Woman Saunders, Kay Elizabeth Bass (1947 - )

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Kay Saunders is a leader in the history profession, who has contributed to the discipline in Australia, especially in the areas of war and society, gender and race relations.

Saunders was born in Brisbane in 1947. She is the daughter of Eric and Elizabeth Saunders. Her father came from the professional middle class, his father, Frank Walter Saunders having been at Kings College Cambridge with poet Rupert Brooke. His family were involved in the Liberal Party in United Kingdom, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Women's Social and Political Union, which campaigned for women's suffrage. Frank Saunders came to Australia in 1909 while touring the empire and enrolled in Australian Light Horse in 1914. Saunders's paternal grandmother arrived in Australia from Cambridge in 1911. She was in the Women's Patriotic League and supporter of conscription. Her brother, journalist Hubert Ebenezer Sizer (1893-1973), enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 4 September 1914 and, as a member of the 9th Battalion, took part in the Gallipoli landing. After promotion to corporal he was invalided to England and discharged as medically unfit in June 1916. On his return to Australia, Sizer's war experiences caused him to transfer his allegiance from the Labor Party. He now energetically supported the conscription campaigns of W. M. Hughes and traversed Queensland addressing recruiting rallies. Presiding over the formation of the Returned Soldiers and Patriots' League, Sizer vehemently opposed the anti-conscriptionist stance of T. J. Ryan's Labor government. Elected to Queensland Parliament as a Nationalist, United, Country/National representative, he served as a member of Queensland Parliament from 1918 to 1935.

Saunders' maternal great grandfather, Patrick Duff, was a Scottish Catholic from Ayr who arrived in Queensland in 1878. He went to Charters Towers where he married a west Irishwoman Catherine McMahon and went into itinerant mining. Their daughter Elizabeth Duff married miner Peter Walsh. Saunders' mother was born Elizabeth Walsh in 1917 in Kuradila west of what became Mt Isa. Her maternal uncles all hoped to become Christian Brothers but had to run the cane farm in Sarina. Coming from such different backgrounds, Eric and Elizabeth Saunders had a difficult marriage, with Elizabeth suffering a severe untreated bi-polar disorder and Eric left debilitated for life by an injury at the Battle of El Alamein.

Saunders attended Windsor Primary School, Yeronga Sate High School, Cooparoo College and Hubbard's Academy. After school she worked in Canberra in 1965 in the Department of the Army where she changed from being a young Liberal and Anglican Sunday school teacher to an anti-conscriptionist. She enrolled at the University of Queensland in 1965, graduating with a BA (Hons) in Anthropology and Sociology in 1970. She was awarded her PhD by the University of Queensland in 1975 for her thesis Uncertain bondage: an analysis of indentured labour in Queensland to 1907: with particular reference to the Melanesian servants.

Following her graduation, Saunders was employed by the University of Queensland as a Tutor (1975-1979), Senior Tutor (1980-1985), Senior Lecturer (1976-1989) and Reader (1990-2001). She was Professor of History at the University of Queensland from 2002 until 2005. Saunders was appointed Professor Emerita following her retirement. During her tenure at the University of Queensland Saunders served on the University Senate Status of Women Committee (1998-2000); Academic Board (2002-2004); and the University Senate (2002-2004) as an elected member of Convocation. She has also served on many government committees and advisory boards including the Australian National Maritime Museum (1992-1996); Director, National Australia Day Council (1992-1996); Council Member, Australian War Memorial (1994-1997); Chair, Queensland Government's Cultural Advisory Council (1997-1999); Member National Task Force of the National Museum of Australia (1999-2002); Member Queensland Premier's Advisory Council on Women's Policy (1999-2001). Saunders was the CEO of the Brisbane Institute from 2006 to 2009. She was on the Council of Emmanuel College at the University of Queensland and on the Board of the Australian Innovation Festival. She is a member of business and professional women's organisation, Zonta, the Lyceum Club and World Wide Fund for Nature and has also acted as an Official Visitor to the Women's Prison, Queensland.

Saunders has published widely in the fields of race relations, the political economy of the sugar industry, Sir Samuel Griffith and the making of the Australian Constitution. Her publications include: Exclusion, exploitation and extermination: race relations in colonial Queensland, with Raymond Evans and Kathryn Cronin (1975); Race relations in colonial Queensland: a history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination, with Raymond Evans and Kathryn Cronin (1988, 1993); Workers in bondage: the origins and bases of unfree labour in Queensland, 1824-1916 (1982); War on the homefront: state intervention in Queensland 1938-1948 (1993); 1901: Our Future's Past Documenting Australia's Federation, with Raymond Evans, Clive Moore and Bryan Jamison (1997); Paul Hasluck in Australian history: civic personality and public life, with Tom Stannage and Richard Nile (1998); A Crowning Affair: A Study of Beauty, Business and Philanthropy, with Julie Ustinoff (2005); TC Beirne School of Law: 70th anniversary, with Michael White and Ryan Gawrych (2006); Between the Covers: Treasures of the State Library of Queensland (2006); Wild heart, bountiful land: an historical overview of the Mary River Valley, with Murray Johnson (2007); Working the land: an historical overview of Boonah and its northern district, with Murray Johnson (2007); 150 Years of Queensland Achievement (2009); Notorious Australian Women (2011); Deadly Austrlian Women (2013). Her edited works include: Indentured labour in the British Empire, 1834-1920 (1984); Gender relations in Australia: domination and negotiation, with Raymond Evans (1992); Aboriginal workers, with Ann McGrath and Jackie Huggins (1995); Australian masculinities: men and their histories, with Clive Moore (1998); Alien justice: wartime internment in Australia and North America, with Roger Daniels (2000); and The world's first Labor government, with Joanne Scott (2001). She is also working on a History of Bond University.

Saunders is a Fellow Royal Historical Society (London), a Fellow Royal Society for Arts, Fellow Royal Institute of Anthropology (London), a Fellow Australian Academy of the Social Sciences (2001), Fellow of the Royal Society of Austrlian Historical Societies (2011) and a Member Royal Australian Historical Society of Queensland. She is the recipient of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland John Kerry Medal (2006) and the National Museum of Australia Medal (2007) and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for service to Australian history as a scholar, author and commentator on social issues in 1999. She received the Centenary Medal in 2003 in recognition of her service to the Centenary of Federation celebrations.

Additional sources: Personal communication between Kay Saunders and Sharon M. Harrison, July 2013.

Published Resources

Edited Books

  • Sullivan, Leanne (ed.), Who's who of Australian Women: hope and courgae, Crown Content, Melbourne, Victoria, 2010. Details

Online Resources

See also