Woman Ryan, Lyndall (1943 - )

14 April 1943
Paddington, New South Wales, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Lyndall Ryan is a leader in the history profession who has contributed to Australian history, especially the early history of relations between Tasmanian Aborigines and white settlers in Tasmania and women's history.

Ryan was born on 14 April 1943 at the Royal Women's Hospital in Paddington, Sydney, one of three children to butcher John Francis Edwin Michael Ryan (1902-1958) and clerk Edna Minnie Ryan (1904-1997, née Nelson). The youngest in the family, she spent much of her adolescence alone with her recently widowed mother after her elder siblings, Patrick Ryan (1930) and Evelyn Julia Ryan (1937) left home. Ryan grew up in a politically active household: her father was Communist revolutionary. A feminist, trade unionist, activist and writer, Edna Ryan was a leading figure in three eras of feminism in the twentieth century and played a major role in the campaigns for equal pay, maternity leave and work-based child care for women workers. She was also an advocate of women's reproductive rights, and campaigned on the negative impacts of enterprise bargaining and compulsory superannuation on low-paid women workers. Ryan's sister Julia is a feminist and educator.

Growing up in the Sydney suburbs of Woollahra and Canley Heights Ryan was educated at Woollahra Public School (1948-1953) and Canley Vale Public School (1953-1954) before moving to Fairfield Girls' High School, attaining her Leaving Certificate in 1959. Gaining First Class Honours in Economics and History, Ryan was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to the University of Sydney. After working as a clerk/typist for a year, Ryan commenced her tertiary studies in 1961 and graduated with a BA, majoring in History and Government, and a Diploma of Education in 1964. She then completed a MA Qual. History at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1969, began her ground-breaking research for her doctoral research on Tasmanian Aborigines at Macquarie University in Sydney in 1970 and was awarded her PhD for her thesis The Aborigines in Tasmania and the Problem of the European 1803-1974 in 1976.

In 1965 Ryan had taken up an appointment as a secondary school teacher at Campbelltown High School in New South Wales, teaching History and English. From 1966 to 1968 she worked as a research assistant to History Professor Manning Clark at ANU, which motivated her to pursue postgraduate study. In 1969 Ryan took up an appointment as a Tutor in Education at the University of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, before returning to Australia to take up an appointment as a teacher at Jannali Girls' High School in New South Wales. In 1974 she joined the Australian Public Service, where she was employed as a Policy Analyst, serving on the Priorities Review Staff, Department of Special Minister of State, the Children's Commission and at the Office of Women's Affairs Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra. In this position Ryan developed policies for child care, women's refuges and women's community health centres. After she was awarded her PhD in 1976, Ryan left the Commonwealth Public Service to pursue an academic career.

In 1977 Ryan tutored in Australian History at the Department of History, School of General Studies at ANU, before taking up an appointment as Lecturer at the School of Humanities, Griffith University, Queensland (1977-1983). She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1984. During her time at Griffith University, Ryan established and convened programs in Women's Studies and Australian Studies. In 1986 she was appointed Reader and later Professor in the Women's Studies Unit at Flinders University in Adelaide, which she headed from 1986 until 1995. From 1998 to 2005 Ryan was Foundation Professor of Australian Studies, the University of Newcastle, establishing a BA major program in Australian Studies, and served as Head of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle from 1999 to 2003. In 2005 she was appointed Conjoint Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Newcastle and from 2012 Research Professor at the Centre for the History of Violence, Humanities Research Institute, University of Newcastle. Ryan has made a key contribution to the establishment of Women's Studies and Australian Studies at Australian universities, as well as establishing and convening the Australian Women's Studies Association and a cross-institutional Masters coursework program.

Following in the footsteps of her mother and older sister, Ryan became involved in feminist activism. Ryan was a member of the first Sydney Women's Liberation Group in 1970, a founding collective member of Mejane: a womens liberation newspaper in 1971 and of Refractory girl: a women's studies journal in 1972. She was a Member of the Women's Electoral Lobby, New South Wales, from 1998 until 2012, and a Member of the H.V. Evatt Memorial Foundation think tank from 1992 until 2000. Since 1990, she has been a Member of the National Foundation for Australian Women.

Ryan was a founding member of the Leichardt Women's Community Health Centre collective from 1973 to 1974. Her involvement in the Collective led to her involvement with the Coalition for Women's Right to Choose. This community activism and her policy work in the Australian Public Service led to her appointment to consultative committees and expert panels. Appointed by Federal Attorney General, Gareth Evans, in 1984, Ryan chaired the Queensland Committee on Discrimination in Occupation and Employment. In Adelaide, she served as spokesperson for the Coalition for Women's Right to Choose, from 1987 to 1998. The Coalition's purpose was to keep open the Community Health Centre in the Adelaide suburb of Hindmarsh and establish a state government funded Pregnancy Advisory Centre in the Adelaide suburb of Woodville. She counts the establishment of the Pregnancy Advisory Centre as one of her proudest achievements. In 1994 Ryan, Margie Ripper and Barbara Buttfield published the We Women Decide: Women's Experiences of Seeking Abortion in Three Australian States, 1985-1993 Report through the Women's Studies Unit at Flinders University. Ryan was later appointed to the Expert Panel on Services for Termination of Pregnancy established by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, Canberra, and contributed to the Panel's 1996 commissioned report 'An Information Paper on Services for Termination of Pregnancy in Australia'.

Ryan chaired the Social Justice Advisory Committee in Adelaide from 1988-1989. The Committee was appointed by the State Minister of Health to advise on social justice issues. She was appointed a part-time Member of the Council of the National Museum of Australia by the Federal Minister for the Arts. The Fraser government had passed legislation for the establishment of the National Museum; however, it had no building and received no funding during the Hawke-Keating years, due to Federal Treasurer Paul Keating's opposition to the project. Ryan assisted with the drafting of collections policies and lobbied Labor MPs for support.

Ryan is the author of Tasmanian Aborigines: A history since 1803 (2nd edn 2012); Who Is that Woman? The Australian Women's Weekly in the Postwar Years, co-authored with Sue Sheridan, Barbara Baird and Kate Borritt (2002); 1991: A Bibliography of Australian Women's History, with Susan Magarey (1991); and The Aboriginal Tasmanians (1st edn 1981). Ryan also co-edited Theatres of Violence: Revisiting the Massacre in History with Philip Dwyer (2012).

Additional sources: Personal communication between Lyndall Ryan and Sharon M. Harrison.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Interview with Lyndall Ryan, Professor of Australian Studies, University of Newcastle [sound recording] / interviewer, Sara Dowse, 10 March 2000, ORAL TRC 3992; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Edited Books

  • Who's Who in Australia, Crown Content, Melbourne, Victoria, 1927 - 2013. Details

Online Resources