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Wilson, George Thomas (1907–1991)

from Mercury (Hobart)

George Wilson, 1990

George Wilson, 1990

photo supplied by Lorraine Ovington

Tasmania's academic community, and people from many other walks of life, will today pay tribute to George Thomas Wilson, a man hailed as a pioneer of Asian studies.

Mr Wilson, who died in Hobart on Monday, aged 83, joined the University of Tasmania in 1945 as a lecturer in history and retired in 1974.

Professor Michael Roe, Professor of History at the university, will be one of several speakers at today’s memorial service at the University Centre.

"George Wilson made a very big contribution to the study of Asian history," Professor Roe said yesterday.

"The job he was appointed to in 1945 specified oriental and Pacific history, and that is what he did. He taught virtually the whole of Asia, and the Pacific."

This was at a time when the region was virtually ignored at other universities.

In 1949, he was given a fellowship by the Australian National University to study political developments in the then newly independent India.

He spent several months in the country, and as part of his research had a private interview with the Indian leader, Mr Pandit Nehru.

Mr Wilson was Warden of Hytten Hall, the university’s first residential college, for the 14 years before his retirement, and he had a remarkable rapport with students. During the 1950s he was student counsellor.

"George was a fatherly figure to the student body; a genuinely beloved figure," Professor Roe said. He also made another major contribution to university life by his work for the staff association and support for academic principles, particularly during the turmoil surrounding the royal commission and the dismissal of Sydney Sparkes Orr.

"George always believed there had been a miscarriage of justice, and he did his best to uphold Orr’s rights," he said. "He was a good friend of Orr both in the personal and the political sense."

During his retirement, Mr Wilson became a marriage celebrant, and friends estimate he officiated at hundreds of marriages in Tasmania.

"He undoubtedly married more people than any other civil celebrant, and even some clergy," recalled a friend.

John Brodie, senior lecturer in electrical engineering at the university, will be another of today’s speakers. He was vice-warden of Hytten Hall during Mr Wilson’s term as warden.

"He took over at a difficult time and oversaw the expansion of the college," Mr Brodie said. "He was a blunt man, but kindly, and helped those students who had problems." Hobart lawyer Don Keating, who was a student at Hytten Hall, said yesterday that there were two things Mr Wilson loathed — cant and hypocrisy.

"He stuck by his principles, and you always knew where you stood with him," said Mr Keating.

"Because he couldn’t stand cant or hypocrisy he would let you know exactly what he thought about what you were doing. There was no room for any misunderstanding.

"You could disagree with his views, but I don’t know anyone who didn’t like or respect him."

Mr Wilson, a New Zealander, was lecturer in history and political science at the Canterbury University College, New Zealand, before joining the University of Tasmania.

A keen rugby union player, he helped establish the game in Tasmania. On his retirement he laughingly recalled the stir created when he erected rugby goal posts on one of the Australian Rules grounds in Hobart.

He was a graduate of the University of New Zealand, and Cambridge University.

The memorial service will bè held at the University Centre at 1.30 pm today, following a private cremation at 11am.

Original publication

  • Mercury (Hobart), 6 June 1991, p 9

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Citation details

'Wilson, George Thomas (1907–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 August 2020.

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