Woman Curthoys, Ann (1945 - )

5 September 1945
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Ann Curthoys was born on 5 September 1945 in Sydney, the daughter of Geoffrey Carlton Curthoys who taught chemistry at the University of Newcastle, and Barbara Lindsay McCallum who worked as a psychologist at Stockton Mental Hospital. Both of her parents were members of the Communist Party until 1970. Her mother was also involved in the Union of Australian Women, which was strongly committed to Aboriginal rights and was integral to the establishment of the Newcastle Trades Hall Aboriginal Advancement Committee. It is through her mother's activism that Curthoys first met Indigenous Australians and was introduced to Aboriginal activism.

Curthoys was educated at Newcastle Girls' High School and the University of Sydney. She was in the third year of her Arts degree, specialising in Modern History, when she participated in the 1965 Student Action for Aborigines Survey and Demonstration Bus Tour, or, as it became known, the Freedom Ride, a bus tour through some New South Wales towns. Undertaken by a group of students, mainly from the University of Sydney, the aim of the ride was non-violent direct action in towns where investigations showed that there was racial discrimination. The students also prepared questionnaires on issues such as health, housing and education, conducting surveys in towns that they visited. Curthoys graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in 1967 and also holds a Diploma in Education from Sydney Teachers' College. She then undertook a PhD at Macquarie University on the history of race relations in New South Wales in the mid nineteenth century, comparing British colonists' attitudes to Chinese immigration with attitudes to Aboriginal people, graduating in 1973.

While completing her PhD, Curthoys worked as a sessional tutor at Macquarie University. On submission of her PhD thesis, Curthoys left Australia to travel through Asia and then to London, arriving in September 1973, where she undertook clerical work. She worked again as a sessional tutor at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CAE), and was a research assistant on the Women in Australia project led by Kay Daniels as part of International Women's Year in 1975. This project produced a series of guides to records concerning Australian women's history, and was important for the emerging field of women's history.

Curthoys was involved in the women's movement from 1970 and wrote on feminist theory and history. She established the Women's Studies Program at the Australian National University in 1976. From 1978, she taught courses in Australian History, Women's History, and Social Theory at the New South Wales Institute of Technology (from 1988 the University of Technology, Sydney). In 1988 she helped establish a graduate program in Applied History, and in the same year became the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, a position she held for three years. In 1995 Curthoys took up the Chair of History (later the Manning Clark Chair of History) at the Australian National University, where her teaching included a specialist course on Aboriginal history, and courses in Australian History and History and Theory. In 2003-4 Curthoys was the G08 Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at the Centre for Australian and New Zealand Studies, at the Georgetown University in Washington DC. She was elected to the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 1997 and the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2003.

Curthoys has published widely on Australian history and the theory of history. In 2002 she published Freedom ride: a freedom rider remembers, based on her recollections of the Freedom Ride, drawing upon her diary from the journey, the recollections of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who were involved, and extensive archival and newspaper research. Her other books include Is History Fiction?, co-authored with John Docker, (2005, revised edition 2010) and How to Write History That People Want to Read, with Ann McGrath (2009).

Curthoys married John Docker in 1971, they have one son.

Archival Resources

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

  • Freedom ride papers of Ann Curthoys, 1929 - 2003, MS 4186; Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). Details

Published Resources

Edited Books

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

Online Resources

See also