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Barwick, Diane Elizabeth (1938–1986)

by Diane Bell

The sudden death on 4 April of Dr Diane Barwick shocked and saddened all those who knew her. Characteristically, Diane was at her desk, working on papers for the benefit of others, on the morning when she collapsed. She died peacefully that evening, having not regained consciousness after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage. Diane is survived by her husband, Dr Richard Barwick and daughter Laura.

As an anthropologist and historian, Diane did much to shape Aboriginal studies in Australia over the last two decades. As a friend and colleague she touched the lives of all who were privileged to be part of her world. Although her 47 years of life were full and productive, her death has cheated us: there was so much more to come from one of her talent, dedication and intelligence.

Diane's early childhood was the very stuff of anthropology. Much of it was spent in remote Canadian logging communities, where education was a mixed bag. Beginning with basic instruction in reading and writing from her mother, she was nonetheless sufficiently advanced to skip a grade in the primary school she attended in Vancouver. Undertaking correspondence work because their home community did not have the 10 children necessary to sustain a school and, later in a community of 50 families and 500 single men (where her father was superintendent), she completed primary and early secondary school. Her much praised BA(Hons) thesis of 1959 for the University of British Columbia, The Logging Camp as Sub-Culture drew on these early experiences.

Her interests in historical anthropology, archaeology and material culture of the NW Coast Indians were further developed through employment as Assistant Curator to the British Columbia Provincial Museum 1959-60; Assistant UBC Museum 1957-59, 1963, 1972-73; and Berkeley Museum 1965. This experience complemented her strong, continuing interest and research in comparative anthropology in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

With a choice of Norway or Australia for postgraduate research, Diane took up a scholarship at ANU and completed her PhD thesis, A Little More than Kin: regional affinity and group identity among Aboriginal migrants in Melbourne in record time. In many publications and ongoing research, Diane consolidated and extended her historical and anthropological interest in Aboriginal administration.

From 1966 to 1972 Diane was a Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at ANU, taught in The Faculties in 1974-6, 1978 and in 1979-80 was a temporary Research Fellow in the Department of History, RSSS. In addition, through demanding work in various honorary capacities, Diane reached far beyond the confines of the academic world and into the lives and work of the many people for whom she cared.

The wide-ranging publications which record the fruits of her labour exhibit that meticulous historical analysis, anthropological imagination and human compassion which became the hallmark of Diane's work. Her several biographies of Victorian Aborigines are a delight to read: each is carefully crafted and precise, but each is also full of personal warmth.

Diane Barwick's forthcoming Rebellion at Coranderrk and her Mapping the Past: an atlas of Victorian clans 1835-1904, Part 1 will do much to rewrite the history of Victoria and hopefully provide a model for other states. We are left to lament that The Aborigines, Volume One of the five volume Oxford History of Australia, commissioned in 1980 and to have appeared before the Bicentennial, will now not be written by her.

Many institutions bear the stamp of Diane's energy, integrity and wisdom. As editor of Aboriginal History since its inception in 1977-1982 and from then on a guiding force, Diane worked unrelentingly to ensure that this sub-discipline gained recognition. As a foundation member, active member of various committees, convenor of projects and at the time of her death, Research Officer of the Aboriginal Biographical Project, Diane worked to ensure the success of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Her involvement, since the founding conference of 1961, spanned a period of rapid growth and change. Sensitive to the growing demands for Aboriginal control of their heritage, Diane was nonetheless faithful to scholarly values.

Diane's interest in social and political anthropology was not merely academic, nor was it of the flamboyant kind. Diane's pen was her means of protest and persuasion. The success of the Framlingham land claim in Victoria owes much to her exacting scholarship and its impact on the local member, the then Prime Minister, Mr Fraser.

Similarly, in her work on the Treaty Committee since 1980, Diane did much to put into action her belief that Aborigines should be able to negotiate their future.

While committed to her work and ruthless in her work schedules, Diane was never too busy to listen to the problems of friends. Always ready with encouragement, both moral and material, Diane, it seemed to me, always understood and could offer, advice based on wide experience of the human condition. But in this she was ever the professional. Diane was a historian who lived her craft. 'Take a note', she always cautioned me.

When I first met Diane in 1974 I was an undergraduate and she gave me sound directions on research; later as a PhD scholar and Research Fellow at ANU I came to know Diane as a colleague and a firm friend. Always wise, always there, our world is impoverished by her passing.

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Diane Bell, 'Barwick, Diane Elizabeth (1938–1986)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 February 2018.

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