Woman Gale, Gwendoline Fay (1932 - 2008)


13 June 1932
Balaklava, South Australia, Australia
3 May 2008
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Alternative Names
  • Gilding (Maiden, 1932 - 1957)

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Fay Gale was an academic leader in the fields of Australian cultural geography and Australian Indigenous Studies, who undertook pioneering work into the assimilation of Indigenous people of mixed racial heritage and the marginalisation of the Stolen Generation. Her influential scholarship opened up new areas of thought and research, anticipating the cultural turn in Australian geography. During a distinguished academic career that spanned over three decades Gale achieved many firsts, paving the way for the women who followed. Later in her career, Gale held high level leadership appointments in university administration and contributed to the advancement of women within academia in significant ways as a passionate advocate for equal opportunity for Indigenous Australians and women.

Gale was born Gwendoline Fay Gilding in Balaklava, South Australia, on 13 June 1932 where her father Rev. Jasper Gilding was a Methodist minister. Her mother was Kathleen Gilding (née Pengelley). During her childhood, Gale spent time in the South Australian towns to which her father's job as a Methodist minister took her family. She was dyslexic and enjoyed reading maps more than words (Geographical Research 46 (4): 468). Gale was educated at Magill Primary School and Rosefield Primary School, in South Australia, completing her secondary schooling at Methodist Ladies College in Adelaide. Her parents hosted Aborigines from the missions who stayed with the family when they travelled to the Adelaide, including Edna Walker, Linda Vale and Gladys Mayne, who had been forcibly removed from their families in the Northern Territory and had spent much of their lives on a remote mission settlements before being sent to Adelaide. The three became Gale's foster sisters, building friendships that she would cherish for the rest of her life. The women remained part of Gale's extended family, with Gladys Mayne and Linda Vale serving as bridesmaids at Gale's wedding to Milton Ewart Gale in 1957.

Gale was awarded her BA (Hons) in 1954 and was the first to graduate from the University of Adelaide with Honours in Geography. Following her graduation she taught at Walford School in Adelaide, where one of her pupils included Margaret Clunies Ross, before commencing a PhD at the University of Adelaide in 1957 under the supervision of internationally acclaimed Australian geographer Sir Archibald Grenfell-Price and Graham Lawton. Her thesis, 'A study of assimilation: Part Aborigines in South Australia', was the first to explore the lives of part-Aboriginal women-the term then used for those who were of mixed racial descent-who had been taken from their mothers in infancy. Her childhood experiences with her Aboriginal fosters sisters inspired her research (Sydney Morning Herald, 4 June 2008). Gale was conscious of the way her Indigenous foster sisters were treated differently, realising that young black women were treated badly on the basis of their skin colour and wanted to understand why this was so. Gale spent three years, travelling the length and breadth of rural South Australia. Living out of the back of a truck, sitting in the sand in fringe camps and visiting government reserves she talked to non-traditional Indigenous people. Gale was the first to graduate with a PhD in Geography at the University of Adelaide when her PhD was awarded in 1962. Her research highlighted the inequitable position of Indigenous Australians and the negative impact of government and church policies based on protectionism and segregation. When the thesis was published by the Libraries Board of South Australia in 1964, Gale's findings were widely reported and debated in the South Australian Parliament. In a review of Gale's book, Australian anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner praised her study, 'It is the best study of its kind that to my knowledge has appeared in Australia' (The Canberra Times, 8 August 1964, 2). Her early research activity amongst Aboriginal communities represents in many cases the only written records of some people. The research was part of a body of work relied upon by the 1995 Hindmarsh Island Royal Commission in making its determination. This led to severe criticism by the State and Federal bureaucracy and the press of the veracity of the material. Gale maintained strong links with Indigenous communities throughout her personal and working lives and her research was influential in the move towards citizenship and land rights for Indigenous people, and the introduction in South Australia of the nation's first anti-discrimination act.

After raising two young children, Gale accepted a lectureship in Geography at the University of Adelaide in 1966, gaining promotion to Senior Lecturer in 1971. In 1975 she was promoted to Reader and to Professor three years later. Gale's promotion marked the appointment of the first female Professor at a South Australian university and the first female Professor of Geography at an Australian University. It would be almost ten years before the University of Adelaide appointed another female professor. Her former students recall her as an inspiring teacher, who had a profound impact on her students including Kay Anderson, Jane M. Jacobs, Richard Baker and Joy Wundersitz (Anderson, 2008). In 1988, Gale became Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Adelaide. Two years later she was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia (UWA), a post she held until her retirement in 1997.

