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Barwick, Diane Elizabeth (1938–1986)

by Jack Waterford

from Canberra Times

Anthropologist and historian Dr Diane Barwick, 47, died suddenly in Canberra on Friday night, not having recovered consciousness after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage at work during the morning.

A Canadian by birth and early anthropological training, Dr Barwick was one of the foremost of a group of anthropologists who in the early 1960s took the discipline away from being the mere handmaiden of official Australian Aboriginal assimilation policy and practice to the integrationist and self-determination policies of today.

She was also outstanding in her contribution to the study of urban and less traditional Aborigines — rather than the perhaps more fashionable and romantic study of remote traditional groups.

Dr Barwick and her colleagues helped change the way Australians think about Aborigines, and worked throughout her Australian career on improving their situation.

In one of her more recent activities, as a founding member of a group calling for a treaty between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, she remarked — to a comment that while it might be understandable that non-Aboriginal Australians should work for reconciliation with Aborigines it was less so for a foreigner to do so — that she might not feel the guilt of Australians but was outraged, as a human being, by the treatment given to Aborigines.

Dr Barwick took her first degree in anthropology at the University of British Columbia in 1959, having worked for several years among Indians on Canada's north-west coast. Her experiences in Canada gave her work a perspective often lacking in Australian research — she closely followed overseas developments and compared what was happening in Australia with them.

Coming to Australia to do a PhD at the Australian National University in 1960, her early work was on 19th-century Victorian Aboriginal administration and among urban and rural family groups in Victoria — her very meticulous skills as a historian mixing with her anthropological training to allow her to draw broad, and very much modern-day lessons, from earlier history and experience.

Apart from her own publications, her historical materials contributed much to the massive project on Australian Aborigines conducted by the Australian Academy of Social Sciences, and later published by her colleague and friend Professor Charles Rowley in three massive tomes — 'The Destruction of Aboriginal Society', 'Outcasts in White Australia' and 'The Remote Aborigines'.

Dr Barwick was a foundation member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, served on its council from 1978 and was a member of many of its committees, particularly in history, library and social anthropology areas.

She was editor of Aboriginal History between 1977 and 1982.

Dr Barwick's historical and literary skills, breadth of knowledge, feel for ideas, and personality meant that she was widely consulted for advice and ideas, and, quite apart from her own writings, made a considerable input into others.

A list of her publications, not including scores of book reviews, occupies four single-spaced typewritten pages. Among the best known are an essay on 'The selfconscious people of Melbourne'; 'A little more than kin' — on Aboriginal reaction to changes in Victorian policies; an essay, 'And the lubras are ladies now' — dealing with changes in the status and role of Victorian Aboriginal women; a co-edited 'Handbook of Aboriginal History'; and 'Writing Aboriginal history: comments on a book and its reviewers' — a seminal essay defending the right of Aborigines to tell their own histories in their own way.

Dr Barwick is survived by her husband, Dr Richard Barwick, and a daughter Laura. A family funeral service will take place later this week, with a public memorial service a week later.

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Citation details

Jack Waterford, 'Barwick, Diane Elizabeth (1938–1986)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 5 August 2020.

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