Woman Barwick, Diane Elizabeth (1938 - 1986)

Activist, Anthropologist and Ethnohistorian
Alternative Names
  • McEachern (Maiden)

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Diane McEachern was born in Canada in 1938 to Ronald and Beatrice McEachern. Ronald was a forest worker and Diane grew up in logging camps. She studied by correspondence, apart from one year at a high school, before attending the University of British Columbia. Here she completed a BA in Anthropology; her thesis focused on the subculture of the loggers of Englewood Valley and was based on fieldwork conducted in a number of logging camps.

After a year researching West Coast Indian material culture and ethnohistory for the Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology, in Victoria BC, McEachern travelled to Canberra in 1960 to study anthropology at the ANU under a postgraduate research scholarship. Her research focused on the cultural adjustment of Aboriginal people in Victoria, and she spent a year conducting fieldwork with urban and industrial workers, at their workplaces and at home. She was particularly sensitive to Indigenous peoples' connection to land, and the impact of dispossession; her work stressed the importance of understanding the historical context of colonialism. She came to believe that historical scholarship must complement ethnography if there was to be any possibility of understanding Aboriginality in the 1960s.

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 her work crossed the boundaries between 'history' and 'anthropology' and was seen as belonging to neither discipline. 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 employed as a casual 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.

During this period, she was a dedicated supporter and promoter of Aboriginal history and Aboriginal historians. She was a founding editor of the journal Aboriginal History in 1977-82 and a co-editor of the Handbook for Aboriginal and Islander History (1979). Her writing about Aboriginal women in Victoria demonstrated the importance of family to Aboriginal communities and the impact of government neglect and betrayal during the colonial period and well into the twentieth century. In 1980, she became involved in the Aboriginal Treaty Committee, working to ensure some official recognition, and protection, of Aboriginal rights. As friend and colleague Diane Bell wrote, 'Diane's interest in social and political anthropology was not merely academic, nor was it of the flamboyant kind. Diane's pen was her means of protest and persuasion' (Bell).

Diane Barwick died from a brain haemorrhage in April 1986 at the age of 47. During twenty years spent in Australia, she did a great deal to shape Aboriginal studies and develop an approach in which historical and anthropological research interacted. Her untimely death left her friends and colleagues with a sense of grief that included the loss of any future work. Barwick's husband, Richard, and their daughter, Laura, edited her last manuscript and published it in 1998 as Rebellion at Coranderrk.

Archival Resources

State Library of Victoria

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

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Barwick, Diane Elizabeth, 'And the Lubras are Ladies Now', in Gale, Fay (ed.), Women’s Role in Aboriginal Society, Australian Institute of Australian Studies, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1970. Details

Edited Books

  • Barwick, Diane; Mace, Michael; and Stannage, Tom (eds), Handbook for Aboriginal and Islander History, Aboriginal History, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1979. Details
  • Barwick, Laura E and Barwick, Richard E (eds), Rebellion at Coranderrk, Barwick, Diane Elizabeth, Aboriginal History, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1998. Details
  • White, Isobel; Barwick, Diane; and Meehan, Betty (eds), Fighters and Singers: The Lives of Some Aboriginal Women, George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, New South Wales, 1985. Details


  • Barwick, Diane Elizabeth, 'A Little More Than Kin: Regional Affiliation and Group Identity amoung Aboriginal Migrants in Melbourne', PhD thesis, Australian National University (ANU), 1963. Details
  • Kijas, J. C., 'Unfashionable Concern with the Past', MA thesis, The University of Melbourne, 1993. Details

Online Resources