Woman McGrath, Ann Margaret


Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Ann McGrath is a leader in the history profession, who has contributed to Indigenous Australian history and the history of colonialism in significant ways. McGrath graduated with a BA (Hons) degree with Honours in History from the University of Queensland in 1976. She was awarded her PhD from LaTrobe University for her thesis We grew up the stations: Europeans, aborigines and cattle in the Northern Territory in 1984.

After completing her undergraduate degree McGrath was appointed Lecturer, Darwin Community College, lecturing in Northern Territory and Australian History (1979-1982). From 1983 to 1985 she was Senior Tutor, Monash University before taking up an appointment at the History Department, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) where she was promoted to Associate Professor in 1994. In 1997 McGrath was awarded the Archibald Hannah Junior Fellowship at the Beinecke Library, Yale University. On her return she was seconded to the Centre for Cross Cultural Studies, Australian National University, in Canberra where she was appointed Senior Fellow. In 2000 McGrath took up an appointment as Program Director, Society and Nation, National Museum of Australia, a position she held until 2003 when she was appointed Professor of History and inaugural Director, Australian Centre for Indigenous History, Research, School of Social Sciences, the Australian National University.

In 1987 McGrath published Born in the cattle: Aborigines in cattle country, for which she was short-listed for the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Non-Fiction in the following year. This work also won the W.K. Hancock Prize for history- Inaugural Award. An e-Edition was published in 2006. She is also the author of:Writing histories: imagination and narration, with Ann Curthoys (2000); How to write history that people want to read , with Ann Curthoys (2009); and Creating A Nation: 1788-2007, co-authored with Patricia Grimshaw, Marilyn Lake and Marian Quartly (2006). Creating a Nation won the Human Rights Award for non-fiction and was short-listed for a South Australian Literary Award in the Non-fiction category in 1995. McGrath has also published edited works, including: Aboriginal workers, with Kay Saunders and Jackie Huggins (1995); Contested ground: Australian Aborigines under the British crown (1995; e-Edition 2007); and Proof & truth: the humanist as expert, with Iain McCalman (2003). In 2007 McGrath co-edited Exchanging Histories with Frances Peters-Little and Ingereth MacFarlane. This volume commemorated the thirtieth edition of Aboriginal History. McGrath has served as a Member of the Editorial Board of Aboriginal History Journal, Transnational Subjects, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Public History Review, Labour History, Journal of Australian Studies and the Journal of the Royal Historical Society Queensland.

McGrath has held positions on a number of boards, committees and advisory groups: Member of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Advisory Committee (2011-); Member, Council of the Australian National University (2008-2012); Head of History Program, Research School of Social Sciences (2008-2009); Participant in Future of Indigenous Australia theme, Australia 2020 Summit (2008); ANU Indigenous Strategic Planning Committee (2007-2008); Vice President, Aboriginal History Committee (2007-2011); Board Member, Aboriginal History Committee (2003-2011); Content & Education Sub-Committee, Indigenous Strategic Planning (2007-2008); Board of Management, National Institute Indigenous Studies, ANU (2004-2006); Board of Management, National Institute for the Humanities, ANU (2003-2004); Board of Management, ANU Institute for Indigenous Australia (2003); Board of Management, Graduate Program for Indigenous Studies (2003); Advisory Committee, International Museum of Women, California (2000- ); Convenor, Australian Women's History Network (1997-2000); Australian representative, International Federation for Research in Women's History (1998-2000); Executive Member, Australian Historians Association (1998-2000); Executive Member, Australian Cultural Studies Association (1998-2000); Heritage Expert Committee on Register of Sites, Australian Heritage Commission (1999); Women's History Month Committee (1997-2000); Founding President, History Council of NSW (1997-1998); NSW representative, International Federation for Research in Women's History (1996-1997); Interim President History Council NSW (1996); Director, Centre for Community History, UNSW (1996-1997); and Founding Member Australian Historian's Reference Group.

In 1991 McGrath acted as National History Coordinator, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Her consultancy and outreach work has also included working as an expert witness in the Gunner & Cubillo case and in various Northern Territory land claims. McGrath has an interest in presenting scholarly history in a range of genres and has been involved in public history projects. In 2000 she initiated the 'Births of a Nation: Women, Childbirth and Federation' at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, securing a Centenary of Federation Large Grant, acting as an advisor and working on the development of this exhibition, which also travelled around New South Wales. The exhibition was awarded a NSW Department of Education Award (2002). McGrath acted as Senior Curator, Developer and Program Director on the 'Outlawed! Bushrangers, Rebels, Revolutionaries', Large Scale Exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in 2003-2004. The exhibition later traveled to the Museum of Melbourne. McGrath produced the film A Frontier Conversation (Wonderland Productions, Ronin distributors, 2006) and has worked as an advisor on various television and film projects. She worked as a Script Advisor on The Colony. She has won various Australian Research Council grants and has worked on a range of collaborative research projects with Indigenous communities around Australia, including leading a large team that developed a digital history site entitled Deepening Histories of Place, and worked on a history and film about Lake Mungo and Australia's deep past.

McGrath's work has also been recognized with the Human Rights Award for Non-fiction and the John Barrett Prize (1992). She was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 2004 and is also a Member Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. In 2007 McGrath received an Order of Australia Medal for service to education, particularly in the field of Indigenous history, as a teacher, researcher and author, and through leadership roles with a range of history-related organisations. Her work has also received international recognition including the award of received an Honorary Doctorate (Hedersdoktorer) from Linnaeus University, Sweden in 2011. She was awarded a Rockefeller Residency at Bellagio for 2013 and was invited to become a Member of the School of Social Sciences, Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton for 2013-4.

Additional sources: Personal Communication between Sharon M. Harrison and Ann McGrath, July 2013.

Published Resources


  • Grimshaw, Patricia; Lake, Marilyn, McGrath, Ann and Quartly, Marian, Creating a Nation, Penguin Books, Melbourne, Victoria, 1994. Details

Journal Articles

  • McGrath, Ann and Stevenson, Winona, 'Gender, Race and Policy: Aboriginal Women and the State in Canada and Australia', Australia and Canada: Labour Compared, A special edition of Labour / Le Travail 38 (Fall 1996) and Labour History, no. 71, November 1996, pp. 37-53. Details

Online Resources

  • 'Professor Ann McGrath: Professor of History, Director of the Australian Centre for Indigenous History', in Australian National University (ANU): ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences: School of History, Australian National University (ANU), 1 December 2011, http://history.cass.anu.edu.au/people/ann%20mcgrath. Details

See also