Woman McArthur, Annie Margaret (1919 - 2002)

Melbourne, Australia
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America
Anthropologist and Dietitian

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Annie Margaret MacArthur, who was born in Melbourne in 1919, was the first woman to gain tenure in an Anthropology Department in an Australian university when she was appointed lecturer at the University of Sydney in 1965. McArthur discovered anthropology through her training as a dietician. In the 1940s, she had taken a BA and MA in science from the University of Melbourne, with a focus on biochemistry and bacteriology. She worked first at the CSIRO in Canberra, during which time she completed a postgraduate course in nutrition at the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra. Her combined skills and qualifications led to her joining a New Guinea expedition of the Commonwealth Department of Health, an experience she found inspiring.

In 1948/49, MacArthur was appointed nutritionist on the great Australian-American Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land. This was one of the largest and most comprehensive scientific expeditions ever undertaken in Australia, with an ambit that included research into medicine, nutrition, ethnology and natural history. McArthur investigated the quality and quantity of food consumed by the people of Arnhem Land, and compiled a groundbreaking report that changed generally accepted views on women's contribution to Aboriginal diet and social economy.

The experience moved her to further her qualifications. She undertook a post-graduate diploma in Social Anthropology at the University of London and two post-graduate 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 to take up her appointment at the University of Sydney. In 1970, she was promoted to senior lecturer. In 1973 and 1974 McArthur worked as a Senior Fellow in the Food Institute of the East-West Center, Hawaii where she undertook an analysis of the social aspects of nutrition and assisted in developing training programs in nutrition for the Pacific region. She left Sydney for Honolulu in 1976 to marry Douglas Olivier, a retired Professor of Anthropology from Harvard, who shared her interest in PNG. She died in 2002.

Archival Resources

University of Sydney, Archives

  • Personal papers of Dr Annie Margaret McArthur, 1919 - 2002, P205; University of Sydney, Archives. Details

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • de Lepervanche, Marie, 'Obituary: Annie Margaret McArthur', The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 13, no. 2, 2002, pp. 230 - 231. 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

Online Resources