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Carroll, John (1943–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

John Carroll, born and educated in Broken Hill, was keen on film and drama from early in life. And as a primary school teacher there he formed a film society that brought to town films the townspeople would never otherwise have seen, such as the German expressionist film Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, a 1920s silent horror film.

He was never to go the way of so many Broken Hill boys and go down the shafts. Instead, he became an internationally recognised expert in educational drama. He was to redesign the curriculum of Australian film and other media training, undertake important reviews in the same field in India and the United Arab Emirates and speak and write extensively.

He was also a keynote speaker at the International Drama Conference at Lancaster University and at a linguistics conference, "Talking Together", in Toronto, Canada.

Professor John O'Toole, honorary professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne, said Carroll was ''in many ways the senior drama scholar/practitioner in Australia: among the first of us to look much beyond the practice, the first serious, systematic researcher, the first to hold a PhD. The work he did with Dorothy [Heathcote, a world-renowned drama teacher and academic] and since then in elaborating her ideas, is central to the theory and practice of drama education and applied theatre today, and a vital influence on this work''.

John Carroll, the son of Ernest Carroll, a mine lift operator, and Muriel ''Jean'' (nee Nicholls), was born on September 11, 1943. He attended Broken Hill High and Bathurst Teachers College, where he trained to be a primary school teacher. Carroll taught in primary schools, then did an arts degree at the University of New England and became a high-school English teacher. In the late 1960s he met Julie Martello, then a pre-school kindergarten teacher, and the two were to remain partners for the the rest of his life. They had one child, Jack.

In 1973, Carroll joined the staff of the Mitchell College of Advanced Education at Bathurst, which became part of Charles Sturt University. He had a huge impact on his students, one of whom, Andrew Denton, was to say: "Even through the mists of time, I can still see the sparkle of John's intellect. He was the kind of lecturer students wanted to learn for, because his enthusiasm for what he was teaching was infectious.''

Working with Heathcote, he completed a master's degree in education and later a doctorate at Newcastle University in Britain. Back at Bathurst, he was the co-ordinator of the bachelor of communication course in theatre and media from 1987 to 1996. The course was described as ''a Camelot-on-the-Hill of excitement, theatre, colour and boldness''.

Carroll was instrumental in the development of the master of communication and the doctor of communication courses and headed Charles Sturt University's school of communication.

In 1996, he led a postgraduate course committee team to redesign the Australian Film Television and Radio School's curriculum. Two years later he performed a similar role for the National Film and Television Institute of India. He did further work with the Australian Film and Television School and in 2004 conducted a review of the communication courses at the Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates.

When the technological revolution reached him, Carroll embraced it. He used online and digital technology to enhance the scope and range of drama education and wrote extensively on the subject. He was also a member of a number of international journal advisory boards, including the Applied Theatre Research Journal and the Journal of Artistic and Creative Education.

He was a founding member of the National Drama in Education Organisation, now Drama Australia, and its director of publications for many years. Carroll was also a keynote speaker at international, national and state conferences. He was appointed to the NSW Board of Studies drama examination committee for four years and was a visiting fellow in drama research at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.

In his private life, Carroll was energetic, with a passion for travel, motor bikes, fine cars and wine and ''real ale''. His intellectual interests extended well beyond drama. He had an absorbing interest in film, speculative fiction, Darwinism and delivered a public lecture in Bathurst to coincide with the sesquicentenary of the publication of The Origin of the Species. He was a marvellous cook and host. He was active almost to the end and last year was a presenter at a drama symposium at the University of Auckland.

Even when ill in hospital he was talking about cosmology and extolling the virtues of the iPhone which, with the appropriate app, can deliver a map of the stars.

Professor Carroll died on October 27. He is survived by partner Julie, his sister Lee, and his son Jack.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 December 2011

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Carroll, John (1943–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/carroll-john-16725/text28621, accessed 22 August 2019.

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