Gale was a strong supporter of equal opportunity for women in academia, developing programs for equal opportunity and equity in the university sector. As Vice Chancellor of the University of Western Australia, she initiated a raft of programs to eliminate discrimination against women, including the repeal of a by-law disallowing the presence of children in campus buildings, the introduction of child care services, the provision of a plan for the safety of women on campus at night and the introduction of services for women students who had been raped. In 1997, she established the Fay Gale Fellowship with an initial grant of $I million. Formulated on equity grounds, these scholarships recognise the disadvantage caregivers experience in caring for children, aged parents and spouses. Gale also instituted on a thorough examination of the area of PhD supervision for women-an issue which had become the subject of serious concern because of the under-representation of women candidates and their treatment by male supervisors. Following her retirement from her post in Western Australia, Gale observed she had made it to the top only with great difficulty: 'It's lonely and it's tough,' she said. 'It means family sacrifices and it also means you are under a lot of constant criticism-criticism that most male academics or vice chancellors do not have to endure. But until Australia has 50% female and male representation among academics, we will not have the highest quality staff' (University World News, 8 June 2008). As a woman and a mother, Gale had a strong appreciation of the issues faced by women in academia. She became the family breadwinner after her husband suffered a heart attack in 1969, and raised two children as a single parent following their later divorce.

Over her career, Gale held many appointments on many boards and committees. She served as a councillor and President of the Australian Institute of Geographers and a Commissioner with the National Heritage Commission from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. Her work helped to ensure greater protection for Aboriginal rock-art sites. Gale served on the Australian Research Council and represented Australia on the Council of the Association of Commonwealth Universities-the first woman to be elected to the Council. In 1995 she was the elected President of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee, the first female President, serving from 1996 to 1997. Gale was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia in 1978 and after her retirement served as President of the Academy (1997-2000). She was subsequently elected President of the Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils (2001-2004). Other appointments included: Patron of Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (2001-2003); Chair of the Festival of Perth Board of Management; Chair of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra Advisory Board; Member, Prime Minister's Science and Engineering Council; Member, Prime Ministers Science, Technology and Innovation Council; member of the National Committee of UNESCO; Consultant, Australian National Parks and Wild Life Service, NSW National Parks; and Consultant, National Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions Advisory Group, Department of Health and Ageing (Australia).

Gale extended her research in the 1960s and 1970s, especially around the marginalisation of what came later to be called the Stolen Generation publishing her book Urban Aborigines in 1972. Later research looked at Indigenous poverty and the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in the juvenile justice systems. Gale's published works include: A study of assimilation: Part Aborigines in South Australia (1964); Urban Aborigines (1972); Poverty among Aboriginal families in Adelaide: research report, with Joan Binnion (1975); Race relations in Australia: the Aborigines, with Alison Brookman (1975); Adelaide Aborigines: a case study of urban life, 1966-1981, with Joy Wundersitz (1982); Tourists and the national estate: procedures to protect Australia's heritage, with Jane M. Jacobs (1987); Aboriginal youth and the law: problems of equity and justice for black minorities (1985); Aboriginal youth and the criminal justice system: the injustice of justice?, with Rebecca Bailey-Harris and Joy Wundersitz (1990); Tourism and the protection of Aboriginal cultural sites, with Jane M. Jacobs (1994). Her edited works include: Settlement & encounter: geographical studies presented to Sir Grenfell Price, with Graham H. Lawton (1969); Woman's role in Aboriginal society (1970, 1974, 1978); We are bosses ourselves: the status and role of Aboriginal women today (1983); Cultural geographies, with Kay Anderson (1992, 1999) (previously published as Inventing Places; and Juvenile justice: debating the issues, with Ngaire Naffine and Joy Wundersitz (1993). Many of Gale's publications were written or edited with former students whom she continue to mentor through their early careers and beyond.

Gale was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australian in 1989 in recognition of service to social science, particularly in the fields of geography and Indigenous Studies. Shle delivered the ABC Radio Boyer Lectures with Ian Lowe in 1991. Gale died in Adelaide on 3 May 2008 aged seventy-five. In 2009 the University of Adelaide established an interdisciplinary research centre, the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender, in her name.

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