Biography, Cultural Studies, Digital Scholarship, Historical Studies

New Digital Resource for Australian National Identity

11.12.12 | Comment?

The online version of Volume 18 of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, which tells the life stories of hundreds of significant and celebrated Australians, will be launched tonight at The Australian National University. Featuring articles on 670 individuals with surnames from L to Z who died between 1981 and 1990, the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) presents a colourful mosaic of twentieth-century Australia. Included in the ADB are explorers, farmers, criminals, ballet dancers, speedway riders, and authors and politicians such as Patrick White, Christina Stead, William McMahon and Billy Sneddon. Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young, who will officially launch the latest version of the online Dictionary, said that the stories and lives featured in the ADB illuminate major themes in our recent history. “A vast range of people are consulting the Australian Dictionary of Biography online – researchers, students at primary, secondary and tertiary level, genealogists, and people watching documentaries and historical dramas on TV,” he said. “Since going online in 2006, the ADB now attracts 70 million views a year. There has even been a huge rise in the number of hits for criminals on the ADB after the crime series Underbelly was shown on TV.” Three ADB medals will also be awarded on the night for long and distinguished service. Geoffrey Bolton AO, Michael Roe and John Lack will all be recognised for their long-term support of the Dictionary.

The new volume includes articles by 560 authors, recording the lives of Australians whom many of us remember from the recent past. There are explorers, farmers, stockmen, trade union officials, business people, educators, criminals, judges, political activists, librarians, ballet dancers, cameleers, musicians and opera directors, speedway riders, polymaths, philanthropists and professional wrestlers and boxers. The volume includes academics Julius Stone and William Stanner; physicists Leslie Martin, Harry Massey and Ernest Titterton; military leaders Frederick Scherger, John Wilton, John McCauley, the first aboriginal commissioned officer Reg Saunders and war historian Alan Moorehead; feminist Ruby Rich and country women’s leader Bertha Smith; surgeon Harry Windsor; Director-General of Education Harold Wyndham; ABC General Manager Charles Moses and a raft of diplomats John Ryan, Dudley McCarthy, James Plimsoll, Laurence McIntyre, Annabelle Rankin, Alfred Stirling, Mick Shann, Marjorie Smart, Percy Spender and Alan Watt, some of whom became state governors; politicians William McMahon, Billy Sneddon, Enid Lyons, Dorothy Tangney, Lionel Murphy, Thomas Playford, as well as political journalist Alan Reid; Governor General William McKell; artists Fred Williams and Cliff Pugh; patrons of the arts John and Sunday Reed and authors Alan Marshall, Stephen Murray-Smith, Christina Stead, Kylie Tennant and Patrick White. Maintaining the ADB’s tradition of scholarship, volume 18 presents a colourful mosaic of twentieth-century Australia. This host of lives gives a picture of our society, provides insights into the experiences of our people, and illuminates large themes in our recent history immigration, urbanisation and suburbanisation, war (World War II, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam), material progress, increasing cultural maturity, conservative and progressive politics, conflict and harmony, and a new phase in transnationalism. It also reveals something of the greatness and smallness of which human beings are capable.

[extracts from ADB online launch press release and Volume 18 publication description]

The Australian Dictionary of Biography is online at http://adb.anu.edu.au.

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Paul Arthur is Vice-Chancellor’s Professorial Research Fellow and Chair in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. He speaks and publishes widely on major challenges and changes facing 21st-century society, from the global impacts of technology on communication, culture and identity