Woman Pink, Olive (1884 - 1975)

Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
Anthropologist, Artist and Botanist

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Olive Pink was born in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1884. Her initial training, and passion, was in drawing - particularly botanical drawing. She studied art at the Hobart Technical College, then at Julian Ashton's school in Sydney, before briefly teaching art to private students. It was art that led her to her second passion, anthropology and the welfare of Aboriginal people. Her first contact with Aborigines occurred in 1926, when, on a drawing tour, she stayed with Daisy Bates at Ooldea Soak, along the transcontinental railway line. When Pink returned to Sydney from this trip, she attended lectures and tutorials in Anthropology at the University of Sydney (as a non-degree student). She was tutored by Phyllis Kaberry and became active in the Anthropological society of New South Wales. In 1933 she travelled to Central Australia to conduct field work among the Arnada people.

Pink's approach to anthropology was heavily influenced by Daisy Bates. She emulated her in dress and some of her behaviour was seen as eccentric and irked many people in positions of authority. She did, however, also receive recognition from the anthropological mainstream in the early 1930s, when she was awarded grants from the Australian National Research Council to work among the Arrernte people near Alice Springs and the Warlpiri people of the Tanami Desert. She published several papers on the Arrernte in 1933 and 1936, but around this time she began writing endless letters to politicians and newspapers to raise the profile and awareness of difficulties faced by Aboriginal people. Her strong criticism of government officials, missionaries and pastoralists, along with uncompromising demands made on politicians, put her offside with many white people, and no further grants were forthcoming. She was also determined and outspoken in opposition to inter-racial relations. She died in Alice Springs in 1975, aged ninety-one, having lived since 1956 on the 'Australian Arid Regions Flora Reserve', of which she was honorary curator. She had developed this reserve with Johnny Jambijimba Yannarilyi. The reserve was renamed the Olive Pink Botanical Garden in 1985, and it is for this, rather than her anthropological work, that she is now most remembered.

Published Resources


  • Marcus, Julie, Yours Truly, Olive M Pink, Olive Pink Society, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1991. Details
  • Marcus, Julie, The Indomitable Miss Pink: A Life in Anthropology, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 2001. Details

Online Resources