (ed.), First in their Field: Women and Australian Anthropology, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, 1993. Details
  • White, Isobel (ed.), The Native Tribes of Western Australia, Bates, Daisy, National Library of Australia (NLA), Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1988. Details

Journal Articles

  • de Lepervanche, Marie, 'Obituary: Annie Margaret McArthur', The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 13, no. 2, 2002, pp. 230 - 231. Details
  • Grey, Geoffrey, 'You are if I may say so, my anthropological children: Patronage and the early anthropological career of Ronald Berndt and Catherine Berndt, 1940 - 1956', Aboriginal History, vol. 29, 2005, pp. 77 - 106. Details
  • Grey, Geoffrey and Munro, Doug, 'Australian Aboriginal anthropology at the crossroads: Finding a successor to A. P. Elkin, 1955', The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 22, no. 3, December 2011, pp. 351 - 369. Details
  • McBryde, Isabel, 'A Tribute to Isobel Mary White', Aboriginal History, vol. 21, 1997, pp. ix - xi. Details
  • Specht, Ray L, 'Obituary: Margaret Marthur Oliver 1919 - 2002', Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 12, no. 2, 2003, pp. 127 - 128. Details
  • Sutton, Peter, 'Ronald and Catherine Berndt: An Appreciation', Anthropological Forum: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology, vol. 11, no. 2, 2001, pp. 121 - 124. Details
  • White, Isobel, 'Mrs Bates and Mr Brown: An Examination of Rodney Needham's Allegations', Oceania, vol. 51, no. 3, March 1981, pp. 193 - 210. Details
  • White, Isobel, 'Catherine Helen Berndt', Oceania, vol. 65, no. 1, September 1994, pp. 1 - 3. Details
  • Young, Michael W., 'Marie Olive Reay, Born Maitland, NSW, Died Booragul, NSW, 16 September 2004, Aged 82', The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, vol. 6, no. 1, 2005, pp. 81 - 84. Details


  • Kijas, J. C., 'Unfashionable Concern with the Past', MA thesis, The University of Melbourne, 1993. Details

Online Resources