New book honours giants from our 75-year history

15 Feb 2022

Having compiled them all, it’s not any one particular obituary that jumps out at you. It’s that their lives are so amazingly varied and distinguished.

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A book of obituaries about notable people from The Australian National University's 75-year history will be launched at an event on campus this Thursday.  

Compiled and edited by Chair of the ANU Emeritus Faculty Professor James Fox, Life Celebrations is the faculty's unique contribution to the University's 75th anniversary celebrations. 

The book provides a rich archive of personal and professional histories of researchers from across ANU, shining a light on the collegiate nature of a world devoted to academic endeavour, James says.  

The launch will include talks by Dr Jill Waterhouse, Emeritus Professor Kurt Lambeck AO, Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Minchin and Emeritus Fellow Colin Steele (see further details of their talks below). 

James says the book features 192 obituaries from 2000 until 2021, and the obituaries are warm-hearted, generous, respectful and moving accounts of a long list of exceptional lives. 

"Having compiled them all, it's not any one particular obituary that jumps out at you," he says.  

"It's that their lives are so amazingly varied and distinguished. They did so much and they accomplished so much. It makes you realise that our community is a remarkable community." 

While compiling the book, James couldn't help but notice the longevity of ANU academics. 

"While some of them tragically died very young, many of them go on living for a long time. Many of them had another career after they retired." 

What's the secret? 

"I don't know what the secret is," James says.  

"I guess it's because they stayed very active and were passionate about the work they were doing. Very few of them just worked at the University, because they were also involved in international organisations, they were involved in all sorts of charities and other occupations." 

James says ANU is the only Australian university that has an emeritus faculty, and it has about 280 members. One of the many services the faculty provides is coordinating the preparation of obituaries on all people who have made a significant contribution to ANU.     

Life Celebrations can be downloaded for free from the ANU Repository at Open Research: Life Celebrations: ANU Obituaries 2000 - 2021

Limited print copies of the book will be for sale at the launch for $50. 

The launch of Life celebrations will begin at 5.30pm on Thursday 17 February in the Lecture Theatre (Room 2.02) in the Sir Roland Wilson Building, 120 McCoy Circuit, ANU.  

Dr Jill Waterhouse will discuss the challenges faced by two of the University's Vice-Chancellors, economist Sir Leslie Melville and historian Professor Anthony Low. 

Emeritus Fellow Colin Steele will recount the lives of two renowned humanities scholars, Professor Ian Donaldson and Professor Ralph Elliott, and their contribution to ANU and the wider world. 

Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Minchin will give a brief account of the contribution of four classics scholars, Professor Dick Johnson, Professor Beryl Rawson, Dr Doug Kelly and Dr Colin Mayrhofer, to the life of the campus. 

Emeritus Professor Kurt Lambeck will talk about five former members who cemented the international reputation of the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences. 

Register for the book launch now